Exploring the relationship of parks planning and economic land development in Toronto: A case study of the Rail Deck Park
This paper explores the relationship between private economic development and public parkland planning through analysis of the proposed Rail Deck Park (RDP) in Toronto. Led by the city, the ambitious mega park project is planned to be built over one of the busiest rail corridors in the country. The RDP has been considered as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to relieve the lack of park space in the downtown core. However, historical analysis of the site reveals the lands were reserved initially as a major public park, referred as the Walks and Gardens (W&G), but was abandoned by city officials to support the development of the existing railroad. This paper explores and compares the dominant parkland policies, tools and actors in both periods to understand the influence and impact of private economic interests in the success and failure of public parkland development. Despite being over 200 years apart, comparison of the two periods reveals parallel themes and patterns emerge in both cases related to property relations, civic boosterism, real estate speculation, and city image making. Contrary to planning theories which emphasize a dichotomy between private economic development and public parkland planning, these two forces can be compatible in sometimes contradictory means based on property interests and profit motives. The paper concludes that these competing private interests present a major challenge in the development of public parkland in cities.