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Imagining a new city

The Pan/Parapan Am Games offers Toronto a chance to create an entire neighbourhood—The Canary District

A long-forgotten piece of Toronto returns to life this spring, thanks in large part to the arrival of the Pan/Parapan Am Games.
Derelict and industrial, the West Don Lands were once a lost 80-acre cul-de-sac where the DVP bends into the Gardiner Expressway. But in the last few months, thanks to half a billion dollars of investment, it’s becoming the city’s newest neighbourhood—the Canary District—named for the iconic school-turned-restaurant that was once a cornerstone of the area.
The project began with Waterfront Toronto, an organization formed in 2001 with a 25-year mandate to transform 2,000 acres of brownfield lands on the waterfront into beautiful, sustainable mixed-use communities and dynamic public spaces.
Although the project was always on the slate, the Games added fuel to the fire when it was decided that the revitalization would create the perfect location for an athlete’s village community.
Dundee Kilmer Developments was awarded a fixed-price contract to design, build and finance the village site, kicking the project off in spring 2012. It features 805 condo units and extensive ground-floor retail that will bring a unique urban modernism to the area. As part of the contract Dundee Kilmer will also build three additional residential sites.
For now, the new condos will have no flooring or kitchens, but each will be home to up to 10 athletes per two-bedroom unit, finding privacy behind temporary partitions. Short-term structures—like a tent dining hall that will seat 2,500 and offer free meals to athletes—will take care of Games-oriented needs.
But, perhaps more importantly—factoring in learning from recent infrastructure projects such as the Vancouver Olympics—a key part of this project is what comes next. After the games, the developer has six months to take down the partitions, install kitchens and other amenities, and get the spaces to market.
In fact, when the Games end, the neighbourhood will become The Canary District in short order, with a new YMCA, George Brown College’s first ever student residence, two affordable housing residential buildings, two residential development sites and plenty of parkland. There will be space for 2,000 homeowners when the site transforms in spring 2016, not to mention 43,000 square feet of ground floor retail.
It’s not often that cities are given the opportunity to reinvent neighbourhoods, but the Pan/Parapan Am Games has given Toronto exactly that.