Underpass Park shows the transformation of an unused space into a beautiful space featuring public art. Like many cities, Toronto has a lack of empty space. New condos and skyscrapers are everywhere as more and more people live and work in the city. With a reduction in empty space comes a lack of public areas, such as community parks.
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Thankfully, as part of the waterfront revitalization project, the city of Toronto got creative. By transforming an unused, run-down area beneath a highway overpass into a park, the neighborhood gains an attractive spot to hang out with friends and family.
From Derelict to Dazzling
When I think about the image of a park, sprawling green landscapes with plenty of trees generally comes to mind. Although you won’t see any of that at Underpass Park, that doesn’t make it any less special. In fact, Underpass Park is all about reclaiming a previously run-down space and transforming it into an outdoor art gallery. It’s public art that everyone can appreciate anytime. The waterfront of Toronto is slowly improving, taking former industrial land and converting it into functional places for local communities.
The park is designed to be flexible for the needs of the community. It’s had at least one facelift since its opening in 2012, and there’s room for expansion and more commissioned art. There’s room for seasonal events, like farmer’s markets or a temporary coffee shop. It’s really all about what the local community wants and needs, and the space will adapt.
Underpass Park features a playground for children, a skate park, and basketball courts. There’s a small climbing wall, a teeter-totter, hopscotch, and a rope octagon to climb on. Families and kids are encouraged to spend time beneath this highway overpass to participate in sports and activities. There are park benches to relax and take a break. And the greenery that would be present at a typical park is replaced by rainbow splashes of color everywhere you look.
My Trip to Underpass Park
My travel blogging friend, Stephanie, invited me to Toronto to celebrate her birthday. She wanted to explore some new areas of the city and it was her idea to check out Underpass Park. I really hadn’t heard of it before, but I adore exploring street art, especially street art in Toronto. On a smaller scale, Underpass Park reminds me of the way Wynwood Walls in Miami transformed an industrial area into a thriving artistic space.
As we approached the underpass, I saw concrete pillars painted with portraits and figures. Two internationally renowned graffiti artists, Troy Lovegates and Labrona, painted 16 portraits of east-end residents on 16 pillars. The community members painted on the pillars are actually the “pillars” of the community, holding up the masses commuting without thought on the roads above. Every person has a story to tell, and you can view a small window into their lives, hopes, and struggles through these portraits.
Some of the art wraps around the post, so you have to fully walk around them to capture a complete view.
Murals and Art Installations
One interesting art installation was created by artist Paul Raff. You have to look straight up to notice it. It’s 57 octagonal mirrors attached to the underside of the overpass. We enjoyed looking up at our own reflections and watching how they bounced across the various mirrors as we walked around.
I’d love to return in the evening. LED lights are affixed to the base of each post, illuminating the art in the dark.
Photo Tour of Underpass Park
Plan Your Visit
Stephanie and I walked to Underpass Park easily from Union Station after visiting the Distillery District. It’s beneath the Eastern Avenue and Richmond / Adelaide overpasses, between Bayview Avenue and Cherry Street. You can visit any time of day or night, no matter the season! It was wonderful to discover Underpass Park on a bright and sunny day in the fall.
See More Street Art in Toronto
Toronto has so much incredible street art and murals. You can take my self-guided tour of Toronto street art, check out the works at Graffiti Alley, or even venture into Mississauga to view spectacular public art.