Toronto’s underground city: a solution to crowded megacities?

It is one of the biggest underground spaces in the world, but does Toronto’s PATH system offer a solution to crowded, dense megacities?

Toronto's underground city: a solution to crowded megacities?
Toronto’s underground network is now expanding above ground with pedestrian walkways // Photograph © Paul French

When Toronto transit riders disgorge on any number of subway platforms in the downtown business district, they enter a realm that knows no season. A vast subterranean network of passageways connect dozens of office towers, attractions, hotels and shops. On a recent winter afternoon, swarms of office workers, purposeful in their step and comfortably dressed for temperature-controlled comfort, moved through one maze-like mall after another, while the snow howled through concrete canyons above.

Perhaps there should be a coat check when entering Toronto’s PATH system, but most people don’t exit where they enter. It’s more a conveyance than destination.
Increasingly though, this web of 30 kilometres (19 miles) of interconnected commercial space (what the Guinness World Records calls the largest underground shopping complex in the world) is catching attention for its novelty and becoming a tourist attraction in its own right.

“PATH promotes walkability and is all about choice: nobody’s forcing anyone to turn into mole people,” said James Parakh, manager of urban design for Toronto, who frequently leads PATH tours for city planning delegations from the Middle East, Scandinavia and China.

The explosive growth of Canada’s largest metropolis, evident from a nest of cranes toiling on a skyline where more high-rise towers are under construction than any other North American city, is fuelling expansion of the PATH system in lockstep. Developers view the connection as a powerful enticement to attract tenants. []

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