Downsview Park 

Toronto, Ontario

Photo Credit: PMA Landscape Architects 


Initial Research by: Zoe Goldman

Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans

Case study compiled in 2017



Project: Downsview Park (Tree City Plan)

Type of Urban StrategyGreen Cities 

Type of ProjectUrban National Park 

LocationToronto, Ontario 

Date Designed/Planned: 2000 - 2004

Construction Completed:  -

Designer: OMA (Rem Koolhaas), Bruce Mau Design Inc. PMA Landscape Architects, Oleson Worland Architects, SNC Lavalin Engineers 


The Downsview Park (Tree City Plan) designed by Bruce Mau Design Inc., PMA Landscape Architects, Oleson Worland Architects, and SNC Lavalin Engineers, is a revision of the competition winning Tree City Masterplan in 2000 by Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau. Previously a military base, Downsview Park strives to create a sustainable and community-based space by using green infrastructure. The park includes a pathway strategy to provide an infinite amount of experiences for each user. The network of paths employs the concept of hierarchy, providing more space for the paths that have more traffic than others. The park also includes 3 zones, action, promenade, and cultivation campus. Each zone provides a unique experience in the space while still remaining cohesive.



The Downsview Park (Tree City Plan) designed by Bruce Mau Design Inc., PMA Landscape Architects, Oleson Worland Architects, and SNC Lavalin Engineers is a revision of the competition winning Tree City Masterplan in 2000 by Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau.

Tree City aims to revitalize the former military base using trees (instead of buildings) to promote urbanization and create the site’s sustainable identity. Tree City Plan proposes a circular tree matrix that covers 25% of the 291-acre Downsview Park. The plan outlines a mix of active and passive elements within the park – recreation, nature, education, culture, and history - that cater to the surrounding communities. The plan integrates ecological, economic, and social systems in order to create a sustainable park and surrounding community.


Downsview Park is located in the North York area of Toronto (Northwest of the downtown core), and in the centre of the Greater Toronto Area. As Toronto expands, the Downsview Park will become a counterpart to the downtown core, providing even more people with convenient and quality public open space. The park is on the site of the former Canadian Forces Base Toronto that closed in 1995. The 530-hectare site is divided between Downsview Lands and Downsview Park, which are both managed by Canada Lands Company (Canada Lands Company, 2018). The 291-acre urban park’s suburban context and location near railways, expressways and Go Transit lines makes it an ideal transportation hub.


In December of 1995, the Canadian Forces Base Toronto closed, and the Government of Canada set the land aside to be developed for a variety of public uses, including a national urban park. Following the closure, the 600-acre land divided itself between Downsview Lands and Downsview Park. Downsview Park was created in 1999 to oversee the operations involved in building the proposed park.

In 2000, the Government of Canada launched the International Downsview Park Competition in order to generate new ideas for the former site of the Canadian Forces Base Toronto. The competition encouraged designers to reimagine what a traditional national park could be, and to create new opportunities for the urban landscape (Bruce Mau Design Inc., 2003).

The winning design was Tree City, a masterplan created by Rem Koolhaas (OMA) and Bruce Mau Design Inc.. Tree City focused on using a cluster of trees instead of buildings to promote sustainable growth.

The Tree City team was reconfigured in 2003, placing Bruce Mau Design Inc. as leader of the team, and inviting more local consultants to the project, including PMA Landscape Architects, Olsen Worland Architects, and SNC Lavalin Engineers (North, 2011). In order to renew interest in the project, the team transformed the winning design into a preliminary masterplan and published the Downsview Ideabook: Tree City Preliminary Masterplan.


The biggest goal of the project was to create a sustainable park and community hub using green infrastructure that would integrate ecological, economic and social systems. The Downsview Park design aims to create a “dynamic learning landscape” by focusing on:

Sustainability - designing the maintenance

Stewardship - designing the educational effect

Play -redefining leisure

Legacy - building a living database

Beauty - designing the icon

(Bruce Mau Design Inc., 2003)

The project also recognizes the opportunity to extend its sustainability initiative into businesses within Downsview Park and surrounding Downsview Lands.


An important part of the Downsview Park design is the goal of creating green infrastructure. The proposed strategies to accomplish this – expand existing natural and sustainable habitats, fix the soil, create a continuous green corridor, accumulate on-site drainage – all contribute to the parks overall and long-term sustainability (Bruce Mau Design Inc., 2003).

A key element in the design of Downsview Park is the pathway strategy that the Tree City team developed. The design proposes a network of over 1000 pathways, in order to provide an infinite amount of experiences for all users. The pathway strategy establishes a hierarchy of pathways based on the volume of traffic. The categories – circuit pathway, weave pathway, web pathway – allow the design team to create more specific designs depending on traffic, use and location of each pathway (Bruce Mau Design Inc., 2003).

The design divides Downsview Park into 3 zones – action, promenade, cultivation campus-based off of the site’s natural features and strategic programming organization. The zones themselves are distinct of each other but work together to contribute to the park’s overall identity (Bruce Mau Design Inc., 2003). The zones are designed to create a variety of experiences for diverse users, as well as respond to the needs of the surrounding communities.


The design team focused heavily on creating “big moves” and “inventions” within each specific zone, in order to create numerous experiences for all types of users. Additionally, PMA Landscape Architects created the technical guidelines for the parking lots, roads, pathways and storm water management systems within the park (Koehler, 2018).


Canada Lands Company. “The Future of Downsview Lands.” Downsview Lands. Accessed May 23, 2018. Bruce Mau Design Inc., PMA Landscape Architects, Oleson Worland Architects, and SNC Lavalin Engineers. Downsview Idea Book: Tree City Preliminary Masterplan Parc Downsview Park. Tree City, 2003. Koehler, Paul Kevin. “Downsview Park Master Plan (Tree City Plan).” PMA Landscape Architects Ltd. Accessed May 22, 2018. North, Alissa. “Icon to Ground: A Downsview Park Update.” Ground, no. 13 (April 19, 2011): 28-31. OMA. “Downsview Park.” OMA. Accessed May 22, 2018.


-Landscaped clusters with a variety of programming

-Over 1000 crossing pathways to create an infinite number of experiences for all park visitors

-Connections to adjacent areas through extended landscape clusters and pathways

-Transportation hub to nearby railways, expressways and Go Transit lines

-Educational programming including an on-site nursery

-Stewardship program

-Programming for year-round use

-Sustainable business community

-Historic remnants to reinforce sites military history


The redevelopment of the former military base provides a unique opportunity to create a new type of national park, one that focuses on constructed beauty (versus the traditional natural wilderness that most national parks pride themselves on). The site itself offers countless opportunities to create a new relationship with the landscape and redefine growth in a suburban context. The Tree City Plan uses the strategy of creating a tree infrastructure to connect the park with the rest of the Greater Toronto Area (OMA, 2018).


Downsview Park is designed to operate as a “self-sustaining ecosystem” that would align with the plan’s sustainable goals. By considering maintenance at the beginning of the design process, the final design includes self-sustaining systems and low maintenance options (Bruce Mau Design Inc., 2003). Additionally, PMA Landscape Architects developed soil preparation and park maintenance guidelines that follow an ecological approach (Koehler, 2018).

The project also places high value on creating a sense of ownership within each visitor and all of the surrounding communities, in general, to ensure that care for the park goes beyond park staff and volunteers (Bruce Mau Design Inc., 2003).