What was once an inconceivable idea – the creation of a public space under the Gardiner Expressway – is now progressing at an impressive rate.

Just a few months ago, the area was an eyesore of construction. Two years ago, it was a long-barren dead zone sandwiched between lively and growing neighbourhoods. Now, developers have breathed new life into the area with the Bentway’s skating path – a 220-metre trail in the shape of a figure eight. The trail’s opening on Jan. 6 kicked off the first stage of a transformation that started with a simple phone call in 2015.

Retired city planner Judy Matthews and her investment-banker husband, Wilmot, called one of their friends, urban designer Ken Greenberg. They were interested in financing a new public space in the city as a legacy project. Greenberg ultimately came up with the location and vision for the space, and the Matthews helped make it a reality with a $25-million donation.

The expectation is that the Bentway will provide year-round activities, including farmer’s markets and festivals. The first phase, which will include an amphitheatre and picnic areas, is expected to be completed by late summer. Additional stages are planned beyond this year. Eventually, the Bentway will span at least 1.75 kilometres, from Spadina to Strachan.

“We see the city struggling with this huge explosion of people coming into the downtown and the need for public open space and civic amenities,” Judy Matthews said. “And if we can help nurture and expand that common ground, the places that we all share, we would like to do that.”