Tag Archives: native plants

Where is Toronto’s Green Waterfront in 2015?

October 10, 2015  

Native plants at Don's Edge

All I could think when I looked down at the Don River mouth was “well, they are native plants at least!” Photo by PlanGreen

In 2007 when I wrote Greening Waterfront Development: Toronto, I was highly impressed with official plans for greening Toronto’s waterfront.  Our two day tour with Greater Portland Inc, had Waterfront Revitalization on the agenda, but we didn’t get to the area that I wanted to see–the re-naturalizing of the mouth of the Don River.

So after our debriefing on Sept. 30, I rented a bike at HI Toronto  and headed towards the Waterfront Trail then east towards the Don River. I wanted to document the progress Toronto had made in their plans to transform the mouth of this highly channelized river that I had written about in my 2007 article. I soon ran out of separated bike trail and plush new development and came to a channel with a short bridge over it.  With a bit of incredulity in my voice, I asked “Is THIS the mouth of the Don River?” of the fellow who turned out to be the drawbridge operator.

Don River Mouth and Drawbridge

I had already crossed this drawbridge when it opened for a barge carrying dredge materials. Photo by PlanGreen.

He assured me that it was. Then I asked “What about the re-naturalization they were going to be doing?”  He told me that volunteers had been doing some planting in the park down the way so I headed into the  industrial area along Villers Street making a first stop at a small public pier to capture the drawbridge opening. I was crestfallen to see the mouth of the river was still in its concrete channel and brown from sediment. Active dredging was still taking place.  In fact, the drawbridge was opening for a barge carrying dredge material upriver in what is called the Keating Channel.

I'm passionate about community ecological restoration efforts, but what I saw was not at the scale that needs to happen. Photo by PlanGreen

I’m passionate about community ecological restoration efforts, but what I saw was not at the scale that needs to happen. Photo by PlanGreen

I did find some native species and a sign corroborating what the drawbridge operator had told me. But the scale of the ecological restoration that needs to be done there came nowhere close to the scale of the earth moving and skyscraper building that is taking place nearby. In fact, it seemed to be the proverbial drop in the bucket.

I found it disappointing that any city with 180 towering cranes in its core area alone was not making equally fast progress with the ecological restoration of one of its major rivers. It leads me to ask what kind of public benefit is the City extracting from each of these developments?

Barging Dredge up the Don

I certainly hope that the planned restoration includes removal of this ramp along the Don River too. Photo by PlanGreen

Recommendations to re-naturalize the mouth of the Don River have been in existence since 1991.  According to a Wikipedia article on the DonIn 2007, the Toronto Waterfront Development Corporation (now WaterfrontToronto) held a design competition that looked at four different configurations for the mouth of the Don. The winning bid was made by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.[16] The environmental assessment is expected to be complete in 2008 and construction is scheduled to begin in 2010.[17]  That Environmental Assessment was only passed by the province January 26, 2015–a 7 year lag!  This was not because of the economic “recession.”  We were told that did not phase Toronto.

MVVA Plan for Re-Naturalizing Mouth of the Don

This 2007 award-winning plan by Michael Van Valkenburg associates can be found here http://www.mvvainc.com/project.php?id=60–along with many other tantalizing images.

When I reviewed the plans by Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, I was reminded that Instead of creating naturalized banks along the straight course of the existing channel connecting the Don River with the lake, as was originally suggested in the project brief, MVVA’s design keeps the Keating Channel as an urban artifact and neighborhood amenity and creates a new mouth for the river that flows logically from the upstream source, bypassing the abrupt right turn created by the channel. A large new meandering riverfront park becomes the centerpiece of a new mixed-use neighborhood.

October 12, 2015

An interesting explanation for the delay of the re-naturalization of the Don River that I was expecting to see can be found in Planning Nature and the City: Toronto’s Lower Don River and Port Lands  by Gene Desfor and Jennifer Bonnell:

. . . in the fall of 2011 Mayor Rob Ford, his brother Councillor Doug Ford, their right-wing allies, and competing development agencies, attempted to hijack current waterfront planning processes and radically alter plans for the Port Lands. Those sympathetic to Mayor Ford’s vision see these lands primarily as a way to ease budget woes by selling prime waterfront property to international developers. As the Toronto Star editorialized, “The Fords’ ludicrous vision for the future – complete with a megamall, monorail and giant Ferris wheel – was so abysmal that a tide of Torontonians rose up in protest. Most city councillors broke with the mayor’s program and quashed the takeover [of Waterfront Toronto].”31 At the time of writing [no date provided], a political solution is being sought in which Waterfront Toronto, the City, and various special purpose government organizations are working to design a compromise between Ford’s “ludicrous vision” and the plan based on the MVVA proposal.

Don Lands Map

There are three distinct plans for revitalization around the Don River:: West Don Lands (pale plum), Lower Don Lands (lime green) and Portl Lands (turquoise blue and light turquoise). Map courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

According to Waterfront Toronto website, construction of the Lower Don Lands Plan and the Port Lands Plan is yet to come.  There is no mention of the above controversy on their site.

A Waterfront Toronto newsroom article announced that on July 14, 2015 it, along with federal, provincial and city government partners, came up with $5M to take the next steps on the proposal to naturalize the Don River:

The due diligence work being primarily undertaken by Waterfront Toronto will provide governments with additional assurance on the estimated $975 million cost of this project, which includes rerouting the Don River to the middle of the Port Lands between the Ship Channel and the Keating Channel, remediating the area’s contaminated soil, creating new parks, wetlands and resilient urban infrastructure that will remove the flooding risk, unlock a vast area for revitalization and development – including the creation of a new community called Villiers Island – and create billions of dollars of economic development opportunities.

New Precinct Map

These new precincts are estimated to bring $3.6 billion in value, 7,672 person years of employment and $346 million in tax revenues. First partners must reroute the Don River, remediate the area’s contaminated soil, and create new parks, wetlands and resilient urban infrastructure that will remove the flooding risk. Image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

The first phase of this due diligence work is scheduled to be completed by November of this year [2015],  and “will enable government funding of the project by providing confirmation of the cost of the project, strategies to mitigate the risks associated with the project, and an implementation strategy.”

The project would be ready to start by 2017 and take approximately seven years to complete.  An independent study by PwC done for Waterfront Toronto in 2014 estimates that “the project will generate $3.6 billion in value to the Canadian economy, 7,672 person years of employment and $346 million in tax revenues to all levels of government.”

So, to answer the question my title asks, “Where is Toronto’s Green Waterfront in 2015?”–LOOK FOR IT IN 2024!  That estimate, of course, will depend upon continued economic progress–progress that seems a bit uncertain right now.

Mycoremediation with “Spongy Parking Lots”

Aug 2, 2015

Portland’s Old Town China Town neighborhood has an abundance of surface parking lots.  In fact, it has far too many to be a vibrant neighborhood much less an expression of the eco-city that Portland purports to be.  I’ve joined with five other professional women to try to change that.  If we can’t see these central city lots immediately redeveloped to higher and better uses that house people and businesses, we at least want to see them become better parking lots–SPONGY PARKING LOTS.

Spongy Parking Lots Video image

Image borrowed from PDX Downtowner You Tube site.

My friend, Ruth Ann Barrett coined that term and even made a video about Spongy Parking Lots to share with her neighbors in Old Town/Chinatown.  She has friends who visit from California and she’s embarrassed to show them how much we waste water here in Portland.  When it rains, the water from those parking lots heats up and captures whatever pollutants vehicles leave behind on its way to the nearest storm sewer.  The surface parking lots are paved in asphalt and are major contributors to the urban heat island effect that raises the temperature as much as 10° over areas with open land and vegetation.  In turn, the extra heat increases the energy needed to cool interior spaces, and puts an extra strain on the grid by exacerbating peak energy loads and hence carbon footprint/climate change. It also contributes to smog formation adding even more public health impacts resulting from excessive outdoor temperature.

Spongy trail in an old growth forest. Photo by PlanGreen

Spongy trail in an old growth forest. Photo by PlanGreen

We’ll return to all that in a moment, but I first want you to remember walking on a trail in the woods where your feet just seemed to bounce on the earth beneath them.  That’s because that soil was kept porous and, yes, spongy, by the mycelium forming a thick mat that was turning wood to soil under your feet.  Those mycelium have fruiting bodies that we call mushrooms–which may or may not be visible during your walk.

Mycelium on log

The white stuff in this photo is mycelium. It will spread throughout the log and ultimately decompose it–creating spongy soil. Photo by PlanGreen.

That mycelium looks a bit like a very dense spider web criss-crossing to create quite a network.   It gets its nutrition by decomposing the cellulose in the log.  The ability of mycelium of mushrooms in the category of “white rot fungi”  to decompose cellulose is related to their ability to decompose numerous other substances as well: bacterial toxins such as e-coli and fecal coliform as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAHs).  Research also shows their ability to transform  bunker fuel oil, explosives, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and organochlorine pesticides–substances we hope we won’t find in OTCT parking lots.

Ecotrust Parking Lot

Built in 2001, the parking lot at Ecotrust is an outstanding model of a “Spongy Parking Lot”. It probably even has a few mushrooms by now. Photo by PlanGreen

We do have models for Spongy Parking Lots nearby.  My favorite is at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center (aka Ecotrust) in the adjacent Pearl District neighborhood.  Often on a summer day, the cars are kicked out of this pleasant parking lot for an array of fairs, festivals and farmers’ markets.  If you enlarge this photo, you will see that the lot is paved with light colored porous pavers and that those trees are planted in bioswales that also hold an array of mostly native plants.  You will see that  the parking spaces drain into those bioswales. which are about 2.5 feet deep.  Not only do the soils and plants in  the bioswales infiltrate the water from the parking lot within 24 hours, they also cool the water and filter the pollutants that come from our vehicles and pets.

BES Sediment Testing Chart

HCID-TPH is a screen to determine the presence and type of petroleum products that may exist in water or soil. Table from BES 2010 Stormwater Monitoring Report referenced below.

What could be better?  Well, Portland monitors the effectiveness of its bioswales and some of the latest soil sampling data¹ shows that E-coli and heavy oil results were variable, but levels were higher than the background soil sample sites located nearby but outside of the stormwater facilities. Metal and PAH levels found in stormwater facilities were generally similar to those found in background sample soils.  While these results show that soils in bioswales are likely taking up E-coli and heavy oil from runoff that would otherwise go down a storm drain, soil results could be CLEANER THAN THE BACKGROUND SAMPLES in all categories tested: E-coli, heavy oil, metals and PAHs.  If mycelium running through the bioswale made the soil spongier and more absorbent and if those same mycelium could help the plants thrive by “eating” more of the pollutants, then I maintain we would have an even spongier parking lot.  A spongier parking lot could better utilize and clean the water running off it into bioswales.  As its trees and plants grow better with less pollutants in its soil, the spongier parking lot will decrease the urban heat island effect even more and become an important strategy for both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

I hope you will read my previous three short blogs on mycoremediation/mycofiltration (http://plangreen.net/blog) to better understand the technology I am proposing.  I plan one more mycoremediation blog on monitoring.

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¹Bureau of Environmental Services • City of Portland 2010 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report

 

Park City As Biodiverstiy Engine?

Park City As Biodiverstiy Engine?

June 3, 2013  Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle (as well as six other books), was the keynote speaker at CNU 21, the 21st annual conference of the Congress for the New Urbanism, held this year in Salt Lake City, Utah. CNU 21’s theme was Living Community and Louv’s task was to weave the connection between family, nature and community.

Louv made his case on the disconnect between children and nature with some of the data and anecdotes from his books. Most importlay, the remedy he proposes is “A NEW KIND OF CITY”  “Cities can become engines of biodiversity,” he proclaimed.

What if CNU sponsored an effort to create a “homegrown national park” along the lines of what author and entomologist Doug Tallamy calls for in his book Bringing Nature Home? Louv asked. Tallamy suggests that if people would turn their backyards into native habitat, we could provide so many more ecosystem services to address the big problems of our time:BackyardHabSign

  • Climate change
  • The crash in biodiversity
  • The disconnect between children & nature

Louv exhorted us to embrace the New Nature Movement  using as an example Bill McDonough’s design  for a hospital in Spain. In the design, one side is a green wall; another side is solid solar panels done in the colors of a butterfly that is about to go extinct in that region; the third side is a vertical farm that will feed people in the hospital. It’s an example of a building that not only conserves energy, but also produces human energy – through the food grown, and the view of plants and more natural habitat. What’s more, this hospital takes the next step: regeneration. The hospital’s bottom floor will become a “butterfly factory” where anyone who walks into the hospital may see one of the threatened butterflies of the region land on them. The hospital staff will reach out to every school, place of worship, business, and home and say, “You can do this, too. We can bring this butterfly back.”  So this building is not only conserving energy and producing human energy through biophilic design, it is, in a sense, giving birth – by helping a species survive. Conservation is no longer enough! We must regenerate nature–bring it back into our cities! proclaimed Louv.

Louv didn’t take questions at the plenary.  Instead it was suggested that we could ask them at the book-signing table–where a long line quickly formed.  I was delighted to see that sales were brisk as Louv covers topics that he could only mention in his talk in much more detail in the books .

DSCN0925

Because this land is in the public realm, it is a great place to start the movement towards a “homegrown national park.”

The next day, the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City were calling to me, so I joined the tour to Park City’s historic main street. During the time set aside for lunch, three of us encountered a pleasant park on our walk up Main Street. I asked my two companions what they thought of Richard Louv’s talk the night before. The Gen X one said it had introduced her to the important concept of “Nature Deficit Disorder” in both children and adults and that she would look for opportunities to help overcome this disorder in her future work.  HOORAY!

The other, a CNU Board member, said he thought the speech was not very insightful and was lacking in specifics on which to  move forward.  He felt that the lack of visuals (no PowerPoint or anything else) was a real negative.  The speech simply lacked specific examples of what Louv was talking about. “I see what you mean,” I said, “but I can provide one here.”

To the surprise, if not disgruntlement, of my companions, I used a “nature principle” framework to assess the park. According to Louv, studies show that parks with the highest biodiversity are the parks from which people benefit the most psychologically. How did this park rank?

DSCN0928

By failing to slow, cool and filter street runoff above,-the town was losing habitat value of this creek

There was a small creek running through the park, but you could see from the large storm drain in the street above that this creek could become a danger to children and pets whenever it received street runoff–because of both pollutants and flashiness. I imagined the hard rains two days earlier creating a mini flash flood through here. By failing to slow, cool and filter street runoff–perhaps in a series of lovely native plant rain gardens–the town was losing out on the habitat value that this creek could provide to many aquatic species.

 

DSCN0927

Rather than these alien ornamentals, Utah’s colorful and hardy native species could provide habitat for native insects, the base of the food chain, as well as education about natural heritage

Rather than utilize some of Utah’s fabulous high desert lupines, lomatiums, paintbrush, asters, daisies, phlox and other plant species to celebrate its historic natural as well as cultural heritage, the same old over-utilized plant species we see in Anywhere USA plus turf grass graced the park. Native plants would also be far better habitat for the base of the food chain,native insects, as well.

So, utilizing the guidepost of biodiversity, Old Town Neighborhood Park would not rank very well. But, because this land is in the public realm, it is a great place to start the movement towards a “homegrown national park.”  With a diverse landscape of natives and educational signage and perhaps classes, I could imagine this park helping to transform those Park City yards that are now filled with dandelions, garlic mustard and other invasives into an engine for biodiversity. So Park City, let’s get started!