October 15, 2015
The Toronto Best Management Practices (BMP) visit sponsored by Greater Portland, Inc.(GPI) from Sept. 27-30, 2015 was a chance to visit with some of the players who are making Canada’s largest city #2 in Fast Company’s global ranking of smart cities, and #1 in North America and “the most civil and civilized city in the world” according to National Geographic.
I had a little different trip than my 51 other colleagues because I came a little earlier and left a little later than most of them did. I also stayed in a different venue, so I had different views out my back window and front door.
Our first stop on the BMP trip was at Evergreen Brick Works, a “community environmental centre that inspires and equips visitors to live, work and play more sustainably.” It is also home to Evergreen, a national organization whose mission is “inspiring action to green cities.” Approximately 180 employees help Evergreen to promote that mission in four areas of focus: greenspace, children, food and CityWorks (urban planning). If you took Dharma Rain Zen Center ( a group redeveloping a brownfield in far northeast Portland) and combined it with Groundwork Portland, Willamette Riverkeeper, Audubon Society of Portland and Zenger Farm, then topped it off with a national organization like the Sierra Club, you might have something close in Portland.
Although very close to Toronto’s core, you feel as if you are a world away there. Evergreen staff have organized the planting of tens of thousands of native trees and plants by community volunteers. They have also worked with partners to restore a large wetland on their site and a trail through the Don Valley watershed and its ravines.
Evergreen CEO Geoff Cape, along with Planning Director Jennifer Keesmaat and several other speakers stressed that ravines help to define Toronto. “The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice and hills are to San Francisco. They are the heart of the city’s emotional geography, and understanding Toronto requires an understanding of the ravines.” – Robert Fulford, Accidental City
On June 7, 2013, more than 60 mm of rain fell across the Toronto region, resulting in widespread water damage, flooding and road closures. According to an EBW blog post:
“The most significant flooding took place in the Don Valley, right where Evergreen calls home—shutting down the Don Valley Parkway and putting parts of the Brick Works under more than two feet of water! This is not the first time we’ve had to close the site due to excessive amounts of rain but it is certainly the largest flood we have had since moving into the Brick Works in September 2010.”
I found only one reference on the Evergreen site about the re-naturalization of the mouth of the Don River. It is described as a project of Waterfront Toronto in the History of the Lower Don Project. I am watching the CityWorks portion of Evergreen’s site for the day when they advocate taking out the Don River Parkway that so greatly confines the river (except when it doesn’t) and getting the Don River out of its concrete channel altogether.
Our next stop was to the Spacing Magazine retail store where publisher Matthew Blackett told us that he is working with Evergreen and the City of Toronto to create city planning podcasts aimed at a millennial audience. “Growing Conversations is our strategy to reach youth, newcomers, renters and those we’re not presently engaging in the official “consultations” the city planning department holds,” he said. His store sells many books about urbanism as well as locally designed products relating to urbanism –and, of course, the magazine.
Blackett, also on our agenda in the afternoon, claims that ‘most of Toronto’s growth is happening downtown–the fastest growing in NA- and that youth18-34 are a driving force behind the downtown condo boom. He said the government will give you 10% down payment interest free and forgiveable as long as you stay in the condo. The top three Issues he sees for this age group: affordable housing; equity; and the environment.
My hope is that this new generation will insist on speedier implementation of environmental restoration plans–e.g., for the mouth of the Don River–and greater awareness with regard to how all aspects of the City’s future are tied to working with nature in an era of climate change.