Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Toronto’s Genius Project: Evergreen Brickworks

by asladirt

Evergreen Brickworks, a stellar project from Canada’s Evergreen non-profit, re-imagines a derelict 12-acre brownfield site, which was once a historic brickworks, in the heart of Toronto as a “center for learning on urban ecology.” At a session at the 2011 GreenBuild, Evergreen, an organization that asks people to ”imagine your city with nature,” and the team’s architects and energy modellers delved into the details of this model urban redevelopment initiative.
According to Robert Plitt, sustainability manager for Evergreen, the venue was envisioned as a site that could “speak to the broad issues of sustainability in cities.” Given cities have “eliminated natural processes,” what would be better than turning one of the most hard-core brownfields into an environmental learning center, public arts space, ecological landscape demonstration project, and farmer’s market? Evergreen wanted to show that no matter how environmentally degraded, ”cities can rest in a foundation of the natural world.” The organization, however, not only had to address the challenges of remediating a brownfield but also learn how to maintain a site on a floodplain.
The Don Valley Brickworks, which provided almost all the bricks for Toronto’s older buildings, shut down by the mid-20th century. Since 1975, it’s been abandoned. Some amazing features of the old site: There are 300-foot brick kiln tunnels, beautiful old machinery, towering spaces, and decades of graffiti. But the site rests within a major floodplain, which gets up to 12 feet of water during hurricanes. It’s also a part of the “world’s largest ravine system” at some 26,000 acres, which underlies parts of Toronto. Given the challenging geological and hydrological conditions of the site, the Toronto government almost denied moving forward with the project, but “leadership across the federal, provincial, and city governments wanted this to happen.”
This historic brownfield redevelopment project was forged out of ”hundreds of partnerships,” resulted from “deep community engagement,” and is financed by some $30 million CA in public funds (and another $25 million CA raised through donations).

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photo by Jason Verwey

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