We are in a Climate Crisis.

While we understand the normalcy of a fluctuating landscape, our urban systems and regions are built with static, unchanging infrastructure that can rarely withstand modern ecological disasters. 

The pressures faced by urban regions are compounded by human-related activities, such as urbanization. As impervious surfaces sprawl across formerly protected greenbelts and seep into old growth forests, we put localities at ris
k from urban heat island, pollution, and environmental degredation...  

Through the lens of the Green New Deal, cities grapple with how to adapt built landscapes to sustain severe climatic conditions.  



Hindsight is 2020.

Video sourced from CTV NEWS - 2018

Introduction

Capitalist modes of production, such as urban development, have marred our natural environment. These modes of production primarily occur through the ways in which land is managed, with the constant shaping and reshaping of our natural systems being at the core of urban design and planning. Ecosystem services, a capitalistic production of nature, is our current path dependency, leaving us entrenched in patterns of commodifying, exploiting, and dominating nature. Re-interpreting our relationship to nature as being mutual and interdependent bring new kinds of value to the blanket term 'urban resiliency'.

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As rivers around the world have been channelized and buried to support urbanization, the landscape cannot productively operate and sustain a healthy ecology. Reimagining water as life rather than understanding and treating water as infrastructure is by no means a new way of thinking, but it does challenge current trends of urban development.

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Hurricane Hazel in Toronto, The Toronto Star (2013)

“We’re realizing as a nation that water has become not just an environmental challenge, but a social and economic challenge. We’re finding that we’re competing for water.”

–J. B. Rhul (2018)

Identifying the Design Action Zone

Decision on a DAZ considered the ways in which watersheds dictate the movement of water and how Toronto's decision making processes have influenced these systems. Identified neighbourhoods that fall below Toronto's equity benchmark were based on indicators of economic opportunity, social development, health, physical surroundings, and participation in municipal decision-making (City of Toronto, 2014). Also identified are transit corridors, sources of urban toxic pollutants, and tree canopy.

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Toronto Watercourses

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Mapping Toronto 

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Instances of the Black Creek at Rockliffe-Smythe

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Rockliffe-Smythe Design Action Zone

A History of Flooding

Rockcliffe-Smythe developed as a post-war suburb, and as a result of continuous development and urbanization, the area is now at high risk of increasingly frequent significant flooding events. After Hurricane Hazel in 1954, the Black Creek River was channelized in concrete from just south of Weston Road until the stream outlets to the Humber River in what is now the Lambton Golf Course. This channel was meant to increase the floodplain's conveyance capacity, but failed to address the collection and infiltration issues Toronto currently faces with urban hydrology. This special policy area, designated by the 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 year flood lines at the center of our DAZ, is at serious risk due to aging infrastructure. The limited channel capacity leaves the landscape unable to handle large volumes of water.

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Channelization of Black Creek

Welcome to Black Creek!

Impacts of flooding on the neighborhood can be playfully understood through the travel posters of a local green frog, beginning at the outlet in the Lambton Golf Course and following the frog up to the mouth of the channel. The frog begins hopeful as he treks through the urban wilderness, but slowly becomes jaded as he is faced with issues of pollution, habitat fragmentation, and urban heat island effect. These urban challenges are also plaguing local residents. Rockcliffe-Smythe is home to a high proportion of youth and elders compared to other inner suburban communities, both populations being highly susceptible to these harsh urban conditions.

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Design Action Zone Strategy

Toronto's aged stormwater and sewer infrastructure can no longer support the more frequently occurring 100 year storm events. Not only is the creek enclosed with concrete, but many of the adjoining and nearby surfaces are paved over with concrete or asphalt, contributing to high rates of runoff and very low permeability for the neighbourhood. Very few, if any, mitigation strategies are currently employed within the neighbourhood to deal with significant flooding. An environmental assessment completed over 10 years ago called for the redevelopment of key public spaces with the purpose of flood protection, however none of these proposals have been considered further by the City.

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100 Year Flood Extents at Rockliffe-Smythe

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Micro-flooding Units at Rockliffe-Smythe

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Will become a part of the new Eglinton LRT.

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Ten micro-flooding units are identified along the Black Creek. Site analysis revealed details about its ground cover condition. Results consist of impermeable surfaces, programmed open space, passive lawn, and natural systems such as meadows, wetlands, and successional woodlots. Proposed land-use changes highlight key spaces for up-zoning to add density, down-zoning to take away density, spaces for flux that allow for flooding, and buffers of indeterminacy to act as failsafes. Four zones of action were further identified for intervention, displaying a lack of flood zoning, program, and accessibility. These include the Neighbourhood Unit [5], Post-Industrial Unit [7], Towers in the Park [8], and the Private Golf Course [10].

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Proposed Zoning Changes at Rockliffe-Smythe

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Welcome to the Neighbourhood Unit

The neighbourhood unit is dominated by single family homes, all of which were built before the 1960s as post-war suburbs. Issues of aging infrastructure are most prominent in this unit, which is concerning given that over 70% of the area is covered by impermeable surfaces. There is no room for the creek to flood and little space for natural systems to aid in stormwater infiltration. The concentration of single family homes and senior Co-Op housing at the creeks' edge discourages social infrastructure and access to the water. Exacerbated by the concrete walls of the channel, there is no place for community engagement. Across the only bridge crossing the Black Creek is an elementary school disconnected from its surrounding community.

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138 Single Family Homes at Risk

6 Senior Co-Op  Housing Units at Risk

20 Multi-Unit Homes at Risk

School Lacking Outdoor Educational Space

Lack of Floodplain Zoning

Limited Accessibility

Lack of Accessible

Public Space

Creek Inaccessible

Missing Flood Mitiigation

Existing Condition

AREA

61 ha

IMPERMEABLE

72 %

SOCIAL INF.

18 %

NATURAL SYSTEMS

7 %

PASSIVE LAWN

4 %

To address issues of stormwater storage and infiltration, a large terraced berm replaces at risk residential units closest to the creek. A floodable meadow helps to infiltrate polluted stormwater in the most inundated spaces, acting as a buffer for indeterminacy during cloudburst events. New mixed-use development replace and add to the residential units displaced and new senior cooperative housing is built to better accommodate the high population of seniors living alone in the area. As an intergenerational living community hub, unique opportunities for cross-generation socialization occur. Atop these new buildings are a mix of solar panels and green roofs to reduce energy consumption and aid in rainwater infiltration. 

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Solar Panels

Greenroof

Mixed-Use Floodable First Floor

Parking

Recycling Centre

Bocce Ball Court

Bike Path Flood Protection Berm

Flood Protected Circular Path on 3rd Floor

Senior Co-Op Housing

Terraced Water Storage

Increased Access

Townhome Units

Open Space Creation

Educational Opportunity

Meadow Infiltration

Proposed Condition

AREA

61 ha

IMPERMEABLE

50 %

SOCIAL INF.

20 %

NATURAL SYSTEMS

40 %

PASSIVE LAWN

3 %

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Urban Design Toolkit

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Intergenerational gathering and educational space, connecting community to the Black Creek.

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Reconnecting the Rockliffe-Smythe neighbourhood on both sides of the Black Creek.

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Welcome to the Post-Industrial Unit

The post-industrial unit is where a buried hydro corridor meets the Black Creek, but there is currently no space for the water bodies to flood as necessary at this confluence. Over 70 single family homes are at risk, not only from the cloudburst events but also from the heavy pollution so embedded in the landscape. An almost entirely industrialized flooding unit, this focus site is facing commercial blight, as the buildings turn into storage sites for Toronto District School Board and the TTC. Despite its adjacency to multiple local schools, no social infrastructure is present, leaving a missing physical and social connection to the creek bound by industrial activity. As industry—primarily consisting of construction and auto repair shops—leave the unit, contaminated soils and a degraded environment are left behind.

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School at

Risk

Missing Educational Opportunity

School At Risk

72 Single Family Homes at Risk

22 Industrial Units at Risk

Underutilized Open Space

Contaminated Soil

Missing Connection to Community

Lack of Accessibility

Missing Connection to Creek Edge

Existing Condition

AREA

29 ha

IMPERMEABLE

60 %

SOCIAL INF.

0 %

NATURAL SYSTEMS

12 %

PASSIVE LAWN

28 %

Engineered wetland replaces half of the formerly impermeable land, acting as a living lab for the nearby Research and Resilient Community Centre. This multifunctional wetland protects the area from flooding while remediating the landscape of heavy metals from past industrial uses. Two Observation stations span over the wetland public spaces for educational and recreational opportunities. A new floodable neighbourhood spine is constructed to help direct stormwater runoff and new floodable civic infrastructure operates as buffers of indeterminacy for cloudbursts. Greenroofs, solar panels and greenhouses are atop the new, higher density and mixed use buildings to replace the displaced single family homes. The replacement of polluting industry in this site calls for the creation of new employment lands, which is addressed by the creation of the Rockcliffe-Smythe Research and Resilient Community Centre, with the goal of increasing landscape literacy and creating citizen scientists.

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Seasonal Community Space

Floodable Ciivic Infrastructure

Solar Panels

Observation Station

Green Roofs

Raingarden

Public

Performance Space

Wetland Remediation

Research and Resilient Community Centre 

Greenhouses

Greenhouses

Floodable Street

Solar Panels

Proposed Condition

AREA

29 ha

IMPERMEABLE

30 %

SOCIAL INF.

20 %

NATURAL SYSTEMS

52 %

PASSIVE LAWN

25 %

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Heavy Metal Remediation Toolkit

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Research and Resilient Community Centre facilitates community stewardship of the Black Creek Wetlands.

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Students participate in an outdoor educational lesson with the Research and Resilient Community  Centre.

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Welcome to the Towers in the Park

The towers in the park unit is dominated by post-war apartment towers and are in need of infrastructural repair. A dense successional woodlot separates tower communities from accessing the creek, creating a barrier from the local school. The inaccessibility of the site prevents community engagement with the local ecology. The concrete channel does not allow for adequate inundation when cloudburst events occur and leaves the school in particular at high risk. A multitude of parking lots span between the towers, contributing to urban heat island and runoff rates. The myriad of social and ecological issues present on site require first and foremost addressing the severance of ties between community and nature.

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Park at Risk

Missing Connection to Creek

School at Risk

8 Apartments at Risk

Lack of Accessibility

Missing Flood Storage

Missing Community Engagement

Under-utilized Space

Existing Condition

AREA

29 ha

IMPERMEABLE

51 %

SOCIAL INF.

8 %

NATURAL SYSTEMS

28 %

PASSIVE LAWN

13 %

The creek becomes daylighted to allow for better flooding infrastructure, extending the natural systems network already present on site. Floodable meadows improve infiltration and is supported by the addition of greenroofs and living-walls on existing tower buildings. Making the living landscape more visible to the residents will increase engagement and provide significant benefits as compared to the previously stark segregation of the tower communities from the creek. Extensive pathway systems reduce physical barriers that exist between residents and the creek, facilitating socio-ecological relationships to form. Floodable civic infrastructure allows for multi-functional programmatic activity that also works to store and divert water away from the school during high risk flooding events. Within the tower communities, new flex spaces are created by modifying existing parking lots to make space for local markets. A new learning center dedicated to youth is constructed at the nexus of several towers with an interactive learning station that is connected to the Research Resiliency Community Centre.

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Learning Garden

Meadow Infiltration

Daylighted 

Creek

Increased Access

Greenhouse

Floodable Ciivic Infrastructure

Solar Pannels

Green Walls

Green Roofs

Proposed Condition

AREA

29 ha

IMPERMEABLE

35 %

SOCIAL INF.

20 %

NATURAL SYSTEMS

38 %

PASSIVE LAWN

10 %

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Tower Community Toolkit

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Floodable civic infrastructure initiates gathering space for students.

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Playground and healthy urban habitat creation activates under-utilized space within existing Tower community.

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Welcome to the Golf Course

This formerly privatized golf course was the first unit developed in the neighborhood, and the first portion of the creek to be channelized. The use of the site as a private golf course creates a significant disconnect between the space and surrounding community. Although dense clusters of canopy sprawled across the site appear significantly healthier than canopy conditions in the previous focus sites, the ground and subsurface conditions consist of expansive lawn with high maintenance requirements that require a heavy reliance on pesticides. As a result, the landscape is severely polluted, and its location upstream of the Humber River transports this water into Lake Ontario.

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Inaccessible Greenspace

4 Apartments at Risk

Channelization Suppresses Quality Habitat Creation

Fragmented Canopy

Lack of Community Engagement

Disconnected From Community

Lack of Flood Storage

Existing Condition

AREA

98 ha

IMPERMEABLE

30 %

SOCIAL INF.

0 %

NATURAL SYSTEMS

13 %

PASSIVE LAWN

57 %

Wetland and meadow creation improves flood control, infiltration of stormwater runoff, and remediates pollutants associated with the former landscape conditions on site. Successional woodlots and meadows overgrow the formerly expansive passive lawn. A new network of paths follows the former fairways, increasing accessibility between the existing tower community and the proposed cooperative housing. Specialized program elements associated with the upstream research and community hub are also present in this site, to help monitor the remediation of the landscape. These homes are accompanied by a central strip with raingardens for stormwater management and a central greenhouse to provide a year-round community space. The presence of this water-specific infrastructure encourages literacy around the local ecology and boosts community assets.

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Increased Flood Control

Woodlot Expansion

Prioritizing 

Access

Wetland Remediation

Meadow Infiltration

Prioritizing 

Tower Access

New  Mid-Rise Development

Greenhouse and Raingardens

Community Centre

Proposed Condition

AREA

98 ha

IMPERMEABLE

38 %

SOCIAL INF.

18 %

NATURAL SYSTEMS

65 %

PASSIVE LAWN

7 %

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Chloride Remediation Toolkit

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Elevated paths support wetland remediation and community program after a rainfall event.

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Greenhouse supports place-making throughout all seasons.

Conclusion

There is no perfect solution to the growing ecological crises faced by the Rockcliffe-Smythe community. Opening the channelized creek to allow for better flood protection. The spaces created will also provide more opportunities for community members to interact with the landscape during both normal and abnormal environmental conditions, improving local understanding of ecological processes.

Thank you!