Tell the City what you want at the mouth of the Don

Tomorrow [Friday, February 2] is the deadline for submissions to the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation regarding visions for Toronto’s Lower Don Lands.  The TWRC is holding a design competition and wants input from the public about what they’d like to see at the mouth of the Don.  Please submit your vision.

I want to point out that I believe that this move has been prompted in no small part because of the courage and determination of people like Sharon Howarth, Karen Buck, Terry Fahey, Michael Rosenberg, David Hanna, Daniel Matmor and others who persisted in demanding a broader vision than what the City appeared to be offering.

So now is the time to reinforce this message to the TWRC and make sure that the demand for a naturalized river is heard and taken seriously.  Here is the letter I submitted.  Please feel free to use any of it in your own submission:

Give the River what It Needs

A Vision for the Lower Don Lands

submitted to the Toronto Waterfront Rivitalization Corporation by Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu, 2007 February 1

The most important thing I’d like to communicate to the design teams for the Lower Don Lands is the idea that the living river should be the focus of any design.

While I like ideas for iconic entranceways, parkland, trails, public transit and other ideas, I’d sacrifice them all rather than interfere with the river.  Certainly, I’d vigorously oppose any “harmonious new development” that impedes the ability of the river to flow, flood over and cleanse itself.

In Toronto, as in many cities, we’ve treated natural features as obstacles to development, and destroyed them to our detriment.  We’ve overbuilt our watersheds and killed our rivers, polluted our lakes and destroyed our waterfront.  These trends can only be reversed at immense cost so “end of pipe” solutions are typically instituted instead.

The Don floodplain, now in a relatively unoccupied state, presents us with a rare opportunity to do something right for a change.  I’m not happy about trying to smash in too many competing functions into a restricted area.  The entire Portlands was once the Don delta, and if we ever hope to bring the river to life again, we should expect it to have a broad floodplain again, filled with revitalizing, cleansing wetlands and chattering birds.  We should give the river the space it needs.

The implications of this policy might mean that development on the entire Portlands would be restricted to structures that are intended to face periodic flooding.  This is a prudent policy, because restricting waterflows is challenging even under normal conditions.  In storm conditions, surging river waters are extremely difficult to hold back, and with global warming, our storms are increasing in both frequency and violence.  A storm of the scale of Hurricane Hazel, if it occurred on the Don, would flood the Portlands anyway.  If we build housing developments in the way of the flood, we shall be guilty of endangering countless lives through reckless disregard for the lessons of history.

While I see development as very limited, I’d like the Don floodplain to be enjoyed.  I’d like to see boardwalks across wetlands, observation areas, butterfly meadows, thickets and woods with beaten paths.  I’d like to see large areas open for canoeists and others left to the birds.  I’d like to see enormous areas left to develop in unpredictable ways, as nature directs them to.  On warm weekend days, the Don floodplain should be available for Toronto to enjoy.

If we build on the floodplain of the Don today, we will forever lose the opportunity for our grandchildren to enjoy a living river in Toronto.

My vision would extend up the Don in years to come.  As we bring in mandatory downspout disconnection and learn to harvest our rainwater, using treated water just for cooking and drinking, we will reduce the stresses on the river during storms.  As we introduce porous pavements and green roofs, one day we might hope to get our river back.  I have not lost hope that my children’s children’s children will swim in the Don again.

Please give the river what it needs.

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