Environment

collage-environmentWhy is this important?

Toronto won’t be able to handle the effects of changes to our climate (increasing and severe weather events, etc.) if its natural and built environments aren’t in good shape. Features such as abundant tree canopy, stormwater control, and green roofs are key to the city’s resilience. Parks, recreation areas, and walkable neighbourhoods enhance health and quality of life for all residents. Protection of the rich but threatened farmland that surrounds the city is an important asset for our food security.

 

What are the trends?

The percentage of residential waste diverted was the same in 2014 as in 2013, and the City has still not met its 70% diversion goal. The City will need residents’ help to restore the damage to our tree canopy caused by the December 2013 ice storm and meet its ambitious growth goal. Nonetheless, Toronto is the only municipality in the GTA Clean Air Council that has achieved all targets associated with a declaration to further municipal clean air and climate change actions and policies.

 

Data refer to the city of Toronto unless otherwise noted 2012 2013 2014
1.    Percentage of summer days that Toronto’s 11 beaches are open for swimming 89% 83%[1] 87%[2]
2.    Residential waste generated, in tonnes 815,450 823,743 804,369[3]
3.    Residential waste diverted, in tonnes

 

(Percentage residential waste diverted)

424,188

 

(52%)

439,222

 

(53%)

423,817[4]

 

(53%[5])

4.    Number of LEED certified buildings 59 123 186[6]
5.    City revenue from recycling $19.1M 19.6M $22.7M[7]

 

What’s new?

Although floods overwhelmed the municipal stormwater management system in 2013, management of water issues is a low priority for Torontonians. The City is working on better managing future extreme weather events since the December 2013 ice storm tested its ability to keep vulnerable residents safe. However, we need creative and proactive planning and investments to ensure that all Torontonians have access to a vital part of urban life—our parks and open spaces.

 

 

 

How is Toronto faring with measures of environmental progress and sustainability?

 

Our city can celebrate good news on how our beaches are faring:

  • Eight of the city’s beaches were awarded the international Blue Flag designation in 2014. They are: Bluffer’s Park Beach, Centre Island Beach, Cherry Beach, Gibraltar Point Beach, Hanlan’s Point Beach, Kew-Balmy Beach, Ward’s Island Beach, and Woodbine Beach. [8]
  • The City of Toronto’s 11 public beaches were posted as open 87% of the time during the 2014 beach season, up from 83% of the time in 2013. [9]

 

The number of LEED-certified buildings has increased by about 60 each year for the last two years:

  • In 2012 there were 59; the number more than doubled to 123 in 2013 and more than tripled to 186 in 2014. The 2014 number represents 7.11 buildings per 100,000 people, above the provincial average of 5.34.[10]

 

While there is still room for improvement, Toronto can be proud of its record on waste management:

  • After increases over three years in the amount of residential waste generated (from 799,812 tonnes in 2011 to 815,450 in 2012 and 823,743 in 2013), 2014 saw a small 2.3% decrease from 2013 (to 804,369 tonnes).
  • The percentage of waste diverted remained the same in 2014 as in 2013 (53%).[11] The City has still not met its 2010 goal of 70% diversion (an original goal of 100% by 2010, set in 2000, was revised in 2007).[12]
  • Nonetheless, Torontonians diverted 141,206 tonnes of waste from landfills in 2014 through the Blue Bin program and another 106,040 tonnes by using their Green Bins for organic waste.[13]
  • City revenue from recycling increased for the second year in a row, growing 15.8% to $22.7M in 2014 (after increasing 2.7% to $19.6M in 2013).[14]

globalToronto’s rate of waste diversion fares very well compared to other world cities:

  • As reported to the World Council on City Data (WCCD) in 2014, the city of Toronto’s “recycled” solid waste (this includes all material that goes in the City’s Blue Bin and Green Bin) was 53.32%. In London, it was just 30.41%, 25.02% in Melbourne, 22.59% in Rotterdam, and a mere 13.66% in Boston. In LA, the rate was an impressive 76.4%.[15]

 

Percentage of the City’s Solid Waste that is Recycled, as Reported to the WCCD in 2014[16]

Ideas-and-InnovationsOn June 1, 2015, Toronto‘s recycling program began accepting soft, stretchy plastics like sandwich bags in Blue Bins.

  • This expansion is expected to increase the amount of materials recycled and diverted from landfill by approximately 3,500 additional tonnes, while bringing in enough revenues from the sale of the collected material to result in annual net savings of $8,527 per year.[17]

 

Toronto has been ranked the world’s 12th most sustainable city:

  • While no North American city made the top 10 on the Sustainable Cities Index, compiled by the global design consultancy firm ARCADIS, Toronto was the highest overall ranked at 12th.
    • European cities topped the rankings: Frankfurt was first, followed by London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam. Boston (15th) and Chicago (19th) are the most sustainable US cities.
  • The report measures the sustainability of cities overall based on three pillars of sustainability that cities must balance:
    • The People pillar refers to “quality of life” for the population in areas such as transport infrastructure, health, education, income inequality, and green spaces.
    • The Planet pillar relates to city energy consumption, renewable energy share, recycling rates, greenhouse gas emissions, natural disaster risks, and air and water pollutions and qualities.
    • The Profit pillar relates to cities from a business perspective and includes measures such as ease of doing business, property and living costs, GDP, and energy efficiency.
  • The report notes that cities across the world are performing better in the Profit and Planet measures and performing poorest at meeting the needs of their People. Toronto garnered the following rankings:
    • 9th—our highest ranking—in Planet sustainability. The only other North American city in the top 20 is New York (at 20th). Frankfurt took first place.
    • 15th in sustainability for People. Boston overtook us at 13th. In first place is Rotterdam, followed by Seoul and London in second and third respectively.
    • 18th—our lowest ranking—in Profit sustainability. This is where US cities shine. San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia were all within the top 20.[18]

 

 

How well-equipped is the city to mitigate the effects of extreme weather and environmental changes?

The past year saw the city hit with more extreme weather, putting vulnerable residents at risk:

  • After 36 extreme cold alerts over the winter of 2013-2014—a record at the time—the winter of 2014-2015 was even worse.
    • There were 39 extreme cold weather alerts in 2014-2015, 59% of which fell in February, triggering additional services for the homeless. In 2012-2013 there were only nine cold weather alerts.[19]
      • Extreme cold weather alerts are issued by the Medical Officer of Health when Environment Canada forecasts temperatures of -15 °C or colder, or when, at warmer temperatures, certain factors increase the impact of cold weather on health (e.g., wind chill, precipitation, low daytime temperatures, or several days and nights of cold weather in a row).[20]
    • On a more positive note, only one heat alert was necessary in the summer of 2014 (compared to seven the previous year) to help those most at risk of heat-related illness take appropriate precautions. And there were zero extreme heat alerts (compared to six in 2013). [21]
    • In 2015 however, there were eight heat alerts and four extreme heat alerts for Toronto as of September 25, 2015.[22]
      • Heat alerts are called based on the following “triggers” with a duration of two days: a forecast high of greater than or equal to (>=) 31 °C, a forecast low of >=20 °C, and a forecast humidex of >=40 °C. The same conditions for a duration of three days will trigger an extreme heat alert.[23]
    • In March 2015, more than 250,000 Toronto residents were left without power, due in large part to freezing rain and a buildup of road salt and ice on hydro poles. By the following day power had been restored to all but 4,500 affected residents.[24]

 

After a December 2013 ice storm damaged as much as 20% of Toronto’s urban forest and tested the city’s ability to keep its vulnerable residents safe, the City is working on better preparing for future events:

  • A year after the ice storm, the City was busy updating its emergency response plans based on an independent review and Council reports. Actions undertaken to protect the city in the event of an emergency included:
    • an updated version of the City’s Emergency Plan and updates to various Emergency Support Function Plans that address how key functions (e.g., waste management, transportation services, paramedic services, and communications) can operate during an emergency;
    •  identification of four City-owned recreation facilities (one in each district, North, South, East, and West) that can function as emergency reception centres, and of specific facilities that can be used as warming or cooling centres as needed;
    • establishment of an Emergency Social Services Working Group to provide support during an emergency, comprising staff representatives from 13 City divisions and two City agencies (including Children’s Services, Employment and Social Services, Long-Term Care Homes and Services, Toronto Public Health, Toronto Paramedic Services, 311 Toronto, Toronto Public Library, and Toronto Community Housing); and
    • signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Canadian Red Cross (in May 2014) demonstrating its agreement to assist the City in providing emergency social services to residents who may become displaced during an emergency.
  • The ice storm cut power for a million residents, and Toronto Hydro’s phone lines and operators were unable to keep up with an average 40,000 calls per day. Toronto Hydro’s response to the storm was the subject of an independent review. Amongst the actions it has taken as a result are:
    • enhancing the Toronto Hydro website and creating a mobile application to better keep customers up to date during outages and emergencies;
    • undertaking an MOU with 311 Toronto that will enhance communications between the 311 Toronto and Toronto Hydro call centres (311 Toronto will, for example, be able to log outage reports for Toronto Hydro customers) ; and
    • assessing the potential of putting lines underground in new development areas or converting overhead lines to underground ones where possible, and working with Urban Forestry to review line-clearing programs and manage the potential impact of trees near power lines.[26]
      • Tree trimming would help prevent falling wires but conflicts with City plans to increase the tree canopy to 40% for its environmental benefits. An easier solution may be revisiting City guidelines that put hydro lines and front yard trees on the same corridor.
      • Converting the entire system underground would cost about $15B and triple rates for customers. It would also not work for all parts of the system, such as in flood-prone areas.[27]
  • During the storm, Parks, Forestry and Recreation worked with Toronto Hydro to remove trees and tree limbs that were affecting power lines, blocking roads, or posing a safety hazard, and then to inspect trees to identify and address potential hazards. They assessed the structural integrity of the city’s urban forest, collecting data that will inform planning for its long-term recovery.[28]

The City’s ambitious tree canopy growth goal will depend heavily on residents, because 60% of our trees are on private property:

  • 2013 was a bad year for the urban forest. Almost 20,000 City-owned trees alone were deemed “dead, in a state of decline, or structurally unsound” and removed. The ice storm claimed 1,500 of those trees, and another 7,924 were damaged by the Emerald Ash Borer.
    • Of Toronto’s roughly 10 million trees (of at least 116 species) 6% are City-owned street trees, and 34% are in parks. The rest are on private property.
  • To meet its canopy goal—increasing coverage from 28% to 40% by 2057—the City needs to add over half a million new trees a year for the next 50 years. Its plan relies not only on natural regeneration and planting on public property, but on private projectingresidents planting and maintaining trees on their properties.
  • Another challenge remains. While the City is upping its urban forestry budget to $100M by 2022, a balance will need to be found between canopy expansion and booming urban development.[29]

 



snapshot

According to Wellbeing Toronto, the neighbourhoods with the most tree foliage all corresponded with the location of our river valleys and ravines in 2011. The Rouge neighbourhood came out on top in this regard, with 12,888,044m2. North St. James Town had the least tree foliage, with 61,616m2.

 


 

 

How concerned are we about flooding, water usage, and the City’s management of water issues and infrastructure?

 

After “the year of the urban flood,” in which excessive rainfall or snowmelt caused floods that overwhelmed municipal stormwater management systems in Toronto, Calgary, and elsewhere in 2013, the City’s management of water issues is a surprisingly low priority for Torontonians:

  • Toronto Water manages one of the largest drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems in North America, yet the daily cost for the average Toronto household is among the lowest in the GTHA—$2.27 in 2014.[30]
  • RBC’s seventh annual study measuring the attitudes of urban residents to water issues finds that only 1% of Torontonians think stormwater management should be the highest priority infrastructure area for government funding, even though 23% of those surveyed live in an area they perceive as vulnerable to flooding and 20% had been personally affected by flooding in the past 12 months.
    • Torontonians instead named hospitals (27%), urban/suburban public transit (17%), and the production of green energy (15%) as highest-priority infrastructure investments. 12% prioritized the drinking water supply and 4% sewage collection/treatment.
    • Three-quarters believe climate change has increased extreme weather events in Canada and that they will become more commonplace in the future.
  • 42% believe that Toronto’s water treatment and delivery systems are in good condition and need only minor regular investments for upkeep, 12% believe they are in poor condition and need major investments now, and almost half (47%) said they had no idea what condition they are in.
    • The responses for the city’s stormwater management systems were 33% good, 19% poor, and 47% no idea.
    • Majorities believe, however, that deteriorating infrastructure for both water distribution (66%) and sewage (68%) will be much or somewhat more serious issues in the future.
  • Majorities reported a change compared to 10 years ago in the frequency of both floods (57%) and heat waves (52%). 49% noticed a change in the frequency of heavy snowfalls, 48% in ice or hail storms, and 38% in severe thunderstorms.
    • Three-quarters believe climate change has increased extreme weather events in Canada and that they will become more commonplace in the future.
    • 69% and 65% respectively predict that emergency preparedness and urban/city flooding will become much or somewhat more serious issues in the future.
  • Almost three-quarters (72%) believe that the increasing consumption of water supplies and the protection of drinking water sources will be much or somewhat more serious issues in the future.[31]

 

Most of Lake Ontario is already highly stressed from the cumulative effects of our economy and way of life:

 environment-cumulativestress

Cumulative Stress Map, Lake Ontario[32]

 

  • Microbeads, tiny pieces of non-biodegradable plastic (added to cosmetic products) are becoming a huge problem. They clog the intestines and starve fish and fowl who ingest them, and become more and more concentrated as they work their way up the food chain.[33]
    • Surveys by the US-based 5 Gyres Institute in the summers of 2012 and 2013 found up to 1.1 million microplastic particles per km2 of surface on Lake Ontario.
    • The Province has moved to ban microbeads, with a goal of binding legislation in place by the end of 2015.[34]

Water use by Torontonians increased last year after a period of declining use:

  • Declining water consumption in 2012-2013 led Council to approve, during the 2014 rate-supported budget process, an 8% water rate increase in 2015-2017 to address a $1B shortfall in capital funding due to reduced water revenue.[35]
  • As of July 20, 2015, a daily average of 1,488.01 millions of litres had been consumed in Toronto,[36] up from the daily average of 1,133 millions of litres a day as of September 5, 2014.[37]

Managing the resilience of our infrastructure is a priority for City:

  • Council approved an 8% increase in the 2015 budget to support more than $8.2B in spending on state of good repair, basement flooding protection, stormwater management, and improving extreme weather resiliency.[38]

 

How is Toronto providing leadership in the area of food security?

 

Half of Canada’s best farmland is in Ontario, with much of it near Toronto, yet the province imports almost $20B worth of food every year:

environment-foodshed

Toronto’s Rich “Foodshed”[39]

 

 

  • Half of Canada’s “Class 1” farmland—good for producing a wide range of field crops due to its deep, well drained, moisture retaining, and nutrient-rich soil—is in Ontario, much of it in “near-urban” areas such as surrounding Toronto.[40] Nonetheless, a border closure or key failure in US agriculture would leave Toronto and other nearby urban areas unable to adequately feed their populations. At any one time Toronto has about three days’ worth of food available.[41]
  • We import nearly double the amount of food that we export—in 2012, Ontario food imports were valued at $19.8B, and exports at $10.8B. A 2015 report from the Metcalf Foundation, the McConnell Foundation, and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation argues that Ontario’s food system has the potential to grow 50% of the food that it currently imports and better align local production with local consumption. The move would require more acreage devoted to agriculture, more processing and storage of perishable fruits and vegetables, diversion of some currently exported foods to local consumption, and changes from consumers.
    • Although the Golden Horseshoe specializes in fruit production and has 57% of Southern Ontario’s fruit acreage, fruits and nuts account for the bulk of food imports, with a net export of ‑$2.8B.
    • If just 10% of the top 10 fruit and vegetable imports were grown locally, Ontario would see a roughly $250M increase in GDP and 3,400 new, full-time-equivalent jobs, as the Greater Golden Horseshoe accounts for:
      • gross output of $10.8B or 37% of the total in the economy attributed to farming (the resulting GDP represents 38%, or $5.7B, of Southern Ontario’s level), and
      • 78% of Southern Ontario’s direct food processing and manufacturing employment (74,800 jobs).
    • Growing more food locally would also reduce the 70% of agriculture-related carbon monoxide emissions and 7% of carbon dioxide emissions that are due to transport.[42]

The good news is that despite these lost opportunities, food security is a priority for Torontonians:

  • 33 farmers’ markets in Toronto bring fresh produce from the farm to the table.[43]
  • Toronto places more emphasis than either Chicago or New York City on providing access to locally grown produce.
    •  According to the Institute Without BoundariesAtlas of One Delta (published in 2014), there are 445 community-supported agriculture programs in Toronto, compared to just 93 in NYC and 85 in Chicago.


global
environment-communitysupportedagriculture

Community-Supported Agriculture Programs, Toronto vs. Chicago and NYC[44]

 

Toronto’s air quality has improved, but does that mean we have nothing to be concerned about?

 

Toronto’s air is healthier than it was 10 years ago, but air pollution still poses a significant burden of illness in Toronto—and vehicular traffic is largely to blame:

  • Air pollution has been linked to a number of health problems including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, adverse birth outcomes, neurodevelopment, cognitive function, and diabetes. In 2013, the World Health Organization declared air pollution as carcinogenic to humans.[45]
  • A cool summer meant no smog advisories in Toronto or anywhere else in Ontario in 2014. As of September 1, 2015, there had been no smog advisories so far for Toronto and all of Ontario. There were two smog alert days in 2013, one more than in 2011 but down from the eight in 2012, when a hot and dry summer resulted in some of the highest ozone concentrations recorded.
  • From 2008 to 2011 ozone levels were consistently lower than in previous years.[46]

 

Improved air quality has translated into some meaningful public health gains.

  • Premature deaths and hospitalizations as a result of air pollution have dropped by 23% and 41% respectively since 2004.[47]
  • But the number of Torontonians (12 years and older) suffering from asthma rose in 2014 to 6.8% in 2014. It was 5.3% in 2013, down from 5.8% in 2012 and 6.9% in 2010.[48]

 

There is still much work to be done to reduce harmful emissions:

  • 10 years after Toronto Public Health released its Burden of Illness report, it released an update in 2014 noting that air pollution still causes an average of 1,300 premature deaths and 3,550 hospitalizations each year in the city (compared to an average of 1,700 premature deaths and 6,000 hospitalizations in 2004).
  • 42% (or 280) of those premature deaths and over half (55%) of the hospitalizations (1,090) can be blamed on the biggest local source of air pollutants—motor vehicle traffic.[49]

environment-burden

Estimated Annual Burden of Illness Attributable to Air Pollution from Sources Inside and Outside Toronto:[50]


Note: Totals may not appear to sum correctly as a result of rounding.

 

  • Air pollution from traffic also contributes every year to
    • 800 episodes of acute bronchitis among children,
    • 42,900 asthma symptom days (mostly among children),
    • 43,500 days where respiratory symptoms (such as chest discomfort, wheezing, or sore throat) are reported, and
    • 128,000 days when people stay in bed or otherwise cut back on normal activities.[51]
  • A recent study finds that while some airborne pollutants have decreased significantly since 2000, concentrations of ozone persist at levels that violate Canada-wide standards.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides combine to form ground-level ozone, a secondary pollutant. Levels of both of these primary pollutants have declined since 2000 but ozone itself has not, because the primary pollutants are reacting in the atmosphere more quickly.[52]
  • Nonetheless, Toronto is the only municipality in the GTA Clean Air Council that has achieved all targets associated with a declaration to further municipal clean air and climate change actions and policies across the Region.
    • The Council is a network of 24 municipalities and health units from across the GTA working collaboratively to develop and implement clean air and climate change actions.
    • Mitigation and adaptation initiatives taken up by the Council address areas including greening development, energy, air quality, urban forests, food sustainability, climate change adaptation, transportation, and community engagement.
    • When communities tackle air pollution and climate change challenges they become more competitive and liveable.[53]

 

Poor air quality in some Toronto schools could be impairing the learning environment:

  • Toronto District School Board (TDSB) documents obtained by CTV News show that many Toronto classrooms have elevated carbon dioxide levels.
  • Data show that within the past five years over 40% of schools tested in Toronto have registered above the recommended ceiling for indoor CO2 concentrations. Experts generally recommend avoiding concentrations above 1,000 parts per million (PPM).
  • 106 of the TDSB’s 591 schools (15%) have had an air quality test since 2010, and in 46 of them at least one classroom measured above 1,000 PPM.
    • Several had classrooms measuring upwards of 2,000 PPM.
    • One classroom measured as high as 2,650 PPM.
  • The TDSB has responded that no school in the Board has unhealthy or unsafe air and that the high readings in particular classrooms were usually caused by a minor, easily fixed problem such as a blocked vent.
    • When retested after repairs most classrooms were able to fall below the 1,000 PPM mark, but only about a quarter of the schools undertook repairs and half (48%) of the schools were tested only once without follow-up.
  • Even the 1,000 PPM threshold may not be safe. One study has shown drops in certain cognitive abilities at that threshold.
    • A California-based research team measured a significant drop in decision-making ability at 2,500 PPM, but effects were noticeable at as low as 1,000 PPM. The lead researcher cites a large body of evidence linking high CO2 levels to illness, absence, and reduced work performance.
  • The main cause of CO2 buildup is simply the breathing of large groups gathering in close quarters indoors.[54]

 


 environment-tsdbmeasurements


Five Years of Toronto District School Board CO2 Measurements, 2010-2015[55]

 

 

 

How do Toronto’s green spaces contribute to residents’ wellbeing and social capital, and how do we ensure that all residents have access to this vital resource as Toronto grows?

 

Green spaces provide significant health benefits to urban communities by cooling us in times of extreme heat and reducing air pollution:

  • A David Suzuki Foundation analysis of 102 recent (published over the past five years) peer-reviewed studies has found that green spaces filter harmful pollutants from the air and provide cooling effects during extreme heat.As heat rises, so do the negative impacts on our health. One Toronto-based study found that, on average, for every 1°C increase in maximum temperature, there was a 29% increase in ambulance response calls for heat-related distress.
    • Parks and green spaces are significantly cooler—according to one study, 4°C cooler on average—than other areas of Toronto, and higher concentrations of green space are associated with greater cooling.[56]
  • A 2014 TD Economics report noted that the amount of particulate matter removed annually by Toronto’s urban forest (the trees, shrubs and plants that grow in parks, ravines, our lawns, and at the sides of streets) is equivalent to the amount released by over one million automobiles or 100,000 single family homes.[57]

 


 gettingaround-airpollution

Air Pollution Removed by Toronto’s Urban Forest, 2014[58]

* Refers to the total amount of carbon stored in wood tissues of Toronto’s urban forest (not an annual value)
Source: Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, TD Economics

 

  • The David Suzuki Foundation report’s recommendations for urban greening include:
    • Exploring diverse strategies to meet green density needs in urban areas, such as establishing greenbelts, greenways, and other protected green spaces in cities and suburbs,
      • Ontario’s renowned Greenbelt is currently being expanded to protect urban river valleys in Toronto and neighbouring cities.
    • Mandating minimum green densities, including green roofs, for new developments,
      • Toronto passed a bylaw in 2009 requiring green roofs on 20% to 60% of available roof space on all new buildings with a gross floor area of 2,000m2 or more.
    • Prioritizing vulnerable areas in planting strategies.
  • The report stresses, however, that it will take more than greening to mitigate heat and air pollution. Integrated policies are also needed.[59]

 

Simply living near trees might be good for your health:

  • A team of international scientists conducted a large, comprehensive study based in Toronto that found that, even when controlling for socio-economic and demographic factors, people who live in neighbourhoods with a higher density of trees report considerably better health conditions.
    • The study found that just 10 more trees in a city block improves health perception on average in ways that compare to being 7 years younger, having an additional $10,000 in annual personal income, or living in a neighbourhood with a $10,000 higher median income.
    • Having 11 more trees in a city block on average improves cardio-metabolic conditions in ways that compare to a $20,000 increase in annual personal income, living in a neighbourhood with a $20,000 higher median income, or being 1.4 years younger.[60]
    • While access to healthcare and systemic issues of poverty are critical issues that must be addressed to improve health outcomes, the study clearly suggested that environmental factors are also critically important as well.[61]

globalToronto has over 1,600 parks and more parkland per resident than many other large North American cities:

  • Toronto’s 1,600+ parks cover about 13% of the city’s land area.[62]
  • Toronto has more parkland per resident (31 square metres) than Montréal (23m2), Vancouver (22), New York City (15), and Chicago (12).[63]

environment-parkmap

City Within a Park: Toronto’s Green Space[64]

globalToronto’s publicly accessible green area per 100,000 population, however, is not as impressive compared to some of its European counterparts:

  • As reported to the World Council on City Data (WCCD) in 2014, Toronto surpasses London with 445.67 hectares of publicly accessible green area per 100,000 population compared to 338.88. But in Rotterdam the figure is double that of Toronto at 1,161.32, and in Helsinki, more than triple at 1,488.70.[65]

 

 

Green Area per 100,000 Population (Hectares), as reported to the WCCD in 2014[66]

Despite this positive news, not everyone in Toronto has equitable access to green space. A Spacing magazine series called “Parks in Crisis” notes that residents in high-density neighbourhoods, especially those that have seen rapid growth due to the condo boom, are battling their neighbours—“a corrosive dynamic”—over what little green space they have. Some of the reasons for our parks deficit include:

  • No one expected the population to grow the way it has:
    • In the early 2000s, planners estimated the city would add 540,000 people in 30 years. Instead the population jumped by 10%, or 226,000 people, in just over a decade (2001-2012). That’s almost 42% of the projected 30-year growth.[67]
  • The City’s acquisition of parkland has declined dramatically:
    • The rate of acquisition has halved since 2009. From 1998 to 2008, the City added 191.3 ha of parkland or roughly 19 hectares per year (one hectare is about the size of an average sports field). But from 2009 to 2014, only 9.2 ha per year were added, for a total of 46 ha in new parkland.
    • The 2014-2022 capital budget for Parks, Forestry, and Recreation will see 10 times less spent on land than on park development projects ($10.8M versus $108M respectively).
    • projectingThe imbalance is not for lack of money. A reserve fund meant for parkland acquisition has grown significantly in recent years (thanks to the allocation of half of all parks levies collected and high-density development in the core). But the City just cannot compete in a highly speculative downtown real estate market. An acre of land can cost from $30M to $60M.[68]
  • The cash in lieu of parkland practice used with developers is no guarantee that open spaces near projects will be improved:
    • Under Section 42of the Ontario Planning Act, municipalities can ask developers to set aside a part of a property for parkland, but developers can refuse and instead offer a “cash-in-lieu” payment to the parkland acquisition reserve fund.[69] Choice of the latter option has increased dramatically over the last decade.
    • The amount of land the City receives from developers decreased from an average 4.9 ha per year in 2004-2009 to 0.64 ha in 2010-2014.
    • Developers prefer to give land only in areas that are not experiencing population growth or speculative pressure, while areas that are most in need of green spaces may not get them—even if developers pay cash in lieu, the City cannot afford the land.[70]

 

The City and various organizations are developing strategies to increase access to green spaces, including:

  • concrete apartment tower revitalization, which involves opportunities to improve parks and green spaces for tower residents (the tower renewal initiative is, as of January 2015, a permanent City program run by a new Tower and Neighbourhood Revitalization Unit);
  • linear parks, i.e., parks that are far more long than they are wide, enabling the development of more green space even in dense urban developments;
  • laneway revitalization, being undertaken by The Laneway Project, a not-for-profit aiming to develop new green spaces, increase walkability, and provide spaces for community events by improving the city’s laneways;[71] and
  • privately-owned, publicly accessible spaces (POPS), a New York City model. While advocates look to the success of Seagram Plaza as an example, about half of New York’s landlords have not complied with their POPS agreements by allowing garbage to pile up in the spaces or by making them unwelcoming (by removing seating and locking gates, for example). Furthermore, few POPS are equally accessible to all, making them no substitute for public parks.[72]

Ideas-and-InnovationsProactive parks and open space planning focused on connections, flexible design, community involvement, and creative solutions can act as urban “acupuncture” to help revitalize the city:

  • A Park People report proposes a connected network of parks and open spaces including ravines, hydro and rail corridors, streets, laneways, and schoolyards.
  • The group recommends not only an increase in efforts to identify and purchase parkland, but also that Torontonians rethink how they view parks and open spaces. It puts forth these principles to guide Toronto in finding new green space:
    • proactively plan central green spaces as the heart of networks that connect many different forms of open spaces;
    • create green connections that become places themselves and can act as links between larger parks and open spaces;
    • be flexible in design and use so that the space we have can be used efficiently and adapt to changing needs;
    • broaden the park to include the space beyond its edges so that parks and green space spill out into our streets and sidewalks;
    • find park space in overlooked, unexpected places such as schoolyards and under overpasses;
    • empower communities by building new partnership models that allow for more local decision-making and programming to meet diverse needs;
    • experiment and be nimble by employing quick designs to test ideas and gather feedback; and
    • create collaborations and pool funding sources to bring multiple City divisions on board and find new money for park improvements.
  • The kind of creative thinking necessary already exists in Toronto, in ideas such as:
    • The Green Line proposal to transform a hydro corridor just north of the downtown into a 5 km linear park that would stretch from Earlscourt Park to Spadina Road in the Annex;
    • revitalizing two downtown commercial laneways (Victoria Lane and O’Keefe Lane) into places for public art, greenery, and seating; and
    • transforming College Park into a lively green hub, focusing on its potential as a central green space in Toronto, akin to New York’s Bryant Park.

 

                                                 environment-greenlineproposal

The Green Line Proposal, Toronto[73]

global

  • The report also looks at current park and open space planning strategies throughout North America, including:
    • San Francisco’s 2014 Green Connections, a partnership between planning, transportation, public health, and community-based organizations created with the goal of linking parks together throughout the city via cycling and walking routes;
    • New York’s PlaNYC that argues for strategies such as reusing streets as parks, building parks on landfills, and redesigning schoolyards to also serve as community park spaces; and
    • Vancouver’s plans for some of its communities to use opportunities like green linkages in laneways and developing new plazas or park spaces on existing streets and lots.[74]

 

 

 

The following groups are addressing issues relating to the environment through their innovative community-based programs.

 

Click on the name of the group to be directed to their profile on the Community Knowledge Centre to learn more about how.

 

Bird Studies Canada – Conserving wild birds of Canada through public engagement and advocacy

Charlie’s FreeWheels – Teaching bicycle mechanics, safety and leadership skills to youth

Clean Air Partnership – Running the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, working for a better cycling and pedestrian environment

Community Bicycle Network – Providing access, training, and support for all cyclists

David Suzuki Foundation – Promoting environmental education and conservation

Earthroots Fund – Dedicated to the preservation of Ontario’s wilderness, wildlife, and watersheds

Ecologos – Networking volunteers to inspire others for a more sustainable society

EcoSpark Environmental Organization – Giving communities the tools for influencing positive environmental change

Environmental Defence – Challenging and inspiring change in all sectors to ensure a greener life for all

Evergreen – Solving the most pressing urban environmental issues

First Work – Helping youth find and keep meaningful employment

Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) Canada – Safeguarding migratory birds in the urban environment

FoodShare – Working towards a sustainable and accessible food system

FutureWatch Environment and Development Education Partners – Fostering the creation of sustainable communities

Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance – Bringing people together to tackle our region’s toughest challenges

Green Thumbs Growing Kids – Engaging young people with nature and food through gardening

Greenest City – Building healthy neighbourhoods through gardening and the celebration of food

High Park Nature Centre – Promoting awareness and respect for nature through outdoor education

Jane’s Walk – Creating walkable neighbourhoods and cities planned for and by people

Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre – Gathering community together in a place focused on social justice

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper – Working to restore swimmability, drinkability and fishability to Lake Ontario

LEAF (Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests) – Protecting and enhancing our urban forest

Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF) – Promoting, through education, the practices essential to sustainability

Local Food Plus/Land Food People Foundation – Nurturing regional food economies

Moorelands Community Services – Providing youth affected by poverty fun experiences to strengthen their confidence

No.9: Contemporary Art & the Environment – Using art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns

Not Far From The Tree – Putting Toronto’s fruit to good use by picking and sharing the bounty

Outward Bound Canada – Cultivating resilience and compassion through challenging journeys in nature

Project Canoe – Using the outdoors and wilderness canoe trips to help youth develop life skills

The Pollution Probe Foundation – Improving the well-being of Canadians by advancing environmental change

Scadding Court Community Centre – Providing opportunities for inclusive recreation, education, and community participation

Scarborough Arts – Developing programming and cultural initiatives in collaboration with the community

Second Harvest – Feeding hungry people by picking up, preparing and delivering excess fresh food to social agencies

Seed to Table – Cultivating the conditions for community change by building local capacity

Small Change Fund – Supporting grassroots projects that contribute to social and environmental change

Sustainability Network – Enriching Canadian environmental leaders and organizations by supporting them to increase capacity

The Stop Community Food Centre – Increasing access to healthy food by building community and challenging inequality

Toronto ACORN – Building community groups in low income areas to establish community campaigns

Toronto Atmospheric Fund – Helping the City achieve the targets set out in the Council-approved climate plan

Toronto Environmental Alliance – Promoting a greener Toronto

Toronto Park People – Catalyzing better parks across Toronto

Toronto Wildlife Centre – Building a healthy community for people and wildlife by raising awareness about urban wildlife

Wildlands League – Working in the public interest to protect public lands and resources in Ontario

Words In Motion – Using the arts to help children and their families achieve their full potential

 


 

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