When heavy rains hit Toronto, it’s common for flooding to hit the Port Lands district east of downtown, especially along the Don Valley Parkway. And that can carry untreated waste into Lake Ontario.
The reason: Decades ago, the city set out to create more industrial space, so the area where the Don River flows into Lake Ontario was filled in. But that also created a large flood plain.
The plan now is to transform this 1,000-acre area into sustainable, livable spaces, and control the flooding.
“It seems like there's nothing but opportunity,” says Jay Costescu, manager of Cherry Street Barbecue, a restaurant in the heart of the Port Lands.
“There’s a lack of green feel down this way, it’s so industrial,” he adds. “It needs to have that bright spot built back in. People aren't afraid to come to this area. There's just not a lot for them unless you put it here."
Costescu is hoping for better days during and after redevelopment, and says many of the old timers who come to his place are also eager for change.
Opportunity is also a word that Mayor John Tory uses when discussing the Port Lands redevelopment. He recently announced that the city, the province and the federal government had provided $83 million for flood control.
“This flood protection work will literally set the groundwork for building new waterfront communities and amenities that will serve the needs of Toronto's growing population and create the opportunity for thousands of new jobs,” he said.
Others say the project will help the environment and Lake Ontario.
“This is about cleaning up a brownfield site, cleaning up an industrial site,” says Geoffrey Capes, the president of Evergreen, a local non-profit group that provides research and design on livable cities.
He adds, “The restoration of the ecology of the mouth of the Don, transforming it from essentially a big open gutter, open sewer of some sort … into something that functions more like a natural mouth of the river will have a hugely positive impact on both the ecology of the river and the lake itself.'
The transformation will take time and money -- more than a billion dollars and counting.
Stephen Heichert of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, says even with the hefty price tag, it's money well spent.
“You are essentially opening up large areas of development right next to Toronto's downtown core,” he says. “And it's very valuable land, a lot of tax revenue, jobs, in an environment that will be pretty sustainable given how connected it will be to public transport, walking and cycling.”
The cost is a major hurdle, but mayor Tory says he's on board.
“This is one of the single biggest economic development opportunities in North America,” he says. “And by getting on with it, in earnest, we will do something good for Toronto, Ontario and Canada and I'm determined to do it.'
The next step is to nail down all the commitments for that billion-plus dollars.