Toronto Flooding Tests Green Design at Evergreen Brick Works
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
On Monday, July 8 around 5pm, just in time for rush hour, Mother Nature opened up her skies and hit the Greater Toronto Area with a deluge of rain. In some places, almost 130 mm of rain fell in just a matter of hours—a downpour that broke the previous record for rainfall that was set during 1954’s Hurricane Hazel.
The intensity and volume of Monday’s storm left many parts of the City without power, flooding thousands of basements, closing down TTC stations and stranding motorists and train passengers for hours—literally in their tracks.
While talking about the weather is a Canadian pastime, the increasingly erratic and severe weather is beginning to silence even the most strident climate change denier. But one thing is for sure: our aging urban infrastructure is ill-equipped to deal with our changing climate.
At Evergreen Brick Works, we are actively working to advance greener approaches to city infrastructure; promoting innovations for replacing aging and unsustainable infrastructure with new systems that will not only be more resilient in the face of extreme weather, but will also prevent the worst effects of climate change by reducing our carbon footprint. This facility is about more than demonstrating cutting-edge green design; it’s also a hub that connects theory with action, a living laboratory where leading innovators and the public can come up with solutions together.
In developing this site, we employed the highest standards of green design, but we also recognized the need to develop our own adaptive strategy to withstand severe weather events—especially flooding. Given our location in the floodplain of the Lower Don River, we knew the site would need to absorb water on a regular basis, and that we would have to devise clean, effective ways to divert excess water when flooding inevitably occurs—both rainwater runoff and messy, silty water from the Don River’s overflowing banks.
In developing these green design features, we took our cues from the natural systems and cycles that have been defining our local landscape for millennia and well before human settlement.
Greenways set between the site’s buildings have been planted with grasses and shrubs that slow rainwater down, trap sediment and release oxygen. Lined with a geotextile material, the greenways prevent rainwater from seeping into and contaminating ground water. They remain dry for a good portion of the year but can accommodate large and sudden storms.
The greenways clean the water and channel it into the stormwater management pond, located at the southern edge of the site, which also collects water from the parking lots and other hard surfaces on site, filtering sediment within the water before it is released back into the Don River.
The site’s eastern parking lot features pervious concrete, which contains less sand and up to 25 percent more air than normal mixtures, making it more porous for absorbing rainwater and recharging the water table. Rainwater percolates through and into the soil, where it is naturally filtered and helps replenish the groundwater supply. In heavy rains, excess runoff is channeled via the greenway and into the stormwater management pond.
We also minimize the amount of runoff from the buildings’ rooftops by collecting rainwater in fifteen 20,000-litre cisterns, situated strategically around the site, which keep water stored for other uses, such as gardening and in the site’s toilets.
For more details about flood mitigation, see the Green Design pages on our website.
In addition to the site’s physical design, Evergreen Brick Works has detailed flood management and evacuation protocols, which serve to protect all visitors, staff and volunteers whenever flooding occurs. In our latest flood, all systems worked as designed and we were able to learn much from our response plans. Although we experienced extensive flooding—in some places more than a metre of water—no serious structural damage or personal injury occurred.
We are grateful to all those who helped with the clean-up and to everyone for their patience while we dry out. Thanks to quick action, all of our programs and partner events were up again in 24 hours.
With this flood following only 45 days after our last major flood, it was a difficult pill to swallow. However, as we all grapple with how to adapt to increasing unstable weather patterns, it may be best to understand such instances as the new normal…and be ready.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
In my business, we’d rather not be right. What gets a climate change expert out of bed in the morning is the desire to provide decision-makers with the best available science, and at the end of the day we go to bed hoping things won’t actually get as bad as our science tells us. That’s true whether you’re a physical or a social scientist.
Well, I’m one of the latter and Meeting of the Minds thought it would be valuable to republish an article I penned in January 2020. In that ancient past, only the most studious of news observers had heard of a virus in Wuhan, China, that was causing a lethal disease. Two months later we were in lockdown, all over the world, and while things have improved a lot in the US since November 2020, in many cities and nations around the world this is not the case. India is living through a COVID nightmare of untold proportions as we speak, and many nations have gone through wave after wave of this pandemic. The end is not in sight. It is not over. Not by a longshot.
And while the pandemic is raging, sea level continues to rise, heatwaves are killing people in one hemisphere or the other, droughts have devastated farmers, floods sent people fleeing to disaster shelters that are not the save havens we once thought them to be, wildfires consumed forests and all too many homes, and emissions dipped temporarily only to shoot up again as we try to go “back to normal.”
So, I’ll say another one of those things I wish I’ll be wrong about, but probably won’t: there is no “back to normal.” Not with climate change in an interdependent world.
I caught up with Steph Stoppenhagen from Black & Veatch the other day about their work on critical infrastructure in Las Vegas. In particular, we talked about the new Bleutech Park project which touts itself as an eco-entertainment park. They are deploying new technologies and materials to integrate water, energy, mobility, housing, and climate-smart solutions as they anticipate full-time residents and park visitors. Hear more from Steph about this new $7.5B high-tech biome in the desert.
Planning for new, shared modes of transit that will rival private vehicles in access and convenience requires a paradigm shift in the planning process. Rather than using traditional methods, we need to capture individual behavior while interacting with the systems in questions. An increasing number of studies show that combining agent-based simulation with activity-based travel demand modeling is a good approach. This approach creates a digital twin of the population of the city, with similar characteristics as their real-world counterparts. These synthetic individuals have activities to perform through the course of the day, and need to make mobility decisions to travel between activity locations. The entire transportation infrastructure of the city is replicated on a virtual platform that simulates real life scenarios. If individual behavior and the governing laws of the digital reality are accurately reproduced, large-scale mobility demand emerges from the bottom-up, reflecting the real-world incidences.