Size of Port Lands precinct gives planners wide scope, plenty of challenges

Toronto’s Port Lands are an area to watch and will be for the next 50 years. This district, currently known for industry and power generation, is “prime for revitalization” according to representatives from the city and Waterfront Toronto who engaged stakeholders in a series of meetings aiming to gain their feedback on their longterm plans for reinventing the Port Lands.

“We’re looking at about 10–15 thousand housing units, which is about 18 to 25 thousand people and about 25–30 thousand jobs,” said Waterfront Toronto’s director of development approvals Amanda Santo at the Nov. 14 meeting. “You essentially get a place larger than where my colleague and I grew up, so we really are city building here.”

Creating the Port Lands is no small feat for planners and developers. It’s a substantial area, taking up almost as much space as the Downtown core and presenting urban designers with a unique set of challenges. The area lacks a transit network and has deep industrial roots that could hinder the renaturalization process. The area also lacks storm water management infrastructure, resulting in untreated runoff into the shipping channel the lake and in the flatter areas, flooding hazards.

However, Waterfront Toronto has chosen to see the Port Lands’ challenges as opportunities—including potential flooding. In fact, flood protection measures will play a role in the character of the proposed Villiers’ Island precinct plan.

“When the flood protection is done, we’ll have carved a new channel which transforms the area into an island, which creates a lot of unique opportunities to treat it as a special place,” said Waterfront Toronto’s planning and design vice president Christopher Glaisek. “It will have water on all four sides and lots of potential for waterfront community building.”

While some concerns regarding safety were raised, especially regarding two proposed waterfront schools on the island, the new precinct was well-received. If all goes according to plan, construction should be complete by 2045.

Additionally, the plan will implement a channel system that will use storm water as an attraction and a resource. This system involves different kinds of channels, some being open channels that will run alongside streets.

“The idea is to celebrate and see how the water is moving along that street,” said Dillon Consulting representative Ann Joyner. “There are other streets that will have water in channels under grates, but they’ll be directed to those areas so they can support larger trees and greener streets.”

A number of citizens embraced the idea of animating the water, although some were concerned about the proposed development’s effect on recreational boating. Others suggested encouraging water-based animation and transport by implementing a dense waterway network for small watercraft.

“We wonder if the Port Lands doesn’t actually become an expression of the city in the lake,” said public works representative Lauren Abrahams. “It’s not just about having water near you; it’s about actively engaging with that water on a daily basis.”