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10 projects that have shaped cities for the better

As we move into the next decade, we reflect on the city-building work that has taken place across the country over the last 10 years. Here are 10 big ideas that have made and continue to make positive change in our communities.

An aerial shot of Evergreen Brick Works at sunset.

Published on December 10, 2019

Moving bold ideas into action has been at the heart of Evergreen’s work since it was created almost 30 years ago. The last 10 years have seen a multitude of new ways for residents to connect to the natural and built worlds – and to one another.

From tree planting in Toronto’s Don Valley to addressing climate change at the neighbourhood level in Vancouver, Evergreen has been on the ground across the country transforming spaces into great places. Here are 10 initiatives that have been tested, scaled and whose impact continues to inform us on how to accelerate the transition to low-carbon city building.

Riley Park Street MuralRiley Park Street Mural in Vancouver, 2015.

1. Opening a centre for urban innovation and sustainability

Once a neglected industrial site in Toronto’s Don River Valley, Evergreen transformed the 11-acre Don Valley Brick Works into our new headquarters in 2010. Today, Evergreen Brick Works is a thriving community hub, event space and award-winning demonstration site for urban innovation and sustainability that welcomes more than 500,000 visitors each year.

What does the next decade hold?

In 2019, we began a unique master planning process aimed to reignite imagination about the Brick Works site. We are asking the public to share how we can enhance the spaces in and between buildings, improve neighbourhood connectivity and increase the feeling of belonging to become even more integrated into the fabric of the city.

Cutting the 'ribbon' to open Evergreen Brick Works in September, 2010.

2. Transforming Toronto’s local food scene

What started as a Saturday Farmers Market at the Brick Works site with 25 local farmers and producers in 2007 has grown into one of the largest in Toronto, hosting upwards of 80-plus farmers and producers offering a wide variety of local and seasonal food. Not only is it a place where visitors can gather and shop from farmers and producers, but it has emerged as an incubator where vendors can experiment and evolve their businesses.

Starting in 2017, Summer Wednesdays and Winter Village joined our public market roster. These season-long celebrations of food and community have created a meeting place where people can be active outdoors and engage with others – key ingredients to building flourishing cities.

3. Reimagining Canada’s public spaces through community-led design

From school grounds to public spaces, we’ve been hard at work transforming outdoor spaces into places where people of all ages can learn about and interact with nature. The Children’s Garden at Evergreen Bricks Works was created in 2010, becoming the destination for hands-on loose-parts play and education. Over the years, the space has continued to evolve with the input from the children and visitors, resulting in a revamp in summer 2019.

Our work expanded into park space in 2017 when we launched the Neighbourhood Nature Play project, transforming two local parks in Kitchener. Working closely with the community to design the space, the program delivered a series of natural features embedded into the landscape and provided free nature play programming. 

Neighbourhood Nature Play in Kitchener, 2019.

4. Affecting change, one action at a time

In 2014, we participated in 100In1Day Canada, part of a global movement that demonstrates how small resident-led ideas can transform cities by scaling temporary interventions in public spaces into longstanding projects. Evergreen launched a series of free workshops in 12 cities across Canada where residents, local organizations and businesses could come together to share and develop innovative, creative and reflective ideas that would spark change. In total, more than 1350 interventions have been led by over 2000 community members, engaging an estimated 100,000-plus people.

We continue to help bring ideas to reality with the 100In1Day inspiration toolkit.

5. Seeding housing innovation

As Toronto’s population and housing prices continue to soar, it’s vital to think creatively about how to accommodate growth while fitting the existing character of the neighbourhoods. Evergreen formed the Housing Action Lab in 2014 as a collaborative project promoting innovative housing solutions. A year later, Evergreen formed the core team leading the efforts to increase housing density through laneway suites, a detached secondary suite built onto a residential laneway.

Through innovative partnership and widespread community consultation, we paved the way to increase housing supply and demonstrate examples of sustainable construction and design. In June 2018, City Council adopted the Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments, permitting laneway suites in the Toronto and East York District.

6. Catalyzing Toronto’s first Superpark

The Don River Valley Park project started in 2015 as a multi-year public and private fundraising campaign. The unique partnership with the City of Toronto and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority aimed to create a ‘superpark’, a massive 480-acre green space spanning from Evergreen Brick Works south to the mouth of Lake Ontario. Since then, the project led to significant multi-use roads and trail improvements, ongoing nature programming and a new public art program aimed to spark important conversations about our surroundings and urban landscape. The Don River Valley Park Art Program launched in 2017 and to date has hosted a series of temporary artworks, ranging from sculptural installations, murals and billboards to dance and sound performances along the Don River. 

Will Kwan, A Park For All, text installation, 2018

7. Fostering sustainability through local collaboration

Evergreen’s Vancouver team launched Green Bloc as a pilot project in 2013, creating physical projects in neighbourhoods that would take collective action on climate change and resource consumption while leaving physical and artistic legacies. One of these installations can still be seen in Riley Park with a street mural created in 2015.

As Green Bloc became more established, placemaking became an essential component of the project in every neighbourhood, like the Dunbar-Southlands Mobile Placemaking Kit, a kit that sits in a custom-designed bike trailer and features items needed to hold a block party or street activation.

8. Creating a national hub that sets the standard for how we build cities

In 2017 Evergreen embarked on an ambitious project to redevelop the historic kiln building and create a new hub that brings together thought-leaders and city builders to collaborate in building sustainable cities. The project was one of the first in Canada to set and strive for a carbon neutral target. The 53,000-square-foot building, named the TD Future Cities Centre in 2018, has become a test site to advance the shift to more sustainable construction design and practices, including a high efficiency, renewable and geo-exchange system to heat and cool other buildings on-site.

The revived 53,000-square-foot kiln building is a venue to showcase and celebrate urban innovation, 2018.

9. Growing urban agriculture across the city

Over the last ten years, our large urban agriculture programs in Toronto served as destinations which connect people, teach practical skills, nourish local residents and harness the volunteer network locally. To date, the Community Food Garden at Woodbine Racetrack, for example, has grown over 7177 lbs of food and hosted 1050 volunteers.

Most recently, we unveiled the Plant Positivity Gardens, six gardens that add more than 50 varieties of native plant species to the existing 8,000-square-metres of gardens across the Brick Works site. These new themed gardens contribute to a thriving community and educational space and provide space for us to reflect, socialize and learn more about the natural world.

10. Driving urban innovation through a new national platform

Our work has continued to address climate change by looking at the city building ecosystem as a whole, laying the groundwork for Future Cities Canada, new initiative created in 2018 by founding partners McConnell Foundation, TD Bank Group, Evergreen, Maison de l'innovation sociale and Community Foundations of Canada. The collaborative brings together people, ideas, platforms and innovations from across sectors to accelerate innovation and transform cities through a series of labs and hubs.

Since its creation, two annual Future Cities Canada Summits gathered thousands of city builders, developers, planners and municipal leaders to share and translate the hard work being done at the community level into solutions that can adapted across the country. In 2018, Evergreen with partners, launched the Community Solutions Network, a new platform to support communities in advancing their thinking on the use of smart cities approaches to help improve the lives of their residents.

Jeremy Dutcher closing out the 2018 Future Cities Canada Summit.

We look forward to an even bolder decade of bringing innovation to cities across the country. Join us as we work together to make our cities more livable, green and prosperous!