Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lakeshore lessons for a city without a shore

A created wetland, part of the flood management program at Corktown Common Park. Photo: Waterfront Toronto
TORONTO – No, alas, I am not attending the Toronto International Film Festival. I'm here for a conference, Meeting of the Minds. (Follow on Twitter at #motm2013). Monday, a group of us toured a massive, years-in-the-making redevelopment project along Toronto's waterfront. It's called WATERFRONToronto.

But what might any of that mean for Charlotte? We are not a city perched on the edge of one of the Great Lakes (in this case, Lake Ontario). The only lakes nearby are artificial and nowhere near downtown. But it rains on Toronto the way it rains on Charlotte, and pavement sends pollutant-carrying water streaming downhill. Even if it isn't polluted (but it probably is) the stormwater can flood low-lying areas, including buildings in floodplains and storm sewers. In Charlotte we send our stormwater into our creeks.

So I was interested to see some of the ways the city is working not only to reclaim old, industrial areas that used to flank the lakeshore, but how it's trying to deal with the water that comes from the sky, and from flooded rivers.

Next to the lakeside, the new Sherbourne Common is a storm-water treatment plant, designed as a park with water-filled art.

Art at Sherbourne Commons uses the treated stormwater. Photo: Waterfront Toronto
The water that pours through its fountains is storm-water that's been purified. A grassy field treats the water. A splash park with jets of spurting water is designed to become an ice-skating rink in winter (this is Canada, after all.)

Farther east along the lakeshore is Corktown Common, a park built specifically to filter and store stormwater. It's planted with native plants, offers a playground and a splash-park for kids of all ages.