Transforming the long-neglected area into new urban communities connected to the natural environment will create a new global model for sustainable city building.
The Lower Don Lands - a 125 hectare (308 acre) area that runs from the Parliament Street Slip east to the Don Roadway and from the rail corridor south to the Ship Channel - is Waterfront Toronto’s most complex and ambitious project to date. Planning for the area needed to address a myriad of requirements and challenges including flood protection, infrastructure, urban design and transportation, plus a comprehensive process was needed to produce a master vision to integrate the various components.
Waterfront Toronto launched an International Design Competition in February 2007 to produce a concept that would provide the unifying vision for merging the natural and urban fabric into a green, integrated and sustainable community and provide common ground for the numerous environmental assessments (EAs) required for the area. In May 2007, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. (MVVA) “Port Lands Estuary” was announced as the winning design.
Due to the complexity of the Lower Don Lands planning initiative, the integrated planning process began with an Issues Identification Study to determine critical programs and phasing criteria. Study results were used to help the City of Toronto, TTC and Waterfront Toronto develop a Framework Planning Process to guide effective planning of the project. This process allowed the team to work on the design of the site as a whole, and integrate the project’s numerous concurrent EAs, including the Don Mouth Naturalization and Flood Protection Project EA, the various transit EAs and the Master Servicing EA, with the design of the Precinct Plan for the Keating Channel neighbourhood.
In April 2008, Waterfront Toronto, the City of Toronto and Toronto Transit Commission, as tri-proponents, began a study to integrate the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (Class EA) process with the Precinct Planning process that resulted in a Master Plan for transportation (including transit), water/wastewater and storm water management in the Lower Don Lands.
Lower Don Lands planning documents went to Toronto City Council in summer 2010 and were unanimously approved.
Engaging The Community In The Planning Process
As with all waterfront planning initiatives, public consultation has been and will continue to be a key component of Lower Don Lands planning. The planning process has included numerous stakeholders and public meetings as well as a number of workshop sessions.
In September 2007, Waterfront Toronto held the Don Greenway Workshop, to develop consensus on the functions and uses of the Don Greenway, consistent with the EA for the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection. Workshop results were incorporated into the terms of reference for preparing the framework plan by MVVA team. A draft report was circulated to participants following the event providing them an opportunity to review and comment on it.
An integrated public workshop – “Rise of the New Don” – was held in March 2008 to present the evaluation of alternatives and the selection of a preliminary preferred alternative to naturalize the Don Mouth. The session also included an update on how the results of the design competition would be integrated with the EAs.
Much of the Lower Don Lands is located in the Port Lands which was once one of the largest natural wetlands on Lake Ontario. The Ashbridges Bay Marsh was created by the lower Don River as it emptied into Toronto’s inner harbour. The landscape in the area was dramatically altered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Don River and the marsh it created posed many problems for the adjacent settlement of York and starting in 1870 a series of breakwaters, channels and other man-made structures were created to manage the area. Most failed or caused additional problems and in the 1910s plans were developed to change the area permanently.
In 1912, the Board of the Toronto Harbour Commission completed a plan for transforming Ashbridges Bay Marsh into a massive new industrial district with waterfront parks and summer homes. The mouth of the Don River was redirected into the concrete-lined Keating Channel in 1914 and infilling of the surrounding wetlands began. By 1922, more than 200-hectares (500-acres) of land had been created on the former marsh, with another 200-hectares soon to follow.
These lands were quickly occupied by industry and plans for a major waterfront park and adjoining cottage community were never realized. After the Gardiner Expressway was built in the 1950s, the mouth of the Don River became lost amidst a tangle of off-ramps, bridges and abutments. Access to the river was virtually cut off. Over the past three decades, public calls for the naturalization of the mouth of the Don River have grown steadily stronger.
The Lower Don Lands received the 2008 Royal Architecture Institute of Canada's (RAIC) Sustainable Development Award. The award is designed to recognize the role urban design and architectural excellence play in maintaining and enhancing the quality of life in Canadian cities.
Recipient Of The Best Futuristic Design Award
The Keating Channel Precinct, the Lower Don Lands’ first planned community, received the 'Best Futuristic Design Award’ at the Building Exchange (BEX) 2009 Conference.
The fifth annual BEX International Awards, held in partnership with the World Green Building Council, promote global standards for environmentally sound buildings, large-scale developments and infrastructure. Judged by a panel of leading experts, the awards celebrate sustainability, innovation, efficiency and collaboration in the built environment and demonstrate consideration of the issues surrounding climate change, sustainable communities and future legacies.
Other Awards To-Date
- Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) Excellence in Planning Award for the Lower Don Lands Framework Plan/Keating Channel Precinct Plan, 2011
- Institute of Transportation Engineers, Transportation Achievement Award, 2010
- American Institute of Architects, Award of Merit, 2009
- BEX International, Award for Best Futuristic Design, 2009
- Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Sustainable Development Award, 2008
- American Society of Landscape Architects, Honour in Analysis and Planning, 2008
- City of Toronto, Urban Design Award, 2007
Setting New Global Standards
The Lower Don Lands is one of 17 global founding projects of the Climate Positive Development Program, a Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) program.
Read more about the plans to provide flood protection to the Port Lands and renaturalize the mouth of the Don River.
International Design Competition
Learn more about the international design competition that was held for the Lower Don Lands in 2007.
Don Greenway Workshop
Read the summary report from the Don Greenway Workshop.
Waterfront Toronto held several public meetings for the Lower Don Lands EA process. Read the meeting reports below:
For more information about the planning and future development of the Port Lands and the Don Mouth Naturalization project, visit PortLandsTO.ca