Director of Digital Youth Engagement at TakingITGlobal
As young people, we have a golden opportunity to shape our cities into communities which reflect our vision of the world and allow everyone to reach their human potential.
With over 50% of the world now under 30 years of age and an accelerating global trend towards urbanization, moving more people to our cities is a global challenge which we can leverage to increase our affinity with other people and our planet, while also driving inclusive prosperity.
This will take two major changes in our design approach to city building and renewal: one social and the other environmental. Luckily we have an excellent example of these two important shifts in our own backyard here in Toronto; The Evergreen Brick Works, a former industrial site in the heart of the Don Valley which served as the venue for the first Overcoming Isolation and Deepening Social Connectedness Symposium.
After operating for almost a hundred years as a paper mill, a quarry, a brick making facility and as garbage dump, the site has been transformed into a venue to accelerate and bridge the gaps in our collective imagination.
From an environmental perspective, we need to redesign our cities (and create future cities) to be more connected to nature, acknowledging, respecting and integrating with the spaces and cycles we exist within. The Brickworks literally has this tenant built right into its foundations. Situated on a floodplain within the Don Valley watershed at the confluence of Mud creek and the Don River, thousands of years ago this was the mouth of a glacial river (hence the presence of so much clay). Today, it is highly susceptible to flooding and can expect more than a meter of water over the space of a few hours.
Luckily, this challenge has been built into the design of the site through an integrated flood management and water conservation strategy, which was designed to integrate with the natural systems and cycles that have been defining the area for millennia and well before human settlement. There are Greenways planted with grass and shrubs between the site’s buildings, which prevent rainwater seepage and contamination of groundwater by diverting stormwater into a management pond. It then filters out sediment before releasing water back into the Don Valley. There are also fifteen 20,000-litre cisterns, situated strategically around the site, that store runoff water from the buildings roofs for other uses, such as gardening and the site’s toilets.
As we become more connected to our environment, we must do so together, with inclusive design principles, an understanding of the power of play, and the drive to continuously learn from each other’s perspectives. The BrickWorks has taken several strategic steps towards realizing these goals by providing a platform for activities which allow our city to come together, breaking down barriers that normally keep us separated and celebrating the diversity of our collective.
Farmers markets, children’s gardens and playgrounds alongside preserved wetlands, art making and performance areas, educational and meeting spaces devoted to sustainability… all of this co-exists in an ecosystem where children playing in the dirt and lavish wedding parties take place side by side. Accessible public transit and cycling infrastructure are essential to the site’s success, allowing inclusive access to this vibrant natural center.
Providing a platform for diversity and inclusion is essential to building a better world and better cities, as we go forth and implement the changes we want to see, we must remember to maintain our connection to the natural world and to the diverse spectrum of all of those around us. Doing so enables us to make new connections, to discover and foster new ways of being and to build new relationships and friendships whether they are with members of our human family or with the ducks, toads, muskrats & sparrows we share our spaces with.