MVVA's designs ecologically sensitive development for Toronto's Lower Don Lands
Toronto’s formerly industrial Lower Don Lands involve complex environmental, social, and economic challenges. Adopting the metaphor of an estuary as a place of interchange and balancing between two contiguous systems, the project team undertook a detailed reconsideration of the relationship between the city and its natural environment. The result is a comprehensive landscape framework of big and small parks, urban connections, and newly established wildlife habitat that integrates the initiatives of seemingly disparate project goals including flood control, a naturalised mouth for the river, habitat creation, sustainable site infrastructure, integrated traffic and transit systems, increased mixed-use urban development, improved ecology, and historic preservation.
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ (MVVA) commission to design the Lower Don Lands evolved out of an international competition held in 2007 that resulted in four finalist teams. The competition proposals, developed over the course of six weeks, all engaged the client’s charge to introduce new ecological systems, sustainable urban spaces, and more robust flood control while also staking out considerable areas of open landscape to perform these functions.
Where the MVVA scheme distinguished itself was in the degree to which landscape systems were employed as the primary engine of urban transformation. Through its ongoing development, the MVVA team’s plan for the Lower Don Lands explores a diverse range landscape-based remediation and preservation approaches that operate on an infrastructural scale, for instance better controlling flooding and sedimentation by locating the mouth of the river in a place that it 'wants' to be with respect to river dynamics, and at each successively smaller scale of urban development.