TCLF: Leading with Landscape Conference Presentation – Panel II: Geoff Cape



Compelling and visionary designers and others examine Toronto’s international leadership in landscape architecture-based development. Provocative, headline-making speakers at this May 2015 conference in Toronto highlighted exceptional design and sustainability in world-class waterfront projects, the city’s extensive ravine system and it legacy of parks. To learn more about the conference: http://tclf.org/sites/default/files/microsites/toronto2015/index.html

Toronto, like most great cities — emerged from the ground. Marble buildings define Rome, while red brick defines London. Limestone defines Paris and wood timber defines San Francisco and Vancouver. Toronto is defined by red, orange and yellow brick — quarried from our river valleys. Brick reinforces our sense of place because it comes from the landscape, but a “sense of place” is not a static idea locked in stone. Place is constantly changing as it is interpreted, reinterpreted and engaged with by the people. Here in Toronto I can highlight three active projects that are evolving our identity:

1. The first is the redesign of our children’s school grounds. Hundreds of schools across the city are transforming asphalt “prison yards” into dynamic, natural learning spaces — with and for the community. We are removing asphalt, planting trees, growing food gardens, and installing art and cultural symbols. The design of children’s outdoor landscapes has become a powerful way to help develop a sense of place and inspire the next generations of leaders with the creativity and confidence to make Toronto better in the future. All that is required is a basic framework, some simple design principles and community leadership. The results are often magical. Toronto has become a global leader in this area of work.

2. In 2010 we opened Evergreen Brick Works – a crazy collection of sixteen old buildings in the middle of Toronto largest river valley. This is the place that produced 44 million bricks each year and helped build our city. Today it is something different – a place for people, a place where active community programming (markets, camps, theatre, exhibitions, conferences and office space) contribute to a unique experience. The design and development of this project was inspired by the landscape and the programming that brings this site to life extends that idea further. No two visits to this site are the same because the space is constantly changing as structures are moved, reorganized, or woven together. The design of this space began with a simple framework and it evolves through an active partnership with the community. It is working well for almost 500,000 visitors each year.

3. Last but not least, Toronto has a remarkable network of six river valleys, hundreds of tributaries and a web of over 44,000 acres of protects ravines that touches every neighbourhood across the city, rich and poor. Hidden from sight, this web of green modestly defines our city. Unplanned, unconnected and often unloved, these spaces are now the subject of an enthusiastic rethink. It will start with a vision for the system, and it will grow in partnership with the community. Master plans, design studies, art, programming, and quiet walks will all combine to build the narrative for this unique system that helps us to better understand ourselves as much as it helps to define Toronto globally.

Great cities emerge from the ground but they come to life when the community is actively engaged as co-creators in the process of defining their localized identity, and sense of place. The process is chaotic and the narrative that emerges is dynamic, but when it works it can often be beautiful, not always but often.

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