Why Downsview Park's New Bioswale Is Money In The Bank

Sourced from The Star

At a time when once-a-century storms occur every few years, keeping the city from sinking city isn’t as easy as it once was. Subways and basements flood regularly now, sewers overflow and roads disappear beneath the deluge. During the most recent such event, two weeks ago, a month’s worth of rain fell in two hours. And who can forget the storm in July, 2013, that left Toronto submerged.

For the most part, the city’s response has been all wet. Mayor John Tory proved himself unequal to the task of keeping up with climate and civic change when he led the charge to reject a plan to modernize the city’s stormwater management system. The problem was that it included fees. That’s a scary prospect for a mayor as timid as Tory, who doesn’t believe that Torontonians should have to pay the costs of living in a big city.

In truth the cost of these downpours is far greater than the price of readiness. The 2013 storm alone resulted in more than $1 billion in insurance claims.

Fortunately, not all branches of government are as inept as the political; the proof is a large bioswale commissioned by the Canada Lands Corp. at Downsview Park. If you haven’t heard that word, bioswale, don’t worry, you will. Essentially a landform feature that drains storm run-off before it can do damage, it goes a step further than the stormwater ponds with which we are now familiar.

“It combines the art of landscape architecture and the performance of engineering,” explains Ian Gray, senior landscape architect at WSO Global. “It’s designed to take the load off storm sewers, which don’t have the capacity to deal with the sort of storms that now occur more often.”

And, Gray makes clear, that’s money in the bank.

But the bioswale represents more than a simple mechanical response to infrastructural need. It’s based on the assumption that the city is a system as much as a place, a human construction as well as a natural phenomenon. Walking past the still unfinished feature, you see what appears to be a linear garden running along Downsview Park Blvd. across the road from a new townhouse subdivision. Filled with native plants — Joe Pye weed, cone flowers, echinacea — along with indigenous grasses and a row of sweet gum trees, it looks more decorative than utilitarian.

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