Transformation: The Story of Creating EBW
In the early phase of site redevelopment, Evergreen undertook a considerable public consultation process, speaking with environmental groups, the heritage community and people in surrounding neighbourhoods. Many of these stakeholders had been involved in previous chapters of the site’s history, helping with its expropriation and protection in the 1980s, raising funds that helped create the Weston Quarry Garden, and restoring some of the industrial property in the early 1990s. We also reached out to the general public through open houses and site tours.
Bringing the broader community into the planning phase was a vital part of the project’s success because it ensured our plans became a true expression of what the people of Toronto wanted. “It helped that our ideas were consistent with what had previously been imagined for the site,” says David Stonehouse, general manager of Evergreen Brick Works. “A place to celebrate nature and get people involved in stewardship and the city.”
Consistent patterns in public feedback began to emerge. We heard concerns about protecting the natural environment from the hundreds of thousands of visitors Evergreen would be attracting, of not “Disney-fying” a heritage asset by making it an attraction, of potential noise and light pollution from Evergreen’s activities, overflow parking on neighbouring side streets, and the great big issue of accessing the hard-to-reach site. many people pointed out the irony of having to use cars to reach an environmental site. These issues became key drivers in designing the site.
Leading the public engagement process was a new role for Evergreen, and we were surprised to learn that in some circles we were now the “bad guy.” Parties with whom we had shared the table now sat across from us, scrutinizing our plans, questioning our motives and environmental impact. While our core base of community relationships and the public goodwill for Evergreen’s mission certainly helped start many conversations from a positive standpoint, we could not rest on these relationships alone. Listening was the key.
We also commissioned further studies, such as an assessment of the environmental impact of increased visitation to the quarry garden and meadow. Following up on public input and showing how ideas had been incorporated—and if not, why not—kept us on our toes. We worked hard to gain public support and approval, which was essential for the project’s long-term success. Public opposition had stopped the site’s redevelopment once in the 1980s. We could not afford a repeat performance.
For the most part, Evergreen received strong public support. Even naysayers gave their cautious support, acknowledging that something needed to be done before the site decayed beyond repair or a late-night partier did serious damage to the site or themselves.