Transformation: The Story of Creating EBW
Sharing the Vision
“Don’t ever assume that the very smartest person for the issue that you have will turn you down if you actually ask for help.”
—George Dark, Partner at Urban Strategies; Chair, Evergreen Board of Directors;
and Co-Chair, Evergreen Brick Works Advisory Committee
Evergreen Brick Works was an idea that others could relate to, add to and make their own. We knew we didn’t have all the answers. This was a big idea and we’d need a lot of help to get it off the ground.
We started with our immediate networks. “From the beginning we felt there was great expertise on the Board,” says Chair George Dark. “And our Board had a lot of friends that could help. So we started the Evergreen Brick Works steering committee with some highly skilled people on it.”
One of these people was Tom Scoon, a real estate developer who had redeveloped Toronto’s heritage Carpet Factory buildings in the mid-1990s. “The team was fantastic. I think they were all pretty good listeners,” says Tom. “Some had great experience in planning and municipal matters, some had great experience in construction and so on, and so it rounded out beautifully. And when we didn’t feel we had the right expertise, we went out and got it. I think the committee knew its limitations.”
Significant help also came from Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP who provided pro bono legal services through Pro Bono Law Ontario. “When we took on the project, we knew there was a lease to be negotiated,” says Kim Harle, a partner at the firm and the leader on the Brick Works file. “We do leases all the time, so we thought how hard could it be? At that point, in 2004, it was difficult to imagine the ultimate scope of our involvement and how quickly it evolved.”
What seemed like a standard legal requirement expanded into a project requiring dozens of lawyers helping over several years. Soon they were calling on other experts—in diverse areas ranging from municipal zoning to environmental regulations to intellectual property.
“Any organization that takes on a project of this size, scale and visibility really needs to connect with people who have the various skill sets. And from a legal perspective that meant that they really needed a full-service law firm,” says Harle.
“With a combination of leadership and ideas and listening to others, it just blossomed.”
— Tom Scoon, Brick Works Advisory Committee
Although everyone had their own attraction and passion to the project, this sense of collaboration was palpable. “Everybody bought into the vision,” says Cameron Charlebois, VP of Canada Lands Corporation for Quebec and Chair of the Brick Works Advisory Committee. “It’s an exciting project. Even if you don’t get the more philosophical picture, you get it. And it’s fun to do that stuff. To make it both a cultural site and an environmental site in the name of sustainable cities was quite visionary.”
But holding the project together was the vision and a collaborative approach to leadership. “To keep the momentum up for a long process that’s going to take years, you really have to have inspired leadership,” says Glenn Garwood. “Because if you get caught in the weeds and disheartened and lose site of the vision, it will probably fall apart.”
Also critical to the project’s success was a supportive Board. “To my mind, it was a dream Board,” says Glenn. “They were committed. They were real contributors. They all shared the vision.”
The idea of rehabilitating the site was also exciting to the technical and design teams as well, who approached it the same way you would approach designing a village. “The design of this place is a microcosm of designing a city,” says architect Joe Lobko, a partner at du Toit Allsop Hillier, who has worked on other adaptive-reuse projects. “You need to get a large team with many different perspectives, but who will work together well.”
While contributions from multiple partners was key to this team-based, collaborative project, an engaged and supportive staff was the grease that kept the wheels turning. Evergreen staff were committed to establishing a project that spoke to Toronto’s past and whose transformation represented—both physically and symbolically—the means to a greener future.
Distributing leadership in a project with as many tentacles as Evergreen Brick Works was necessary for managing workload and also served to motivate staff with new opportunities to learn, develop skills and expand their networks. Hiring from within and using internal staff on the project was also a strategic decision to build a sense of coherence. “Involving staff as drivers of the project as opposed to hiring external consultants was the right idea,” says Geoff.
“All hands on deck” became a common refrain, particularly as we entered the final stages of construction and opening. This internal capacity and willingness to reach beyond traditional comfort zones was the project’s core foundational element, without which tensions would have been higher and already constrained budgets exceeded.
That said, there were tensions. Staff who had been with Evergreen prior to the launch of the project often felt that their work was lower priority and not receiving the attention or acknowledgement it deserved as the organizational leadership was consumed with bringing Evergreen Brick Works to life. While the intent was that this project would ultimately help increase Evergreen’s networks, diverting funders from core program activities to the capital project was a concern.
Ambiguity and uncertainty during the long conceptual, design and construction journey created stresses, while communication channels at times became blocked, uncertain or non-existent. Project team leaders provided informal “lunch and learns” at key moments in the process to solicit staff input and feedback. Staff participation at project team meetings served as conduits back to their teams to keep staff in the loop.
Numerous committees were established that allowed staff to contribute to the design process, such as the children’s nature playground, the mudroom, classrooms, site-wide landscape plans, greenhouse features, garden beds, interpretation and branding. Staff worked closely to create new programs that bridged our history of community-based experiential environmental programs, with the needs and opportunities to fill Evergreen Brick Works with new programs.
This creative thinking and proactive input from staff was critical in building the necessary bridges between where we had been and where we were going as an organization. And it was also a key factor in making those inevitable ”all hands on deck” moments successful through a shared sense of ownership and responsibility.
Eva’s Print Shop
As a social enterprise in support of their youth employment offerings, the senior management of Eva’s Phoenix understood they needed some key organizational ingredients to make it happen.
“The organization understood it needed the single-minded determination of leadership, a culture open to exploring ideas and making things happen, and finding the people who fit,” explains Andrew MacDonald, the former manager of Eva’s Print Shop and now Eva’s Phoenix General Manager. “Different skills are required at different levels of project development and management, and we were conscious of the need to share knowledge openly, create internal learning circles and feedback loops.”