Anti-green recommendations fly in the face of Mayor Miller’s stated “Greenest City” objective

by Franke James

My next visual essay is almost ready, but an urgent environmental issue that strikes very close to home (our driveway and front yard) has come up. I welcome people’s feedback on this, and suggestions. This is one of the ripple effects of selling our car and going car-free… It all started with the desire to replace our existing interlock driveway (installed by previous owners in 1986) with native trees, shrubs and plants. You would think that this goal would be a slam-dunk since we live in Toronto, and have a Mayor who promises “We will be the leading environmental city in North America, without question.” How foolish of me to believe that being green in Toronto would be easy. We must be prepared to fight City Hall first.

What is clear from this experience is that the amalgamation of North York into Greater Toronto (GTA) has not been achieved. We are bumping up against arcane, anti-environmental North York bylaws that are applied to North York residents only. Homeowners in the City of Toronto have far more enlightened bylaws which minimize storm water runoff by requiring that driveways be made of semi-permeable materials.

James existing 1986 interlock driveway that she wants to replace Photo: Franke James’ current front yard is filled edge to edge with interlocking brick.

The Toronto Star wrote an article on our driveway dilemma. The reporter sums it up that we are caught between a rock and a green place. But the question is not hard at all. It’s very easy: What environmentally-friendly surfaces can North York driveways be made of which will reduce or eliminate water runoff, and which will not leach toxic chemicals into the soil and the sewer system?

We would prefer not to have any driveway, however North York has a bylaw which requires that all homeowners maintain a driveway on their property. So, we said, “Fine, if we have to install a driveway, let’s make it environmentally friendly.”

Councillor Gord Perks told me that if we lived in Toronto we would not be required to have a driveway. All of a sudden it makes me want to move back. Which in fact is less than one block away.

When I met with Robert Taylor, Right of Way Management, North York about our driveway, he was adamant that we could only use asphalt, concrete or interlock. I was shocked as none of those options allow for much water absorption (if any). I asked if we could space the interlock apart so as to let water soak into the ground and grass to grow between them. He said that would not be allowed! His answer does not make sense to me. Surely North York must have a solution that is environmentally friendly instead of environmentally damaging? There are concrete pavers (in a honeycomb design) which allow grass to grow in between them. There are other permeable and semi-permeable landscaping options that we could consider if North York would allow some flexibility.

North York’s stance totally contradicts 2005 recommendations that parking pads be constructed using materials that are permeable to reduce water runoff. A quick search of the City of Toronto website will show that this is an issue that the City has been grappling with for years. In fact, North York Community Council, in June of 2005 requested Transportation Services, “to report on other materials besides asphalt and interlocking brick that can be used for a parking surface and the appropriate by-laws that should be adopted to permit these materials instead of asphalt or interlocking brick.” Clearly, I am not the first person to be asking this question. The City of Toronto website also features a fascinating report by Toronto Water’s Stormwater Management group, on the negative environmental impacts of asphalt, concrete or interlock showing that asphalt has 100% runoff, and cement pavers have 80%. The report suggests some alternative semi-permeable materials.

I find this experience shocking — especially in light of Toronto Mayor David Miller stated goal of Toronto being the “greenest city in North America”. Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone was quoted in the Toronto Star, May 3/07, saying,“Climate change is here, and unless we want to forfeit quality of life for ourselves and future generations, then we’ve got to do this stuff.”

I want to believe that David Miller and Joe Pantalone mean what they are saying… So, I will be writing the Mayor’s office to ask, “What environmentally-friendly surfaces can North York driveways be made of which will reduce or eliminate water runoff, and which will not leach toxic chemicals into the soil and the sewer system?”

Surely they will have a better answer than asphalt, concrete or interlock. We want to do the right thing for the environment and future generations. Why is this not encouraged?

I welcome your comments and suggestions on how to solve this dilemma — and get North York homeowners to do the right thing for the environment.

Franke James

Anti-green recommendations… copyright 2007 Franke James; Photo and writing by Franke James, MFA

7 Responses: 7 Comments

  • Julie says:

    Hi again, Franke —

    I just noted the following in the municipal recommendations you linked to above:

    Paving Requirements Permeable paving treatments must be used such as ecostone, turf stone or approved equivalent.

    It would perhaps be fun to start a permeable paving treatment learn-in amongst all the suppliers! Get them to start pushing — and educating about — their eco-products.

    Also, what about doing what you’ve been told you “have” to do? Keep the bricks/pavers near your sidewalk just the way they are (to ensure efficient snow removal and pedestrian safety), but then start spacing them out more and more, the closer you get to your house? Plus, certainly they’re not saying you have to keep the “driveway” the same size it is now? You could get rid of two thirds of those bricks and just have a much smaller driveway.

    And finally, Councillor Gordon Perks would benefit from a lesson in sustainable development, which is all about having your driveway and allowing it to be permeable too — if you’ve carefully considered all the environmental, social and environmental aspects in an integrated way, for the benefit of all concerned.

    Bon courage, Franke!

  • colleen in North Toronto says:

    Franke, I say SCREW the City Hall. Period. I’m sick and tired of big brother telling us what we can and can’t do according to some “law” that they deem fit. We all know that City Hall is missing the chapter on common sense and the memo about “Greening Toronto” has gone missing too! I’m game for a little protest and green-in. I’m serious, just do it…..or as I like to quote a creative North Toronto Artist…”do the hardest thing first” lift up those bricks!! Call me and I’ll come and help pull up those interlock and then just dump a pile of soil, compost and mulch. I mean come on what are they going to do, arrest you for “grass”

    You go for it!


  • […] the whole Green Driveway adventure: Anti-green recommendations & Mayor Miller CityTV brings ‘Anti-environmental’ North York bylaws to Mayor’s attention How my Eco-friendly […]

  • Piraveen says:

    Hey I was reading about your situation and I can’t beleive they aren’t letting you do that. It’s been a couple months since your post, so I would really like to know the outcome of what has happened thus far. By the way, I too am facing a similar problem and would like to know what can be done about these issues concerning the city. Thanks, Piraveen.

  • Franke James says:


    Thanks for your interest. I did win the right to build a green driveway. Below are links to the six articles so far — and I’m working on the post now about planting our driveway. Yesterday the Toronto Star did a super article — check it out at Driveway dispute has green ending

    Read the whole Green Driveway adventure:

    How to Build a Green Driveway in a Long Weekend

    Green Driveway: Playing with Perception and Reality

    Destroy to Create

    How my Eco-friendly Driveway got the Green Light from City Hall

    CityTV brings ‘Anti-environmental’ North York bylaws to Mayor’s attention

    Anti-green recommendations & Mayor Miller



  • Bruce Craig says:

    Hi Franke,
    I had a similar encounter with the City of Ottawa two summers ago when I wnated to use an environmentally friendly SIPs construction for a foundation. I got creative and mounted a protest at City Hall- they even provided me a free permit to protest on public property. I posted the video on YouTube and did CBC interviews etc. In the end Ottawa forced me to re-engineer the panels which compromised the R-value but I got it out of my system – man I was steamed! Good luck with your future work and keep sending the message through ART

  • MikeR says:

    Wow – makes me very glad I chose to live in the county (U.S. – outside city limits) so nobody can really tell me what I can or cannot do with my property! But, for anyone fighting a similar battle, I’d say the first thing you must do is demand a copy of any ordinance which says you are required to have a driveway at all. And, demand all related ordinances regarding the minimum width, length, etc. My initial thought when I read about your fight against city hall was that you could simply have a two-strip driveway of the minimum required length made of interlocking block. You’d at least have a strip of grass down the middle – and, as one of the previous posters said, the two strips (for driving on) could be VERY thin. . . (assuming there actually is no minimum width requirement). Sometimes you have to use the rules against the rule-makers! Especially when both the rules and the makers are stupid.