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.
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.