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

by Franke James

Image from CityTV interview. Melissa Grelo CityTV interview with Franke James about driveway and front yard

The power of the press went to work yesterday to help us fight the climate crisis at the local level.

CityTV spotted the story, “Eco-friendly driveway is rejected by the city” and in an interview for the 6pm CityTV News, quoted me saying, “It would look beautiful and it would be environmentally friendly,” James promises of her dream green space. “We sold our car, we unplugged our beer fridge, I’m writing about the environment,” she added. “We’re doing whatever we can and I’m mad as hell.”

The reporter, Melissa Grelo, really nailed the bylaw schism which applies different (anti-green) rules for residents of North York than Toronto (concrete proof that the amalgamation of North York into the Greater Toronto Region has not been achieved, yet). Grelo contacted the Mayor’s office, which resulted in a promise to look specifically into our situation. See the text summary of Grelo’s interview, North York Driveway By-Law Infuriates Resident.

We’re hoping the City will give us some environmentally-friendly options for driveway materials. A concession which would allow us to put down pavers, and have grass grow between them would be an improvement. Water management is an issue we take very seriously. It’s not just the City sewers that would have to handle less water if we had more green space. We are directly, and adversely, affected by water runoff. Since we bought the property, we have suffered sewer backups, damaging floods (over $10,000 in one insurance claim as a result of the August 19, 2005 flood that hit Toronto) and waterproofed the foundation of our home at a cost of $13,000. The next step for us in the battle against water runoff, is to increase the amount of green space around our home. Of course, the other positive environmental benefit will be that by planting trees and shrubs, we will reduce the ‘heat island’ effect of hard surfaces, and naturally cool our house in the summer.

I ask you to do this… When you’re travelling around your neighbourhood, open your eyes to the amount of hard surfaces. Our urban environment would be a lot more pleasant, and healthier for everyone, if we planted more trees, and shrubs and reduced the amount of hardscape. The website, talks about the need to be green. And yet, their bylaws (in North York) contradict their words. As my mother always said, “Listen to what people say. But watch what they do. Actions speak much louder than words.”

Mayor Miller, if you’re reading this, I’d love to chat with you about our goal for a green front yard. We both want the same thing: Toronto to be the greenest city in North America. I’m willing to work to make it happen.


Lloyd Alter at wrote up our driveway dilemma yesterday:
Don’t Rip Up Your Driveway in North York

“We last visited Franke James when she decided to do the “hardest thing” and get rid of her car. Logically she doesn’t need a big paved driveway to her garage any more so she determined to tear it up and replace it with a more environmentally benign material that would absorb water and reduce the urban heat island effect….” Read more

CityTV brings ‘Anti-environmental’ North York bylaws… copyright 2007 Franke James; Writing by Franke James, MFA

7 Responses: 7 Comments

  • Martin Edic says:

    BURNER TROUBLE by Martin Edic

    Franke James wants a green driveway, city says no

    Franke James posted one of her great art blogs about giving up her SUV back in February. Now she wants to remove her interlock driveway which takes up the entire front of her urban home in North Toronto. No car, why have a paved yard? It turns out that she is required to have a driveway so she wants to use pavers that have gaps you can grow grass in, offering a greener alternative and helping the paved-over city’s water retention issues. In spite of having a self-proclaimed ‘green’ mayor, the city of North York says no.

    Somehow I’m guessing Franke will have her way eventually.

    We just had a new asphalt drive put in. I like the idea of the green pavers but our drive is steep and hard to get up in the winter so I don’t think they would work for us. Of course we have a half acre of gardens so its a totally different situation.

    Go Franke!

  • Julie says:

    Hi Franke,

    The school I’m working at wanted to put in a permeable surface for a new parking lot, but discovered that cost and maintenance are the two biggest issues, so they’re back to looking at asphalt. Gravel and pavers (with grass growing in between) are nightmares for snow plowing apparently, and concrete (with its higher albedo, or reflectivity) for reducing the heat island effect is twice the price of asphalt, so that’s out.

    What the school is going to do instead is create swales. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about them (

    A swale is a low tract of land, especially when moist or marshy. The term can refer to a natural landscape feature or a human-created one. When created by humans, this open drain system is designed to manage water runoff.
    The term swale has been popularized as a rainwater harvesting and soil conservation strategy by Bill Mollison and advocates of permaculture. Swales as used in permaculture are designed to slow and capture runoff by spreading it horizontally across the landscape (along an elevation contour line), facilitating its infiltration into the soil. This type of swale is created by digging a ditch on contour and piling the dirt on the downstream side of the ditch to create a berm. In arid climates, vegetation (existing or planted) along the swale can benefit from the concentration of runoff.
    Alternatively, the term swale may refer to an very shallow ditch dug between building lots to direct overland flow to storm sewer inlets.

    The City might be interested in the use of bioswales (

    Bioswales are landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. They consist of a swaled drainage course with gently sloped sides (less than six percent) and filled with vegetation, compost and/or riprap. The water’s flow path, along with the wide and shallow ditch, are designed to maximize the time water spends in the swale, which aids the trapping of pollutants and silt. Depending upon the geometry of land available, a bioswale may have a meandering or almost straight channel alignment. Biological factors also contribute to the breakdown of certain pollutants.
    A common application is around parking lots, where substantial automotive pollution is collected by the paving and then flushed by rain. The bioswale, or other type of biofilter, wraps around the parking lot and treats the runoff before releasing it to the watershed or storm sewer.

    Keep in mind that laws and bylaws can be changed, once people realize that they’re no longer helpful. I hope you can keep your spirits up as you slog through the bureaucracy to get these changes made.


  • Mary S. in North Toronto says:

    What a great example of lip service from our politicians. I think it’s ridiculous that you even need to have a driveway at all. You are the owners of the house and you don’t even have a car. It will be very interesting to see how this story develops. I hope in time, only public transportation will be necessary and allowed in Toronto and the great car temples will be a thing of the past.

  • MaryAnne in Toronto says:

    Good on ya. It’s great you are getting media coverage and fighting the good fight. Every little bit helps. You seem to be doing way more than your share.

  • Claire Celsi says:

    Franke James, Toronto’s Environmental Angel

    I met Franke James when I was in Chicago for SobCon07. Her essay “My SUV and Me Say Goodbye” and the story about getting rid of her driveway really made me think about how I live. But when you multiply all the things that are wrong with the way we live times 270 million, you can see how America has become the world’s leading environmental polluter.

    Am I ready to give up my SUV? Not quite yet, because I’m not going to buy another car until I can get a flex-fuel hybrid. That may be another couple of years. But she did make me think about sustainable living and how each of us have to do our part for the planet.

    Franke is a very inspiring person and I’ll be looking to her to lead the way in Canada. Now, if she could just take Celine Dion back….

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