Turning The Soil: Urban Redevelopment and Soil Movement In Toronto

Nicolas Romeo Sabo, 2017
Vol. 23 No. 22 ISSN 1702-3548 (online)


The goal of this major paper is to determine whether Toronto’s soil remediation, transport and redevelopment regime is sustainable – or whether unforeseen and dispersed factors will someday combine to form a disaster for the city’s urban environment. In order to address this question, the paper first examines a history of the city’s brownfields: In Toronto, brownfields are broadly known as vacant or underused properties that may have been contaminated by past land use, but which show potential for redevelopment. They are also major producers of both contaminated and clean fill, and the paper examines the policies which have shaped their definition, usage, and disposal. Following an examination of the state of the art in brownfield sciences in Ontario, Canada, and globally, the focus turns to the study of disasters. Taking cues from Barry Turner’s seminal book in disaster studies Man-Made Disasters, a disaster is “an event, concentrated in time and space, which threatens a society or a relatively self-sufficient subdivision of a society with major unwanted consequences as a result of the collapse of precautions that had hitherto been culturally accepted as adequate.” A situation in which construction-related soil stockpiles are depleted to the point that cost-effectiveness of importation comes into question, or in which rising prices cause an exodus of Toronto’s building potential, can therefore be rightly termed disasters. The MP describes a generalized framework to identify disasters and the period of incubation that takes place beforehand. The heart of the MP is a collation of Records of Site Condition taken from the Ministry Of The Environment And Climate Change database over the thirteen years of its existence. RSCs provides protection for the land owner from regulatory orders and liability, but also include data on soil imported and exported from the property, and are currently one of the only accessible means by which to track soil movement in Toronto. Gathering hundreds of records, the MP proceeds to extract trends from the data over time. To wit, soil exportation has risen dramatically, soil importation and in-situ remediation has fallen, and site risk assessment (a technique allowing buried contaminants to be written off and remain onsite) has risen to compensate. Interviews of industry professionals from a variety of backgrounds were performed to glean their response to the information gathered above. The overall consensus from these interviews was a lack of surprise in the results displayed and a lack of concern regarding Toronto’s so-called incubation period. When the results of the above sections and the interviews were slotted into the framework, that too confirmed that Toronto’s soil regime is sustainable for the foreseeable future. However, it also brought to light other weaknesses in the regime, such as a lack of a soil tracking system for soils in Toronto save for a limited provision in the RSC program. The paper concludes by describing upcoming policy instruments due to be employed in the near future by the provincial government and notfor-profit actors, which will serve to further strengthen the system.