During the 1800s, Toronto’s waterfront was the site of intensive industrial development because its location provided convenient shipping access to Lake Ontario. As the city population grew, real estate values in the downtown area skyrocketed. Factories gradually relocated to cheaper land, leaving behind a graveyard of abandoned and polluted industrial buildings.
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In addition, an elevated highway along the waterfront created a physical barrier between the lake and Toronto’s commercial center, limiting access. The waterfront’s isolated location detered business development and economic investment. As a result, potentially valuable real estate was squandered.
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To reclaim its waterfront and clean up the contaminated industrial land, city of Toronto officials decided to create HtO Park. Completed in the summer of 2007, this unique urban public space offers a sand beach, grass-covered green space amid paved pathways, and a planked boardwalk along the waterfront.
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The entire site was capped with a thick layer of clean dirt, leaving the contaminated soils undisturbed beneath. This method of remediation used for HtO Park creates a sub-terrain that is suitable for park use and helps eliminate public health risks.
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The lush green grass and trees are irrigated with lake water rather than drinkable city water. This water conservation strategy saves the city thousands of dollars each year in avoided water treatment costs. The park’s interconnected paths are made of porous materials, allowing rainwater to infiltrate the soil beneath. This effective stormwater management technique helps alleviate the problems associated with rapid runoff, such as water pollution and flooding.
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To help restore the damaged lake ecosystem, the park supports new fish habitats along the water’s edge and throughout the inlet. Reefs made from salvaged concrete provide an inexpensive, yet effective way to accomplish this goal.
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During the summer, people flock to HtO’s beach for the rare opportunity to sunbathe in an urban setting. By attracting people back to the waterfront, Park HtO functions as an economic development catalyst that has helped spark the revitalization of surrounding areas.
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Even during the cold winter months, the park attracts people seeking escape from busy downtown Toronto. By creating a space that is seasonally adaptive, HtO Park has attracted a steady stream of local citizens and tourists to the waterfront year round.
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