Public Works: Flexible Parks that Prepare for Flooding

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Public Works: Flexible Parks that Prepare for Flooding

Copenhagen is redesigning a popular park to be enjoyable even in times of high rain. How Toronto can prepare for the next deluge.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Enghave Park, with and without a flood.

Copenhagen’s Enghave Park serves, like many central urban parks, a variety of purposes. You’ll find gardens, sports pads, and places to sit and relax. There are as many reasons to visit the park as there are visitors.

But in the past five years, intense flooding caused by heavy rains made the European city stop and think about the effect a changing climate can have on public space.

Now Enghave is undergoing a major change to make it both flood resistant and useable year-round as a multi-purpose recreational space.

The plan calls for a dyke that will divert water to gardens around the park, and certain spots dug out to create below-ground-level playing surfaces that can be safely flooded into retention ponds during high rains.

Renderings show a sunken asphalt ball hockey rink surrounded by tiered plant beds that becomes a deep pond ringed by reeds; a paved path with benches cut into a delineating wall that floods to become a river complete with kayakers.

Toronto has an acute need of flood protection, as the last few years of inclement weather have shown us.

The ongoing revitalization of Toronto’s waterfront includes major work to flood protect land around the mouth of the Don, which would unlock future construction of residential, commercial and recreational space. And that’s fantastic. But we also have existing parks that need to be protected from flooding without sacrificing any of their value as active, recreational spaces.

Our city’s best known, most-frequented parks were built into low spots in the water table. Remember when Christie Pits Park and the sunken dog run at Trinity Bellwoods filled up with water during the big 2013 summer storm? Well, it happened.

Those are hardly the only recreational spaces that are prime targets for swollen rivers and buildup of heavy rains.

Just about the entire Don Valley network of parks and trails runs through, uh, a valley, alongside the sometimes volatile Don River.

Christie Pits and Bellwoods seems uniquely suited to Enghaveparken-style dual purpose playspace-cum-retention ponds. They’re already conspicuously constructed and urban and, unlike the Don Trail, are contained within strict boundaries unlike.

Our environment is changing. Storms, and resulting water levels, once expected to hit us every 50 or 100 years now strike a few times a decade. But we don’t have to sacrifice public space useability in the name of flood protection.

What we do need is to design, or re-design, flexible spaces that won’t be rendered useless or blighted by those nasty summer storms.

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