When the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority needed help figuring out how to develop an environmental sustainability plan for West Bolton — a community in the town of Caledon, located about 40 kilometres northwest of Toronto — they knew exactly who to ask.
"When they came to us, they said, 'We have all these maps, we have all this data, we have all these meetings that we have done with residents. What can we do with all this information we have gathered?'" says Victor Perez-Amado, an assistant professor at the Daniels Faculty. He, along with Associate Professor Liat Margolis, Sessional Lecturer Emilia Hurd, and students Cynthia Chiu-Chen, Michelle Harper, Vinaya Mani, Michael De Luca, and Adeline Hu, transformed that data into a comprehensive Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Plan, or SNAP.
Proposed interventions at Ted Houston Memorial Park.
The TRCA's SNAP program, initiated in 2009, is an attempt to drive environmentally friendly retrofits in Greater Toronto Area neighbourhoods that were built before climate change and its consequences for infrastructure and human health were broadly understood. Each SNAP is a unique plan for a particular neighbourhood, developed with a combination of local input and outside expertise. Several neighbourhoods in the GTA have created SNAPs over the past decade, with more to come.
Perez-Amado and his team decided to tackle West Bolton's sustainability issues by splitting the area into a series of four trail loops that would link the neighbourhood's underutilized parks and wetlands. The idea was that these trails would set the stage for West Bolton's natural amenities to be upgraded and protected from climate change's effects. The team from the Daniels Faculty conducted site visits and attended community meetings to refine their thinking. For the project's student participants, this was a precious opportunity to gain paid experience in the field. "Most students haven't had the opportunity to collaborate with a real institution like the TRCA and see what it takes to come out with a master plan," Perez-Amado says. "It was a real client exercise, and the students learned a lot from it."
If the SNAP's recommendations are adopted, West Bolton's forest canopy will increase and the area's two main waterways, Jaffary's Creek and the Humber River, will be protected from environmental harm. The specific steps for achieving those goals are spread across the four trail loops.
An overview of the West Bolton SNAP's four trail loops.
The Heritage Walk, a loop that grazes historic downtown Bolton, would get enhancements to one of its major public recreation areas, Ted Houston Memorial Park, where dead ash trees are in need of replacement. The nearby Caven Presbyterian Church, which abuts Jaffary's Creek, would shore up the edge of the creek's banks with new vegetation, to prevent erosion.
The SNAP also calls for some neighbourhood-wide actions, like retrofits on private homes to minimize their energy and water consumption. These retrofits would also reduce the amount of untreated storm runoff from residential properties into West Bolton's waterways, which would mitigate negative outcomes like flooding and water contamination.
Proposed interventions around Jaffray's Creek and the Caven Presbyterian Church.
After two years of work, the finished SNAP was finally released in March 2019, and the plan was endorsed by Caledon's town council the following month.
The SNAP has already spurred action in the neighbourhood. Some local residents have volunteered to have 45-minute consultations with sustainability experts, who suggest eco-friendly home retrofits. And local groups like the Albion-Bolton Historical Society are already leading walks and tree plantings to stimulate community interest in the plan.
Perez-Amado and TRCA project coordinator Justyna Braithwaite will be making a presentation on the West Bolton SNAP on October 18 as part of "Sustainability: Transdisciplinary Theory, Practice, and Action," a conference at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus.
Read more about the project on the West Bolton SNAP website.