Evaluation of an Adaptive-Reuse Project

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Striking a balance between economic development and cultural heritage is always the main concern nowadays. For the sake of achieving this purpose, adaptive reuse is often used to turn an old site or building for new purposes and uses. In view of the prevalence of adaptive-reuse projects around the globe, this passage would first examine and evaluate the Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto and then determine the renewal strategies used and discuss how this project has impacted the city environment.

Evergreen Brickworks, also known as the Don Valley Brick Works, originally, was a brick factory1 located in the city centre of Toronto. It was a brownfield site2, a land that is used for industrial purposes. The pollutants and hazardous chemical substances have contaminated the soil nearby. In 1980s, the war was ended and the economy of Canada started booming. The economic boom gave rise to the declination of brick works and thus the factory was closed. Evergreen, a Canada non-profit organization, does not want the site being dereliction, so they chose that site and carried out an adaptive-reuse project there. They turned a plain factory into an area with elevated structures and bridges between different buildings. It not only becomes the head office of Evergreen, but also a community environmental centre that hosts a wide array of workshops, tours and other events. As the steward hopes the community can know the history of the site, there are still bricks nearby the site.

The mission of Evergreen is “inspiring action to green cities” and key areas they focus on are Greespace, Children, Food and CityWorks. The site was being polluted by the factory in the past. However, the site is now a place where a non-profit organization promotes the concept and importance of “Green”. They would like to tell the public that people have the power to enact change and improve the health of our cities. The history of it is apparently by no means related to the mission and focus of Evergreen and even the opposite of it. Because of this reason, the community can be much easier to notice3 this feature and also the concept that the Evergreen promotes. This relationship between the history and the present use of this site has given prominence of the advantages of adaptive use.

Originally, the brick factory was planned to be a residential area. However, as it is a floodplain, it is not suitable for making it as a residential area because it can be dangerous to the residents there. Therefore, the site was disused for decades. However, the Evergreen used a lot of durable material to adaptive-reuse the site such that they have successfully prevented from any loss by the flood in 2010. If the site is kept being disused, the potential gain it can bring for the economy is buried. However, the Evergreen reuses this site and so it is conducive to the economy of the city.

The history and background of this site is very special and thus the site has been a new tourist attraction of Toronto. From TripAdvisor, a well-known traveler’s website, it shows that the Evergreen Brickworks has been the fifth popular tourist attraction in Toronto. It does attract many travelers every year. Moreover, the revenue4 of the Evergreen Brickworks in 2013 has peaked at CAD$13,603,941 (approximately HKD$93million). As it is a non-profit organization, a large proportion of its revenue was being used as improving the environment and holding more programs for the general public and community. Moreover, the Evergreen Brickworks has created a Nature Nut Kids’ Club. Children aged 7 to 12 can join that club to take the programs. They can have the chance to discover the greener aspect of Toronto. They can know how important it is for a city to be environmental friendly. Inculcating this value to them when they are young is very important, as making this value to be transmitted from generation to generation is vital in the long run. In the aspect of environment, the adaptive-reuse of the brickwork improves the knowledge and sense of being environmental friendly of the community. It is conducive to the environment in the long run as more people are more socially sensitive and inclusive to the environment. In the aspect of ecological urbanism, the programs and events held by the Evergreen Brickwork can lead Toronto to ecological urbanism as it increases the awareness of the community on the environmental and sustainability issues.

Moreover, it attracts travelers from all over the world, and thus it causes the tourism industry of Toronto to prosper. Moreover, from the Evergreen Brickworks Financial Statements5 of 2013, there is expense of salaries and benefits amounted CAD$5774118 (approximately HKD$40million). It shows that it creates a lot of job opportunities and alleviates the problem of unemployment. In the aspect of economy, the adaptive-reuse of the brickwork contributes to the economic growth of Toronto.

The Evergreen Brickwork has a large piece of land growing organic food by the organization itself. Apart from that, they have held some programs teaching the community to grow it by themselves. Moreover, they have some measures on supporting the local farms to improve the technology on growing organic food. These all make growing organic food to be much popular in Canada and it is good to the health of the community.

The Evergreen holds a wide array of programs such as biking and hiking, farming, greenery workshop, organic food fair, arts and exhibits, etc. In Toronto, a metropolitan city, citizens cannot easily find a place like this in the past for them to relax. They may have to travel a long distance to a rural area and it takes time and is expensive. But now, they can go to the Evergreen, an area located very near the city centre of Toronto. It is very convenient for them to take part in these programs. These programs can not only help them to improve their health, but also be more familiar with “being green” and different culture and arts. Therefore, in the aspect of the cultural heritage and cultural context of the city, the Evergreen Brickwork does preserve the site well as it can still preserve the historical value of it. Moreover, it makes the city to be more “creative” as the programs held by the Evergreen Brickwork is not some concepts of creativity but training people to be innovative and creative. Therefore, the Evergreen Brickwork improves the cultural context of Toronto. Moreover, the programs suit every age group, from the teens to the elderly. It is by all means a good place for every citizen to relax or even with their friends here during their leisure time. Therefore, in the aspect of the social context of the city, the Evergreen Brickwork does act as a place for citizens in a metropolitan city to gather and thus improve the social context of the city.

From the above, we can clearly see that the aspects of cultural context, social text, ecological urbanism, environmental and economics are all improved because of the Evergreen Brickwork. These all leads Toronto to be a sustainable city, also known as an eco-city.

The Evergreen Brickworks is mainly designed to improve the knowledge and sense of being environmental friendly of the community. Therefore, people will then reduce their waste, material consumption and consumption of energy and thus pollution of society as a whole.

The Evergreen Brickworks incorporates the environment into the city. However, at the same time, the city still has the potential to stimulate the economic growth. The Evergreen Brickworks make the environment become cleaner than before and it can improve health of both the human being and the organism.

Moreover, the Evergreen Brickworks restores environmentally damaged urban areas. It turns a brick factory site, a contaminated site by the hazardous chemical substances and pollutants, into a community area.

As the Evergreen Brickworks has made the Toronto a place that has an economic boom at the same time reduce impact on the environment, the above all show that the city is sustainable, an eco-city.

As we can see there are lots of affirmative points in this adaptive-reuse project, but I would like to point out some aspects that is not very good in this project.

First of all, the expense of adaptive-reusing this site is very expensive. As the site is a floodplain, they have to use the building material that is more durable in a bid to prevent the site from being destroyed. Therefore, the building material is different from what the others usually use and is quite expensive.

Moreover, there is not adequate consultation before adaptive-reusing this site. The participation of different stakeholders is very important in adaptive-reuse project. In this project, there is no participation from the former users of this factory. The participation of them is very important, as they know the best of the history of this factory. They can give some ideas that can preserve the historical value of this factory much better. Without their participation but only some bricks from the old factory, the historical value of the renovated buildings is not high enough.

There are many definitions of the renewal strategies. According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Hong Kong, the urban renewal of a city should follow three major principles: “Putting People First”, “District-Based”, and “Community Participation”.

First, this adaptive-reuse project follows the first principle – “Putting People First”. I would first define “Putting People First” principle as “the design of the project is mainly catering the needs and interests of all sectors of community but not mainly certain group of stakeholders.” This project did follow this principle as they have created a new place like a rural area but it is located near the city centre. The community does not need to travel a long distance to a rural area and it can saves their time and expenses. As it is very difficult for the people to go to a place similar to rural area easily, especially in Toronto, a metropolitan city, but it caters their needs of this. Therefore, I do deem that this adaptive-reuse project follows the first principle.

Second, this adaptive-reuse project follows the second principle – “District-Based”. I would first define “District-Based” principle as “the design of the project is in the light of the needs and preferences of the residents, the percentage of public space, the architectural features, the cultural features, the history of the district of the site.” Originally, it was a brick factory that is privately owned by a firm. After the closing of the brick factory, the authority originally planned to renovate it as a residential area. However, as there is a floodplain and the needs of residential area is not really significant. Therefore, they choose not to renovate it as a residential area but a community centre as to cater the needs and preferences of the residents nearby and to increase the percentage of public space.

Third, this adaptive-reuse project follows the third principle – “Community Participation”, but I would say they could do much better in following this principle. I would first define “Community Participation” principle as “nearly all the stakeholders and different parties can take part in the project in any stages by any forms such as the consultation, the design of the Evergreen Brickwork, the daily operation, etc.” In this project, it is surprised that a non-governmental organization be the steward of this place. It is very good to have a non-governmental organization to adaptive-reuse a place. As the ultimate goal of a non-profit organization is not maximizing profit but improving the environment and thus the living quality of the community, so that their opinion will not be biased by the revenue or profit they can generate. The participation of non-governmental organization can not only act as a participation of different party but also much cater the need of the community.

Apart from those three principles proposed by the Urban Renewal Authority of Hong Kong, I deem that the adaptive-reuse project of the Evergreen Brickworks also follows a principle – “Sustainable the first”. I would first define “Sustainable the first” principle as “the adaptive-reuse project can make the city become more sustainable according to the Circles of Sustainability and not only focus on the contribution on the economic growth by the project.” As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, the Evergreen Brickwork project has lead Toronto to become a sustainable city, also known as an eco-city. Moreover, the authorities can actually renovate it into some business centers to directly boost the economic growth but they did not. From this, we can see that this project also follows the “Sustainable the first” principle.