Monday, December 7, 2009

Evergreen brickworks - Saturday October 23, 10:30 am

The Evergreen brickworks are located on the western side of the Bayview extension. The brickworks were once a quarry where materials were mined to produce bricks used in the construction of many mid-town Toronto neighbourhoods. About 25 years ago, the site was abandoned. In recent years it was taken over by a charity called Evergreen, which refurbished the area and renovated the buildings. To get there, a friend and I walked along a wide trail that cuts through the Moore park ravine. The trail leads to the south west side of the brickworks. The site is centred in a valley. To the west is a large pond, criss-crossed with wooden and metal bridges. A large, open air metal roof that resembles an airport hangar is the main hub of activity. Along one side of this structure are three small brick offices. At the Bayview entrance to the site there are two parking lots, as well as a two-storey brick building which houses a presentation centre. Not accessible to the public is another building that features a smoke stack; this area is still under construction.

Underneath the metal roof, a farmers’ market is taking place. Vendors have lined up tables and tents, and some are working out of the small offices. They sell everything from corn and French fries, to pasta, jam, eggs, and even wool clothing and homemade jewelry. Several environmentally-responsible lawn care companies are represented. All of the vendors are from Ontario and most display signs indicating that their products are organic. One vendor has a photo of farm workers and a sign next to it that reads "the faces that grow your food". At 10:30 am, the market seems to be winding down. One of the vendors we talk to says he sold out of eggs hours earlier, before the market officially opened.

The weather is overcast and a bit chilly, but lots of families are here, eating and buying food. There are crafts for kids and a pumpkin carving station. Some of the vendors shout out what they are selling, and the market is full of noises. There are some hanging lamps, but most of the light is natural. People are walking their dogs, browsing and chatting, and a news crew is filming the action. Instead of garbage bins, there are compost, recycling, and landfill bins. Most people seem to be following the instructions posted above these and sorting their waste accordingly. Outside the market, people are parking their cars, and both a TTC bus and an Evergreen shuttle bus are leaving to take people to Davisville station. Most visitors seem to be upper-middle class – the site is adjacent to wealthier neighbourhoods like Leaside, Moore Park, and Bennington Heights. Inside the presentation centre, an Evergreen representative screens a video about the future of the site and upcoming projects, including a playground. There are several models and diagrams depicting the site’s past, present and future. The building is very reminiscent of a condo presentation centre. Along the trails outside the brickworks, people are hiking, running and jogging. There is also a surprising amount of litter here.

Walking into the brickworks, I was pleased at how well the original character of the buildings and structures had been preserved. The functions and activities of the farmers’ market meshed well with the space, and it seemed like a cohesive fit. One of my first observations was that all of the vendors accepted credit and debit as forms of payment. This is unlike most open-air fairs and markets, where cash-only payments are the norm. It made me wonder if using energy to power the point-of-sale machines was really in line with the stated environmental goals of the site. I felt as though most of the families here were visiting the brickworks for the novelty of it rather than as a genuine attempt at sustainable eating and living. I work at a store in Leaside and many of our customers demand organic products, but continue to drive SUVs. This type of conflicting behaviour is reflective of the current trendiness of environmentalism, which was evidenced at the brickworks.

Our class discussion about the city as a palimpsest connects well with the brickworks. The brickworks sit in what was once nothing but a small valley adjacent to a ravine. A quarry was built here, making the site an industrial symbol of natural exploitation. Then it was abandoned, and nature slowly took over. When I visited the brickworks as a child, the buildings were crumbling, weeds grew everywhere, and animals were nesting among the structures. Finally, Evergreen took over the brickworks and is proceeding with multiple projects to improve the site. Each stage of the site’s progression is slightly obscured, but still present. For example, the smokestack and the graffiti still marking concrete walls. The constant cycle of nature to industry and back again is interesting, although for the first time in its history, the industry taking place there (i.e. the farmers’ market) is responsible and ecologically sustainable. In “Natural Capital”, Paul Hawken discusses both the natural side of economics and the economic side of nature. He elaborates on the well-known wastefulness and inefficiency of industry, and its harmful ecological impact. He explains what industry rarely takes into account – “the “income” derived from a healthy environment”. The brickworks were once an ecologically exploitative facility, but have been transformed into an economically productive site whose participants recognize the value of a healthy ecosystem as well as the value of a dollar.

The brickworks are constitutive of a human/nature relationship, but it is a particularly urban relationship. In order for the brickworks to be successful as a space for markets, children’s activities, workshops, etc, it needs to attract a wide range of people. Its position near wealthy neighbourhoods is beneficial in this aspect, but it also means that certain concessions have to be made for the site to be commercially viable. The parking lot, visitor’s centre, and debit machines are examples of such concessions. They symbolize the give and take necessary to make urban/nature relationships last. The brickworks are also an excellent example of an urban/nature relationship because the site eliminates the perceived distance between farm and city. These two spaces are intrinsically linked, but most people never have the opportunity to see them made visible. The ability to speak directly to the person growing your food, or the person producing natural herbicides used on your lawn is important. Farmers’ markets afford people that ability, and also give them the chance to purchase locally grown, organic products. For these reasons, the brickworks serve as an urbanized, but essential site of interaction in both rural/urban and human/nature relationships.






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