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6 Projects That Make a Sustainable Future Seem Possible

From an algae-powered building to a playground of recycled steel drums, these spots give designers, urban planners and others hope

(© Timothy Hursley)
smithsonian.com

We can’t give in to fatalism, or even pessimism, just yet. While we face incredible challenges—with climate change, biodiversity loss, and rising economic inequality at the top of the list—there are glimpses of a more positive, sustainable future here today. In Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World, you’ll find buildings, landscapes, plans and works of art—contemporary and historic, but all real—that point the way forward.

Here, six experts—a landscape architect, an urban planner, two professors, an urban designer and a journalist—answer the question: What gives you hope that a sustainable future is possible?

Christopher Hume: Sherbourne Common, Toronto, Canada

When land is at a premium, there’s not a lot of space to waste. Sherbourne Common in Toronto shows how to use space to make infrastructure palatable. Sherbourne does double duty: it is both a new waterfront park and a water filtration plant.

For 50 to 60 years, this area of the Toronto waterfront was a wasteland. But soon, this new park will be surrounded by condos. Before, nobody wanted a water filtration plant in the neighborhood because “it smells and it’s dirty.” Now, people see how infrastructure can be an amenity.

Rainwater collects and drains into the park’s underground filtration system, which then treats the storm water in a ground-level channel with large S-shaped, Russian Constructivist–looking sculptures. The system doesn’t make the water treatment process invisible. People see the mesh and say, “What is this?” They then see how the system aerates the water as it flows through bulrushes.

For years, storm water was simply dumped into Lake Ontario. Now the water is cleaned before it goes into the lake. Sherbourne Common also anticipates the expected increase in the neighborhood’s storm water runoff over the next 20 to 30 years.

Sherbourne Commons is a model because it turned a water filtration plant into an aesthetic feature that people can use and enjoy. It’s incredibly useful for the future, as it meets both the physical and psychological needs of our daily urban life.

Christopher Hume covers urban affairs for the Toronto Star and is also the newspaper’s architecture critic.

Excerpted from Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World by Jared Green, published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

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