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Toronto’s love of concrete



Toronto’s condo boon may be helping stem the flow of green-killing sprawl to the burbs and 905 beyond. A good thing.

But it’s clear too from the Toronto Environmental Alliance’s report Dig Conservation, Not Holes, released Wednesday (April 15), that the GTA’s appetite for sand, gravel and stone – the materials necessary for construction – is digging us deeper into an ecological hole.

We can get a long with a lot less asphalt and concrete.

Nearly 100 per cent of surface asphalt poured to build roads can be reused. But right now, the province is only reusing about seven per cent of the 170 million tonnes of aggregates produced annually.More than half the sand, stone and gravel mined from Ontario’s quarries every year goes to building roads.

Other jurisdictions do a much better job of reusing and recycling. The UK has cut its use of aggregates use by 24 per cent.

Reusing cement reclaimed from demolished buildings and roads produces its own eco challenges.

But what about cutting use in general? Do we need sidewalks in all our neighbourhoods? Folks in a lot of parts of Etobicoke don’t seem to mind not having them. It might actually make streets safer – or at least drivers more aware.

Do our parking pads need to be made of stone? And our front drives of asphalt and gravel? Grass seems to work fine where I’ve seen it used. Looks nicer too.

Think of the aesthetic possibilities if we cut our concrete consumption ie: a lot less gray, a lot more green. We’d be doing our groundwater a big favour, too.

There are 7,125 licensed quarries in the province, a little fewer than half of those on Crown land and presumably under government control.

But there doesn’t seem to be the political will to hold quarry operators accountable for the scars they’re leaving on the landscape.

Imagine a hole 20 metres deep stretching from roughly the Humber to the Don and south to the lake.

That’s the amount of gravel, sand and stone, approximately 1.5 billion tonnes, that TEA estimates will be used by the GTA over the next 25 years to build roads, buildings and sidewalks.

Most of that will come from quarries in the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine, both important natural sites.

The province does require that quarries are rehabilitated, that is, the land returned to its natural state once the last rock has been scraped from the surface.

But less than half the land used for quarrying has been returned to its former more natural state, according to Ontario’s environmental commissioner.

The rules restricting their development and expansion aren’t rock solid, either.

The Greenbelt, which is supposed to be protected turf, is pock marked with hundreds of quarries.

The aformentioned Niagara Escarpment, is dotted by some of the province’s largest quarries, even though  its been designated by the United Nations as a World Biosphere Reserve.

Ditto for the Oak Ridges Moraine, the headwaters on which our city depends for H20.

In fact, the environmental plan drafted to protect this important feature under the Tories, double the current number of gravel-pit operations allowed, including inside wildlife corridors.

Time to start thinking about making our roads narrower maybe?

Apr 17, 2009 at 12:48 AM

As published at: http://www.nowtoronto.com/daily/story.cfm?content=169010

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