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University of Toronto Scarborough Valley Land Trail

The City of Toronto situated in Ontario, Canada is a dense urban city of 3 million people nestled in a network of natural valley corridors comprising 20% (over 100 square km) of the City’s land. The University of Toronto, renowned for its research, enrolls nearly 90,000 students per year across three campuses. The University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC) is situated at the edge of the Highland Creek Ravine, an incredibly diverse and Environmentally Significant Area (ESA). A state-of-the-art Valley Land Trail was designed with the objective of creating a vital connection from the campus to the valley lands providing a key link to the world-class Pan American athletic facilities, as well as hundreds of kilometers of trails throughout the City of Toronto’s ravine system, including a link to the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail which stretches 3000 km along the Canadian shores of the Great Lakes.

The primary goal of the project was to construct a fully-accessible trail that descends over 26m in elevation, linking the Campus with the City’s ravine system. The 600m long serpentine trail was designed with cantilevered boardwalks in order to provide people of all ages and abilities with a unique experience of the mature tree canopy, while affording educational opportunities related to the diverse local ecology and geology of the Highland Creek Valley.

The planning process employed a comprehensive engagement strategy that involved various accessibility committees, faculty and students from the University, members of the community, municipal staff, the local Conservation Authority and an Indigenous Elder. These stakeholders informed the vision for the project and provided continuous input throughout the design and construction processes.

The goal of creating a trail link that could be used by people of all abilities in an equitable manner was achieved by exceeding the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and collaborating with the accessibility committee and key stakeholders throughout the design process. To optimize accessibility, the Trail integrates unique features and design elements including a charging station for mobility devices, resting areas at key locations, a maximum longitudinal slope of 5%, a continuous illuminated handrail and social gathering areas with integrated space for mobility devices.

The trail located within an ESA, necessitated the application of innovative design and construction solutions with the objective of minimizing impact on the natural environment. The project pioneered the use of precast concrete deck planks and pre-fabricated steel substructures to facilitate modular construction, mitigating disturbance to the sensitive valley landscape.

The materials that were utilized to construct the trail were selected for their durability and natural character. Key construction materials included self-weathering steel, sustainably sourced hardwood and stone which complement the natural aesthetic of the valley corridor.
In order to achieve the goal of Universal Accessibility, the Trail meanders through the tree canopy at a consistent 5% slope, suspended over the valley wall. To maintain the consistent grade and minimize impact on the ESA, the project incorporated three cantilevered structures that tower over six meters into the forest canopy. The construction of these structures employed modular prefabricated steel substructures that were craned into place and founded on helical piles that were driven five meters into the valley wall, providing a 100-year life expectancy.

The project included a comprehensive restoration planting plan that comprised 600 native trees, 5000 shrubs, perennials and seed mixes. The selection of plant material included species that create an “edible landscape”, as well as plants with medicinal properties as recommended by the Indigenous stakeholders. The planting pallet enhances local biodiversity and supports UTSC’s curriculum, including environmental and culinary studies. The educational value of the project is further reinforced by the creation of an amphitheater at the edge of the ravine that functions as an informal classroom to facilitate outdoor education.

The Valley Land Trail has become a destination within the Campus, attracting students, faculty and members of the community-at-large and affords a unique experience of the natural environment with breath-taking views over the Highland Creek Valley.

The project posed unique design and construction challenges that necessitated the application of innovative solutions, modular building components, the implementation of a strategic construction process and the integration of a comprehensive restoration planting program.

The Trail reinforces UTSC’s mandate to become Ontario’s most accessible and inclusive university campus and demonstrates the potential of accessible design to
create unique, desirable, and memorable places that can be experienced and appreciated by all.

Name of the project: University of Toronto Scarborough Valley Land Trail
Project category: Public Project
Role of the entrant in the project: Lead Landscape Architect
Other designers involved in the design of landscape:
Ecologist North-South Environmental Inc.
Geotechnical Geoterre Limited
Structural Engineer Brown & Co Engineering Ltd
Project location: University of Toronto Scarborough Campus
1265 Military Trail, Scarborough
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Design year: 2016/2017
Year Built: 2018/2019

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