A troubling prediction for heat waves and heavy rain in Toronto’s future has raised concerns about the state of the city’s infrastructure and whether it can withstand extreme temperatures and water exposure.
Last year, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing extreme and unpredictable weather in the near future, and how cities like Toronto are especially susceptible to the negative impacts of a changing climate.
How will the climate crisis affect Toronto?
Toronto was built on many riverbeds and depressions, and these areas can easily collect water in instances of heavy rain. For instance, an area like the Don Valley Parkway wasn’t built to support water drainage. Not to mention the subway tracks, which lie completely flat, were not constructed with possible flooding in mind.
Additionally, cities specifically trap immense amounts of heat due to the lack of plant life and the increase in materials like metals and cement due to construction. Toronto especially contains a lot of asphalt, which is notorious for trapping heat.
The current construction of Toronto is not prepared to withstand the changing state of the climate. The impending climate crisis also poses a huge threat to the University of Toronto and its infrastructure.
Many of the university’s buildings are hundreds of years old, with some even designated as heritage sites. Older buildings constructed of brick, stone, or concrete are vulnerable to the processes of natural wear.
Unfortunately, the influx of water exposure expected in cases of flooding will cause detrimental levels of erosion, and further construction and reinforcement is necessary to ensure that U of T’s buildings survive a wetter, hotter climate.
Besides the potential damage to campus buildings, students may need to be wary of basement apartments as well, which already flood often in the downtown area.
Luckily for the university, the campus has a large amount of plants, parks, and wildlife. Plants and parks help to offset extreme heat and absorb excess moisture, which will be useful in the coming years.
How can we protect Toronto from the climate crisis?
The main focus of Canadian climate action is reducing carbon emissions, with the goal of reaching ‘net zero’ emissions by the year 2050. However, many of the plans being laid for Toronto’s reducing emissions are long term goals, and while the promise of net zero could potentially come to fruition in 30 years, Toronto’s climate is already feeling the effects of the climate crisis.
More money and focus needs to be shifted toward protecting the city from the current climate and weather changes by providing infrastructural reinforcement. There are many plausible — albeit expensive — solutions to the Toronto infrastructural problem. The construction of dikes and levees, or water barriers, may help subway tracks and Toronto streets by directing water away from roads and into existing drains.
Reinforcing the Toronto sewage system is also a solution architects could look into, as a few detention tanks already exist that prevent excess rainwater from overflowing into Lake Ontario and the outskirts of the city, and more may be on the way. More plants and wildlife around the city could also potentially mitigate extreme heat and excess water, as seen on University of Toronto’s campus.
From an engineering standpoint, an examination of Toronto’s transit system and its ability to withstand excess water and heat is sorely needed. During heatwaves, British cities have seen their metal train tracks expand due to the nature of the materials used in their construction, and Toronto transit lines will need further reinforcement and analysis given the upcoming weather predictions.
Both the City of Toronto and U of T need to prepare their infrastructure for the effects of the climate crisis. Both bodies need to focus on acting in the present and take the necessary actions to protect their streets and buildings from incurring damages.
Budgets need to shift from vague future goals to upcoming construction plans — the safety of all Torontonians should take priority as all institutions try to navigate an uncertain future of potentially dangerous weather changes.
Kayla Litschko is a second year in University College studying history, bioethics and political science. She is a climate columnist in The Varsity’s comment section.