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The plan to green the Lower Don for 80,000 new residents

As a population equivalent to Niagara Falls, Ont., prepares to move into the neighbourhood, champions of the Don River Valley want to make sure the valley is ready to welcome them.

Vito Riccio/Vito Riccio

The four-seat plane leaves Billy Bishop Airport and heads northeast. A grid of trees and rooftops in the city's west end, green depressions in Dufferin Grove, Bickford and Trinity Bellwoods park – all that remain of the buried Garrison Creek.

Past the midtown condo cranes, the Don Valley opens up in the city's east. David Stonehouse peers intently through the window. The general manager of Evergreen Brickworks is tagging along on an aerial photo shoot of the celebrated two-year-old reclamation project. But lately he's more interested in the valley the Brickworks calls home.

"We have unfinished business," says Mr. Stonehouse.

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Evergreen has just launched the Lower Don Greenway Project, a collaboration with the city and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) to pick up where the now-disbanded Task Force to Bring Back the Don left off.

The aim of Evergreen's project – and a city-sponsored planning study that will be announced this week – is to make the valley accessible green space for the 80,000 people expected to move into nearby infill housing.

The lower valley has come a long way since 1989 when it was a no-go area and the task force was launched. As the staff co-ordinator for eight years Mr. Stonehouse saw fences come down and bridges go up, wetlands and trails created.

But the valley is in danger of falling off the radar, according to Mr. Stonehouse. "We need public engagement to create a bandwagon effect," he says, adding, "There needs to be a wish list."

Not surprisingly, his short list of improvements starts with better access to the Brickworks site from the Lower Don Valley Trail.

"We have a streetlight across Bayview now," says Mr. Stonehouse. "Now we just have to get across the railway tracks and the river." He smiles in acknowledgment of the obstacles.

South of the Brickworks, the first 350 residential units of River City will open next year. Michelle Noble, communications manager for Waterfront Toronto, which oversaw the project, notes that walkways are part of the project.

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"A key principle in our planning is, 'How do trails, waterfront and public spaces connect to each other?' " says Ms. Noble. "The developers recognize that green space is a key selling point."

Michael Bender, manager of conservation lands for TRCA, says green space has only recently gone from liability to asset.

"There's been a change in attitude in the 25 years I've been here. We were always concerned with keeping people out and away [from river valleys]. Now we are trying to integrate them."

That newly expressed interest is something Mr. Stonehouse hopes to sustain. "The very fact that we are talking about how big the river's mouth should be is a miracle. Things that were groundbreaking in 1991, we take for granted now. Let's look ahead another 20 years, and raise our expectations again."

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