In the 1980s the western part of downtown Toronto became a run down industrial dirt patch. Factory operations moved to the suburbs, leaving a collection of empty warehouses near King and Dufferin Streets. Storeowners along Queen Street around Ossington lost their customers, and some closed down. Those who remained couldn’t justify even a fresh coat of paint to help improve the neighbourhood.
But the area was affordable, so artists, environmentalists and students invaded, creating a bohemian shamble of live-in studios in the empty factories, and modest galleries in the battered storefronts. This was the humble beginning of Liberty Village. Sapling sprouts begin as seeds. As the soil becomes more nourishing, they grow stronger. Today Liberty Village is home to an energetic young artist population and is seen as an entrepreneurial incubator. Queen West is a thriving district of edgy shops, galleries and some of the top rated restaurants in the world. Vogue Magazine calls Queen West one of the coolest streets on earth.
The warehouses have been replaced by thousands of condominiums, filled to bursting with upwardly mobile Gen-Xers and Millennials, successful young professionals, sustainability designers, media people and entertainers. Queen Street is now a mecca for fashion leaders, clubs, music, photography, trendy furniture and top international chefs, preparing the newest raw or vegan couture. The community is still oriented toward arts, culture and environmentalism. And everything has, at minimum, a better paint job. The income level is apparently not a problem.
As the people and community in Liberty Village mature and develop, there is a need for what developers call ‘move-up housing’ which means more spacious two and three bedroom condominiums and townhouses.
One of the first green builders in Canada was Windmill Developments and one of the early developers in Liberty Village was Curated Properties. The two have joined forces to create The Plant, a mixed-use clean energy building on the former site of Dufflet Bakery at the foot of Dovercourt Avenue. It will be completely heated and cooled by an environment-friendly geothermal system, heat pumps, energy recovery ventilators, and will include electric car charging, bicycle areas and a tight building envelope.
The Plant is green in another way, inspired by what Windmill Partner Alex Spiegel calls a terrace-to-table philosophy. He means urban agriculture and greenery. “Occupants can have self-watering aeroponic plant stands fitted on their terraces,” he says. “And inside special kitchen carts for organic compost and seedling germination.” A shared greenhouse /herb kitchen spills onto a communal vegetable garden and green roof designed for socializing and growing things; and a large green and growing exterior plant is featured on the building’s façade.
The project might also contribute to the ‘growth’ of its innovative geothermal financing program. “Tim Weber’s Diverso model was a key to making the geo system happen,” says Spiegel. He’s referring to Diverso Energy, which will build, maintain and operate the building’s geothermal system for 30 years, after which the condo owners can choose to buy it. This reduces technical challenges and capital costs for the developer.
It also helps the condo owners predict and control operating costs, maintenance fees and capital improvement investments. Apparently that held great appeal for people who have developed from seedlings to maturity. All 72 units of The Plant were sold very quickly, and things in Liberty Village will continue growing greener.