The Story of Toronto as a Learning City

It is 2040, and Toronto is developing as a learning city. Local leaders, citizens and government representatives from across sectors work together to harness the unique strengths of Toronto to co-create an inclusive and resilient city. Toronto is gaining an international reputation as a Water Hub built by utilizing the city’s local start-up ecosystem and connecting start-ups with established businesses, local visionaries, research teams and post-secondary institutions to advance water-related technologies. Diverse partnerships allow projects to integrate design, art and technology specialties to create learning and exploration opportunities of local water sources and naturalized areas for residents and tourists from a variety of age groups. In 2040, Toronto looks very different than it did in 2015, there are many windows though out the city to see the inner working of water and energy infrastructure to promote wise use.

The Story of Blue and Green Growth

It is 2040 and the City of Toronto is committed to green and blue growth at the:

  • Household/business level (e.g. the widespread adoption of Low Impact Development features, greywater systems, etc.) in new buildings and retrofits.
  • City level (i.e. “green corridors” of connected naturalized green space and park lands that follow hydro lines and “blue corridors” of naturalized local water ways, ravines, wetlands and shore lands).

By 2040 the buy-in from the public and private businesses for these corridors and Low Impact Design (LID) techniques has grown because the city provided educational resources and progress reports on their efforts. As a result, the community feels included and has seen the tangible benefits of these efforts. The green and blue corridors function as key spaces for the cities biodiversity efforts, decentralized stormwater management, active lifestyles and cultural spaces. Community groups play an active role in collaborating to maintain and animate these spaces to bring more people into safe spaces.

The Story of the Climate Ready City

In this scenario Toronto has adopted a comprehensive, collaborative and holistic approach to urban water management and planning to be resilient in times of flooding and drought. In 2040 green infrastructure and Low Impact Development is the standard for upgraded and new infrastructure, building construction and renovation. Starting in 2020 there was increasing focus on the suburbs to increase density and transit options to make the neighbourhoods more accessible. More individual homes, particularly in the suburbs where lots are larger, are implementing a homestead model to produce more food locally.

This approach to urban water management and genuine community engagement has altered Torontonians relationship with local water sources, precipitation and expectations of service. As a result, stormwater is viewed as an asset. The City is capturing and storing water from storm events to be used during times of drought. Also, greywater is collected within households for use so less energy and money is spent on pumping water from the Lake to users. This changing water relationship opens entrepreneurial opportunities (e.g. technologies to improve water quality in on-site collection and storage, permeable sidewalks, bio filters, etc.). Also, data sharing partnerships are in place with insurance companies claims information to assist the city with prioritizing their climate change adaptation responses. Overall, in 2040 Torontonians feel safer and happier with their more resilient city.

The Story of Inequality

In the Story of Inequality, by 2040 the City of Toronto is vastly different from what it was in 2020. There have been a number of catastrophic weather events that have negatively impacted the city finances. A population surge and a series of local decisions have promoted inequity and stratification between communities. Overall, there is an increase in the cost of living, decreased possibilities to own a home and a decrease in the standard of living within Toronto, which increases residents’ feelings of insecurity and political apathy.

For cost saving possibilities, the City has contracted the rights to manage and maintain its vast water infrastructure to a private company. Those with more disposable income are able to pay for water service fee increases to accommodate infrastructure upgrades. Less affluent communities tend to be unable to afford increased water service fees to accommodate infrastructure upgrades, resulting in more flooding damage and water loss due to leakage. These families are also less able to pay for water efficient features, further exacerbating their ability to pay for water. This has resulted in more household level stormwater collection, treatment and use. Food deserts have become more common in low-income neighbourhoods. Community gardens are more difficult to support as building infill for intensification and cost of land has made open space difficult to access. So, less affluent residents find it challenging to find fresh produce for healthy eating. These pressures have spurred some residents to start entrepreneurial ventures, sharing or swap initiatives and community projects out of necessity. The transportation of people has been an unresolved challenge since 2015, despite more people working from home. Those commuting from less affluent communities tend to have the most difficult and long commutes.

What conditions might support this future?

  • Rise in unemployment and precarious employment, wages too low to afford city living
  • Transit inequality due to politics
  • Lack of a vibrant economy and activities in suburbs
  • Reduction in public daycare/after school programs and other city services
  • Certain neighbourhoods are flooded due to upstream development/paving
  • Lack of low-income housing
  • Resiliency measures and flooding addressed in wealthier neighbourhoods first

The Story of Toronto Waterfront Revitalised

In Toronto’s waterfront has developed into a complete and well-connected community – where people work, live, play and vacation. The waterfront looks different since the Gardiner Expressway was removed in 2025 to improve access to the waterfront, accommodate growth and low-impact (non vehicular) transportation. The intelligent communities initiative have attracted many knowledge-based companies making Toronto a global city. Many of the buildings on the Toronto Waterfront have sustainable building features (e.g. solar panels, energy efficient features, rainwater collection, green roofs, water reuse, on-site water treatment, deep water cooling). A large garden complex, community and rooftops gardens supply the year-round local farmers market.

The waterfront is a vibrant place with public art, community gatherings and is also a place of relaxation. Torontonians are now proud of their waterfront. There is a significant emphasis on ecotourism that connects the lake with the regional environment and wildlife. In 2040 many Torontonians seek out Lake Ontario for summer fun rather than go to “cottage-country”. The Waterfront has also become a place experiential learning for school children and adults through an Waterfront Toronto activity centre that offers: regular water education programs, summer camps and walking tours the RC Harris Water Filtration Plant, Sherbourne Common, Leslie Street Spit, etc.

This vibrant community was developed as a result of:

  • Strong and visionary long-term leadership
  • Years of wise planning
  • Strategic marketing and advertising to let Torontonians know what innovative work has been done and opportunities are at the waterfront

The Collaborative Regional Story

In this story, by 2040 there is an increasing movement to coordinate planning efforts at a regional scale within the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) to sustainably manage growth and protect the natural environment. The policies implemented by the City of Toronto work with surrounding communities plans to collaboratively manage and continue green space, trails, protect headwaters, respect flood zones, biodiversity efforts, population intensification, transit systems to connect GGH communities, waste management and utilities. In this arrangement, individual cities remain responsible for activities within their boarders, yet coordinate continuous service and space between communities. These coordinated management plans are made possible by the facilitated visioning process that was initiated in 2020.

Starting in 2018, communities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe realized that the predicted population growth for the area meant that they needed an inclusive approach to sustainably manage growth and protect the natural environment. So key leaders (both elected officials and those involved in the daily operations of the communities) gathered at a series of visioning meetings to determine their shared goals, values and approaches to guide communities. These leaders took cooperative and collaborative approach with a long-term view to planning (i.e. beyond four year election cycles) that valued local adaptability and resilience to respond to climate change. Communities in the GGH now sharing their knowledge, data and best practices to maximize economies of scale for services and social marketing campaigns to improve consumer habits e.g. water use, decentralized water recycling, etc.


Canadian Water Network
RBC Blue Water