Drawn Conclusions

A student project reveals the paradoxes often embedded in public policy.

By Timothy A. Schuler

Section drawings are used to highlight the incompatibility of land uses and the complex relationships among ownership, management, actors, and processes. Image courtesy Aaron Hernandez.

Economic and environmental policies have a direct impact on the formation and maintenance of landscapes, but it can often take years for those impacts to be felt, or for a particular policy’s spatial consequences to be revealed. A recent student design research project attempts to make those implications more clearly and immediately visible.

The project On Riven Land by then-University of Toronto MLA candidate Aaron Hernandez, the winner of this year’s CELA Student Award for Creative Scholarship, analyzed land use within and adjacent to Ontario’s Rouge National Urban Park, a five-year-old park on the outskirts of Toronto. The project visualized the conflicts embedded in some of the park’s stated policy aims, namely the “maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity” as outlined in the Rouge National Urban Park Act.

Using a series of sections and oblique aerial perspectives, Hernandez shows how adjacent land uses, combined with vague, sometimes contradictory policy language, preclude these ecological goals from being met. For example, an analysis of forest cover in the park, a metric used by the Canadian federal government as an indicator of watershed health, revealed that the park falls well short of established habitat thresholds. Indeed, at its current size and configuration, even with 100 percent forest cover, the park is unlikely to support a healthy ecosystem. “That led to this realization that these boundaries have to change. They’re not adequate for the formal policy objectives,” says Hernandez, now a landscape designer at Reed Hilderbrand.

At the parcel scale, existing conditions are juxtaposed with more compatible land management practices, such as no-till farming. Image courtesy Aaron Hernandez.

The use of drawings as a way to visualize policy is a methodology carried over from his time as a research assistant in the Ecological Design Lab, where he worked alongside the University of Toronto associate professor Jane Wolff and the Ryerson University professor Nina-Marie Lister, Honorary ASLA. The goal, in Wolff’s words, was to explore how drawings might “reveal the spatial paradoxes and contradictions in planning documents.” Applying the same methods to the Rouge, Hernandez says, was a way to “use design in a way that can allow for new modes of planning and governance.”

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