In 2012, the University of Toronto approved a plan to replace grass with synthetic turf on its Back Campus Field. The Back Campus is one of the original features of the University and a Cultural Heritage Landscape. It is a unique and important site, one of the few remaining pieces of the original Queen’s Park. It has contextual value as a vantage point and setting for the many designated buildings which surround it. It has historical value as a campus common, used by both students and the general public as a sports field, and for casual recreation since the founding of University College. During World War I, it was used by the Royal Flying Corps as a base camp. It is also associated with the Soldiers’ Tower which was dedicated in 1924 to the memory of U of T's student-soldiers who never returned from the Great War.
We believe that the Back Campus Plan will degrade the very fabric of the campus and destroy one of the most substantial green spaces in downtown Toronto. The plan raises many social and environmental concerns. Designed for the 2015 Pan Am Games, the synthetic field aims to “create and implement a high performance training centre for Field Hockey in Ontario.” It will no longer serve as open space with public access for pick-up soccer, flag football, softball, picnics, or simply lying on a blanket and reading a book in a natural setting.
The heat hazard is one of the most serious environmental consequences of replacing grass with synthetic turf. There is a clear relationship between urban warming and synthetic turf, which absorbs heat from the sun and gets hotter than soil or natural grass. Conversion of such a large surface area from a living surface to an artificial surface will have a significant, detrimental heat impact on downtown Toronto. Rain water that is now slowly absorbed by the ground will be sent at high speed into Toronto's storm sewer system, which is already strained by the increased volumes of water that have come from rapid urbanization throughout our region. At a time when the city is working toward the widespread introduction of green roofs to slow and hold water, it is counterproductive to cover a large area of porous ground with impermeable materials.
We urge Toronto City Council to designate Back Campus a “Cultural Heritage Landscape.” Keep the Back Campus Green! Preserve U of T’s Back Campus as a University Open Space and a vibrant green field, which will support the diverse activities of community members and students for generations to come.