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. 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, health, and environmental concerns. We call upon the University of Toronto to be a model for the next generation in the global environmental movement, not a backslider.
· 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.
· Synthetic turf made of nylon/polyethylene blend fibers creates multiple health risks. This turf contains a mix of chemicals, which may include potential toxins such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). “Turf burns”—open lesions caused by falls on the turf—put athletes at greatly increased risk of staph infections. Staphylococci and other bacteria can survive on polyethylene plastic, the compound used to make turf blades, for more than 90 days.
· 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.
The poet Walt Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass, “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of stars.” He concludes, “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, / If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.” Future generations will not look for us beneath the synthetic turf. Please join us in urging the University of Toronto to keep the Back Campus green. Petition the administration to halt this plan and instead to rebuild the topsoil with proper drainage, irrigation, support, and real sod to create a vibrant green space which will support the diverse activities of students for generations to come.