The R.L. Hearn Generating Station in 2004. The meadow in the foreground, which had grown up on the contaminated remains of the station's coal pile, has since been replaced by the Portlands Energy Centre, a natural gas-fired generating station completed in 2008.

In mid-December, news broke that application had been made to demolish Toronto's R.L. Hearn Generating Station. Efforts immediately began to fight that demolition and to find an alternative use for the building, but fighting this battle on heritage grounds is probably a bad idea. The Hearn station is a building that needs saving not for its past, but for what it means to the city's present. In a city where life is confined increasingly to condo suites, the kind of space enclosed in the Hearn power station is both a priceless artifact and an exceptionally valuable inheritance, even if we haven't quite figured out how to value it yet. It would be a shameful act to demolish this building and throw away the chance to retain a space whose size and impact will never be reproduced in Toronto. Read More
Desk drawer in the front office of the former Freezer Queen frozen food manufacturing plant in Buffalo, NY. Exploring desk drawers revealed snippets of the company's professional and personal landscape.
Months after the closure of this frozen foods plant, we found the fascinating leftovers of a workplace whose life had been suddenly ended. Irrelevant to the brand's owners and the laid-off workforce after the plant's closure, these paper sediments and tech fossils were not ephemeral enough to be easily trashed. Instead, they clogged the unwanted office furniture and work benches, an interior stickiness that defied the quick and half-hearted effort that had been made to clear and liquidate the building's contents. Read More
Elevator Alley is a short-format paperback published in November 2010 by Furnace Press, with words by Michael Cook and medium-format photography by Andrew Emond.
Several years ago, I began a project with photographer Andrew Emond, looking at a complex of grain elevators and related industry in Buffalo, NY. We interviewed former and current elevator workers, read up on the history of the North American grain trade, and spent a lot of time rambling through and photographing what was then a huge, idle complex of elevators at Childs Street (one has since been reactivated). That work has culminated in the release of a short book, to which I have contributed the text and Emond has provided the glorious medium-format photography. Read More
The 2009 incarnation of Human River, assembled at the south end of Bickford Park. Photo by Trevor Ydreos, from humanriver.ca
For the last five years, people in Toronto have been coming together on a cool Sunday in October to dress in blue and trace the former path of the Garrison Creek, sometimes on foot, sometimes on bicycle. This is the first October since the event's inception that there was no Human River, and I think it's worth taking the time to think about the community consciousness and aspirations that the walk represented, and what it means for the city. Read More

The new surface channel at Sherbourne Common in Toronto's East Bayfront. Treated stormwater will eventually flow through this channel to the lake.

Last Friday, Waterfront Toronto unveiled Sherbourne Common, the latest in a string of connected parks that it has been developing along the city's central and eastern harbour. While the grand opening took place in the nearly completed part of the park south of Queen's Quay, work continues on the north side's sweeping water sculptures and raised biofiltration beds, as well as the broader stormwater management facility that will eventually feed treated stormwater to the park. The park represents an innovative and forward-thinking approach to building 'hard' stormwater infrastructure and integrating it into public space, but raises other questions about our approach to rebuilding our urban watersheds. Read More
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Michael Cook is available to speak to your organization about infrastructure history, lost creeks, current conditions, and opportunities for change in our management of and communication about urban watersheds, and to work with teams proposing or implementing such change. Get in touch.