Drawing together researchers from social scientific, humanities and scientific disciplines, this project investigates Toronto's waterfront during the past hundred years. The project uses the ideas of social nature and political ecology to study the waterfront, a special place where land and water meet, as an interactive space in which the social and the natural are constantly remaking one another. That is, urban waterfronts are always both social and natural and need to be studied as such. The overarching question our research addresses is: How have various, discourses and practices combined to produce and regulate Toronto’s waterfront as a socio-economic and ecological space? We approach this question by observing that during the last few decades, policy makers, planners and developers have looked to waterfronts in North American and European cities as sites for massive urban revitalization projects that contribute to expanding the roles of metropolitan regions and the formation of new urban hierarchies in a globalized economy.

The strategy for achieving our research objectives entails both analytic and synthetic methods. The analytic aspects of the research strategy are embodied in five research projects, based upon the themes of waterfront governance, institutions, planning and landscape transformations, that have been identified as constituent parts of the overarching research question. Each of these research projects has a specific methodology. As research proceeds on these projects, however, we intend to engage in a synthetic and reflexive research process (monthly colloquia) for building common understanding and greater insights.

The study contributes to scholarly work and professional debates not only on Toronto’s future but also on other waterfront cities in two novel ways: first, by examining waterfront development as a contested process in which new urban spaces and natures are simultaneously produced; and second, by using a hundred year period as the basis for our analysis and interpretation of societal and ecological transformations.