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In pictures: Three cleanup projects that are changing the face their communities

Large and small projects took 'commitment, persistence and an ability to overcome complex challenges,' the Canadian Urban Institute says

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The overall winner of the 2012 Brownie Awards, organized by the Canadian Urban Institute, is the tar ponds and coke ovens remediation project in Sydney, N.S. Here is a view of the huge site before remediation.

Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens Remediation Project

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An aerial view of the former tar ponds – pools of runoff from a steel plant. The contamination was left after a Sydney steel plant, once the second-largest producer in Canada, closed in 2001. For decades, the toxic mess notoriously attached itself to the name of the Cape Breton community.

Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens Remediation Project

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An aerial view of the former coke ovens. Brownfield remediation work began in 2007 when the Nova Scotia government teamed up with Public Works and Government Services Canada to clean up the land. The $400-million project targeted 99 hectares of land with more than a million tonnes of toxic sludge.

Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens Remediation Project

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Construction of an engineered channel nears completion. Cleanup involved solidifying the toxic ooze with cement, then burying it beneath a engineered cap of clay and soil.

Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens Remediation Project

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An engineered channel seen at the end of September, 2012. By the end of November, the last section of engineered cap will be installed, a year ahead of schedule.

Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens Remediation Project

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The new Ferry Street bridge, open to pedestrians and cars, leads to downtown Sydney. Its official opening in August marked a milestone in the cleanup, reconnecting three Sydney communities that surround the former steel plant site – Ashby, Whitney Pier and the North End – and connects them to the downtown core.

Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens Remediation Project

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Crews add clay over the capped and solidified sediments, summer of 2012.

Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens Remediation Project

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Engineered channel looking toward downtown Sydney. Up to $20-million has been set aside to develop the downtown recreation area, with an entertainment venue and parking planned.

Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens Remediation Project

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An artist's rendering of former tar ponds site envisions what it will look like after completion – with a park system and footpaths. ‘The Sydney tar ponds are no more,’ says Public Works official Randy Vallis.

Stantec

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The 2012 Brownie Award for best small-scale project went to Underpass Park in Toronto’s Don Lands. Here, 10-year-old Jordan Smith uses a skateboard ramp at the $9.5-million project, located beneath the Richmond/Adelaide overpasses in the West Don Lands. Underpass Park is at the centre of development in preparation for the 2015 PanAm Games.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

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The formerly neglected and overlooked spot now has well-lit basketball courts, a playground and park on land that was once used by a variety of industrial uses including the Toronto Salt Works. Now, a hard cap of cement separates users from contaminants in some place, while a soft cap of clay and soil now houses plants.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

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The 2012 Brownie Award for best large-scale project went to the SOLEfood Farm project in Vancouver. Here, strawberries grow up vertical tubes at one of SOLEfood’s small urban farms it manages on leased lots. Produce grown from the farms is washed, cooled and consolidated at a central location, then sold to restaurants, at farmers markets and distributed to community organizations

SOLEfood

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Lissa Goldstein tends a lettuce crop at the SOLEfood farm in an empty parking lot on the former Expo site beside BC Place in Vancouver in July. The farms provide meaningful employment to inner-city residents. If landowners want their site back, the farms’ raised plant beds can be moved with a forklift. ‘It’s funny, I never thought I would actually wish for paved land to farm on, but I do,’ says Michael Ableman, co-director of the SOLEfood Farm project.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

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