The Sky-O-Swale

What’s a Sky-o-swale®Structure?     

The Sky-o-swale® structure is a shade-water structure that filters rainwater through a green roof, into an underground cistern.  The water is used to irrigate the Community R.O.S.E. (Roots Of Scarborough East) Garden.  More than that, the Sky-o-swale® structure is a shaded community gathering space—a stage for performances and seating for  the Maple Leaf Sportsand Entertainment (MLSE)/Jumpstart sports pad!  It’s a wondrous structure, with a truly amazing “made in KGO” history.

The History

The idea for the Sky-o-swale® structure was co-created by local youth engaged in the Community.Design.Initiative program (CDI) with their architect and design mentors.

The Sky-o-swale® structure originated as a creative response to a physical conundrum.  Provided with funds to build a bio-swale by Live Green Toronto, local youth were disappointed to learn that the soil at The Storefront would not allow for the necessary water filtration.  Undeterred, the youth, in collaboration with architect mentors from archiTEXT, SUSTAINABLE.TO and ERA Architects, came up with a creative solution: put the bio-swale (a shallow depression in the landscape, designed to accept and convey stormwater runoff. It uses natural means, including vegetation and soil, to treat stormwater by filtering out contaminants being conveyed in the water-City of Toronto definition) on a shade structure “in the sky.” And with that, the idea for the Sky-o-swale® structure was born!

In true Storefront fashion, the Sky-o-swale® structure began to take shape through complex collaboration.  Storefront staff were funded by TD Friends of the Environment to bring together partners who supplied the component parts of the Sky-o-swale® structure: wood decking from the Venice Biennale’s Migrating Landscapes,hydro poles donated by Toronto Hydro, pop bottle crates for planting boxes from Orbis Corporation, rain barrels from Toronto Regional Conservation Authority, chain-link fence from around The Storefront’s building (which used to be a police station), pump and seating provided through the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the creativity and ingenuity of ERA, SUSTAINABLE.TO, Blackwell Engineers, Tensile Integrity and AtomsEco, along with an incredible amount of people power from local residents and Telus and RBC volunteers. Photo Credits: East Scarborough Storefront

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The next hurdle was financial.  Like the design itself, the funding for the Sky-o-swale® structure became a collaborative endeavour.  Toronto Foundation (formerly Toronto Community Foundation) fund-holders the J. Douglas Crashley Fund and the James Rutley Grand Memorial Fund generously joined original funders Live Green Toronto so the construction could begin!

But the breadth and scope of this collaboration was destined to be bigger yet…

Projects Converging

As one of the original United Way Toronto Tower Neighbourhood Renewal demonstration sites, Storefront staff along with multiple partners including CAPREIT, the City Tower Renewal office, the Metcalf Foundation, Parks People, Centre for City Ecology, Expect Theatre, Toronto Regional Conservation Authority, archiTEXT, ERA and SUSTAINABLE.TO, leant their support to local residents.  Together they worked to re-imagine the space surrounding their apartment towers to encourage community gathering, celebration and play.  One of their dreams was a sports court that could accommodate multiple sports.  This dream was captured in an ERA artist rendering of the Sky-o-swale® structure, which included children playing soccer with the Sky-o-swale® structure in the foreground.  When United Way Toronto brought MLSE to the table, the rendering caught their attention and a new partnership was born.

And the collaborations continued.  Before all this was built, the good will and collaborative spirit of companies like Direct Construction, Pristine Property and Starbucks all played a role in turning this complex dream into a reality.




The Legacy

Once upon a time, an old rusty water tower was the neighbourhood’s landmark.  As of 2014, the Sky-o-swale® structure and the Storefront Courts will be icons, demonstrating to the community and to the world at large just what can be accomplished when we start by investing in local youth and bring all of our talents and resources together to support them and their dreams.


Click here for a Youtube video of highlights of the Sky-o-swale® structure launch on August 20, 2014

Media Coverage

The Sky-o-swale® garnered much coverage and here are links to a few of the articles:

Scarborough Mirror


Guest blog written by Anne Gloger for The Toronto Foundation