Illustration By Jamie Bennett

Tour Toronto’s top green roofs

Here are five eco-friendly green spaces that are way up high

Green roofs are so much more than just a pretty place to sit: they have very real environmental benefits, like improving air quality and reducing storm water run-off. But, let’s face it—sometimes all you really need is a quiet place to enjoy the view. Luckily, Toronto is the place to be for green-roof hopping. Thanks to a 2010 bylaw mandating that new commercial and residential buildings in Toronto reserve at least 20 percent of their roof space for vegetation, Toronto was recently recognized for having installed the most green-roof area in North America. In fact, we’re up to about 500 living roofs. Many of the most impressive are on private property, but we’ve rounded up five stellar and accessible aboveground green spaces where you’re bound to feel like you’re on top of the world.

Bridgepoint Active Health Care

Photo Courtesy of Tom Arban

1BRIDGEPOINT ACTIVE HEALTH CARE

The winner of the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Award of Excellence in 2016, this rehab hospital’s tenth-floor garden overlooks the lush Don River Valley. Patients and staff can garden, meditate or stroll along gently sloped paths surrounded by small trees and hardy plant species. And it’s not just eye candy: studies show that feeling connected to nature boosts your mood and improves overall mental health.

City Hall

Photo Courtesy of City Of Toronto

2CITY HALL

Once a space where Toronto’s mayors welcomed visiting dignitaries, City Hall’s podium roof was abandoned and inaccessible for years—until 2007, when Nathan Phillips Square was revitalized. Even then, architects almost turned it into a parking lot for the mayor and city staff. Luckily, they went in a different direction, opting instead to transform the 3,250-square-meter space into Canada’s largest green roof. Lush gardens, park benches and paved pathways mean visitors can pop in on their lunch hours for some quiet contemplation—or to appease their Fitbits by getting a few extra steps in.

The Carrot Common

Photo Courtesy of  Dave Owen

3THE CARROT COMMON

In Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood, the Carrot Common isn’t your average neighbourhood shopping mall—it’s a joint venture between retail stores, co-ops, not-for-profit groups and citizen groups that support community causes. With all that friendly collaboration, it’s no wonder that they’re only too happy to share their lush green roof with the public as a meeting place and event space. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., anyone can pop by to spend some quality time communing with nature.

Central Toronto YMCA

Photo Courtesy of YMCA-GTA

4CENTRAL TORONTO YMCA

Smack dab in the heart of the city, near the intersection of Yonge and Wellesley, you’ll find the Central YMCA’s green roof. Open all summer long, this green space is the very definition of multi-use: there’s a raised platform in the middle for exercise classes (yoga is a popular one), a running track, a fountained water feature, plus benches for lounging—it’s a great place for an outdoor workout, or to take the kids for an impromptu picnic. Want to get your hands dirty? Online volunteer applications are available year-round.

Ryerson Urban Farm

Photo Courtesy of Mark Blinch

5RYERSON URBAN FARM

Years before Toronto enacted a city bylaw that compelled most new commercial and residential buildings to include a green roof in their plans, the Andrew and Valerie Pringle Environmental Green Roof at Ryerson University was farming this quarter-acre rooftop. By 2013 it was redeveloped into a garden producing organic produce, and now students and volunteers associated with the Ryerson Urban Farm say the garden yields nearly 10,000 pounds of fresh food a year. Access is limited, but you can gain entry via regularly scheduled tours.