December 15, 2012
Allan Kling
Allan Kling
When Allan Kling CLP launched Urban Garden, a Toronto-based design/build firm in 1999, he knew he wanted to do something to improve Toronto’s public parks. Turns out, it was a bigger challenge than he had bargained for. “While I’m passionate about city parks and green spaces,” says Kling, “it takes a lot more than that to get involved. You’ve got to have the knowledge and the experience to get things done.”

He’s learned a lot over the last 15 years and he credits much of that to Landscape Ontario. “I actually joined LO before Launching Urban Garden,” says Kling. “It was one of my smarter moves.” He subsequently joined the board of the Toronto Chapter and “that’s when things really started to come together. As a board member, I was in an ideal position to collaborate with other members on a host of public landscape projects. It’s been a great education.” He presently serves as first vice president on the Toronto Chapter Board.

A good example is the Hospital for Sick Kids roof garden project, undertaken in 2010 by LO’s Toronto Chapter. The hospital actually had a roof garden and it was right next to a wonderful indoor play and relaxation area for kids in long term treatment programs.

But the garden had been neglected for years, and was, in fact, off-limits to patients. LO’s Toronto Chapter partnered with the Starlight charitable foundation to create a beautiful, safe and fun outdoor space for those kids and their families.  

“Starlight made a very significant cash contribution to the project,” says Kling, “and LO matched it with donations of materials and labour. I’d put the value of our contribution at well over a hundred thousand dollars.”

Over 70 LO members committed three weekends to the project. Most had never worked together before and even fewer had experience with roof gardens.  

“The result was nothing short of miraculous,” says Kling. “We finished on time, on budget and on spec.”

What had not been anticipated was the camaraderie. “Something quite wonderful happens when people come together on a project like this; when there’s a shared motivation to do something that matters,” says Kling. “I found that very satisfying”.

Kling has also been active in the Toronto Botanical Garden, where he currently acts as chair on the board. “TBG is a brilliant organization.

Much of Kling’s volunteer work is done through his company, Urban Garden. “Some of our most interesting projects — and often the most enjoyable ones — are neither big nor profitable,” says Kling. “We often have staff working at Evergreen’s Brickworks, a YMCA playground or a local city park. Sometimes we pay them and sometimes they donate their time. Volunteering can be contagious.”

Kling remains committed to improving Toronto’s green spaces. He notes that there are some interesting opportunities emerging. “The city is clearly interested in partnering with both the not-for-profit and the private sectors, especially when it comes to parks. We’ve collaborated with it and local residents a few times now, and I think the model works. I’m pretty sure we’ll being seeing more of these partnerships. If there’s a downside for the private contractor, it’s that you won’t necessarily make much profit. It helps to have a charitable motivation, as well as the bottom line.”

Kling doesn’t plan to stop volunteering any time soon. “There’s no shortage of great projects and most of them won’t get done without volunteers. Urban Garden will continue to focus on the landscape-related causes, because that’s what we do best.”  

What is Kling’s motivation for all this charitable work. I guess I’d like to think I’ll have left the planet in slightly better condition than I found it.”