|Green roofs are just one of the ways North Americans are trying to naturalize our urban landscapes (Architect: Busby Perkins + Will)
Photo: Jim Burns, Stantec.
The natural city
Toronto hosts North Amercia's Natural City Conference, an international effort to
move our metropolises into the future
By Jenn Hardy
Pollution-related health problems, unsustainable urban sprawl
and problems with public transportation—a few of the many
failures North Americans had in trying to plan cities.
Organizers of this year's Natural City conference,
to be held at the University of Toronto from May 31
to June 2, 2006, plan to use the success stories of
the past in order to move forward. "We hope to
find ways of highlighting productive solutions and opportunities
for positive change, rather than simply continue to
focus on our collective failures to advance sustainability," says
Dr. Ingrid Leman Stefanovic, Director of the Centre
for Environment and professor at the University of Toronto.
"My father is an architect and he wisely pointed
out to me years ago that it is much easier to tear down
the bridges than build them up in a productive way."
As far as at least two of the speakers are concerned,
Canada's economy is at the heart of the need to
make cities function properly.
"We hope to find ways of highlighting productive
solutions and opportunities for positive change, rather than simply continue
to focus on our collective failures to advance sustainability."
— Dr. Ingrid Leman Stefanovic, Director of the Centre for Environment
"If we want continued economic growth—especially
with a growing population—on this finite planet," says
Storm Cunningham, executive director of the Virginia-based
Revitalization Institute, "then we have to base
our economic development on renewing the health and
capacity of the built environment we've already
created, and on restoring the damage we've already
done to our natural resources."
Glen Murray, Chair of the National Round Table on
the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) says he and
other members took the challenge of finding out what
a "carbon-constrained economy" would look
"It's very long-term strategic thinking," Murray
says of NRTEE's recent report to the government. "We
think the report sets a new series of objectives for
Canadian economic policy. I think we're going
to make the business case for a stronger economy." He
names tillage technology,
carbon sequestration and tidal
power as ways of creating room for investment and prosperity
"It's challenging Canadians to live their lives differently—the
transit choices we make, how we build buildings, what we buy, how
we move. There are a whole series of choices you can make that have
huge implications for the kind of planet we're going to leave
for our kids."
NRTEE has been focusing on climate change and hopes to engage
community, business and government leaders and environmentalists
to test NRTEE’s solutions. "This is going to be a big
win for Canada in the next 10 years," he says.
Cunningham, who wrote The Restoration Economy in
2002, says conservation, where possible, is always preferable
to restoration. "The trouble is there are precious
few pristine places left on Earth," he says. "Virtually
every ecosystem on Earth is either dying from pollution
or the effects of pollution suffering from declining
biodiversity or being invaded by exotic species." The
solution, he says, is ecosystem restoration, because
it can go hand-in-hand with conservation.
"I think we're going to make the business case for a stronger economy."
—Glen Murray, Chair of the National Round
Table on the Environment and the Economy
The conference's keynote speaker is Stephen Lewis, UN Secretary-General's
Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. Topics on the agenda include
Buddhist practice in sustainability, the question of whether or not
private sector money is "bad" and reducing poverty through
curb-side recycling in Latin America.
"We all know what the problems are," says
Donna Workman, manager Program Development and External
Relations of the Centre for Environment at the University
of Toronto. "Now we want to know what the best
practices are. Everyone who has been invited to speak
has a story on the positive side. We're focusing
on the success within the challenges."
The Natural City Conference