What's good for the environment is good for our community
In her column, “Environmental expectations come at a price” (Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 21, 2014), Joanne Chianello describes two solitudes when it comes to expectations of what the city should do on the environment file: city corporate is focused on sewage, trash, trees and rail; and activists, as well as some councillors, expect the city to double-down on all things environmental (including saving the Blanding’s turtle).
These are old battle lines.
Cities all over the world—Washington, D.C.; Curitiba, Brazil; Stockholm, Sweden; San Francisco, Calif.; and Brisbane, Australia—are using a focus on the environment to drive more efficient delivery of services, to provide a clear focus for resource allocation, to inform planning decisions that impact the flow of people and products inside and across their boundaries, to create new commercial growth opportunities, and to address the increasing costs of climate change. This approach saves taxpayers money, protects the environment and improves the general health, wellbeing, and prosperity of citizens. It is no longer an either-or dilemma.
Ms. Chianello rightly points out where the past two councils have made significant investments that speak to many environmental concerns, but the lack of coherence and urgency means we are failing to capitalize on significant opportunities.
There are already high-impact measures that could be taken within existing funding envelopes that would help pull a number of the city’s priority areas together. These include a refreshed Climate Change Action Plan to help the Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan better align, exploring Environmental Pricing Reform as a means to pair environmental stewardship with fiscal restraint and partnering with local academic institutions to pilot the refurbishment of old commercial building stock into high performance buildings. These kinds of initiatives also allow us to change the conversation on the environment file to something more productive and future focused.
Additionally, enthusiasm for the Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict, Windmill Developments’ Chaudière island project, Support Local Month, Ottawa’s growing cycling and active transportation culture, Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-operative and a complete streets policy among others demonstrate a new, and more nuanced understanding of how the principles of urban sustainability can be used to build an efficient, vibrant, and environmentally conscious city. With the right leadership and with new policy development approaches, Ottawa is well placed to generate world-class approaches to creating the most sustainable city in the world. This is what the New Ottawa campaign is all about.
We recognize that local politicians and city staff don’t have all the answers, so it’s critical to consider practical solutions that come from the ground up. Over the next few months, the New Ottawa campaign will be engaging citizens to hear their innovative ideas on how to practically realize this vision of urban sustainability.
Still not sold? While much of what is exciting about the environment file are the opportunities, the evidence is clear—a lassiez-faire approach comes at a price. For example, the Canadian Medical Association estimates there were 21,000 deaths across the country in 2008 from the effects of air pollution and related economic costs will top $250 billion by 2031. Additionally, Transport Canada notes in a study on urban congestion that congestion in the Ottawa-Gatineau region costs residents between $40 million and $89 million in travel delay and wasted fuel, to name a few.
The good news is that what's good for the environment is good for our community. It is important for the short and long-term economic health of our city and creates efficient administration and service delivery. It’s also the right thing to do.
In October 2014, there will be a municipal election. We can have the same old arguments about what the city should be doing about the environment, or we can move in a new direction, together.
Martin Canning is running as a candidate in Somerset Ward in the upcoming municipal election.