The Way We Green Workshops

The Way We Green WorkshopA few weeks ago I was invited to check out a workshop for stakeholders of The Way We Green, part of the public consultation process for the project. It took place on a Thursday evening in a conference room on the top floor of the Holiday Inn Express downtown (great view). I arrived roughly halfway through the session, and found two tables of about ten people deep in discussion.

The workshop I attended was the last of four in the second phase. In the four workshops of phase one, which took place during the first week of June, participants identified what sustainability means for Edmonton and what key environmental challenges we face. In the second phase, participants discussed the policy options for eight broad categories: energy, water supply, food, ambient air, biodiversity, water quality, extreme weather, and waste management.

The table I sat with was just finishing up a discussion on energy when I arrived. Each participant had a sheet of paper with three or four sections to drive the conversation. There was also a moderator and a designated note-taker. Very shortly after I sat down, the group started talking about food. Everyone around the table had the opportunity to talk about why they thought protecting Edmonton’s local food system is important. They also completed the exercises on the sheet, which asked for a proposed goal, for their thoughts on what the City of Edmonton has done thus far, for a recommendation that the City of Edmonton should do more, less, or retain the status quo, and to identify any barriers to achieving the goal. Everyone in the group agreed that we need to do more to protect and strengthen Edmonton’s local food system (which I agree with), and highlighted public awareness as a major barrier (which I disagree with).

The Way We Green Workshop

I’m really interested in how the City’s public consultations work (and how they might be changing), so it was a great opportunity to see one aspect first hand. Even with all of the technology available to us, there remains a place for face-to-face discussions. I felt there could have been more discussion between participants at the workshop I attended, however, instead of just answering the questions provided. Another thing I noticed was that while there was diversity in the ages of the participants, there wasn’t much ethnic diversity. It’s important that immigrants and newcomers have a say in the strategic direction we take as a city (something that City staff acknowledged is a challenge when I mentioned it after the workshop).

More workshops are being scheduled for September, including some that will be open to the public. Forums and other information sessions are also scheduled to take place, after which the draft plan will be written and presented to City Council (sometime before February 2011). You can learn more about the project timeline here. You might also want to read the EcoVision Annual Report, which was published last month.

You can read my recap of last month’s expert panel here. Don’t forget you have until August 20th to complete the online survey. Stay tuned to TheWayWeGreen.ca for updates!

Recap: The Way We Green Panel Discussion

Today the City of Edmonton hosted a panel discussion with environmental experts at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Part of The Way We Green, the panel featured five local subject matter experts and was attended by more than 150 people. The event was also streamed live online (an archive is available here). For those of you new to The Way We Green, here’s what Councillor Iveson wrote about it when he helped launch the project last month:

It’s picking up after the 2006 Environmental Strategic Plan, which was good but more internally focused on the city and not very high-profile. The project is building on the widespread consultations in 2008 that led to the city’s 30 year vision and 10 year overall strategic plan, The Way Ahead. Now it’s time to drill down and focus specifically on the environment – the services we get from it, the impacts we have on it, and the value we place on it.

As part of the project, the City commissioned a collection of discussion papers to help stimulate thinking and dialogue, and those papers formed the basis of today’s panel. The five panelists were: Debra Davidson, Pong Leung, David Schindler, Daniel Smith, and Guy Swinnerton. The panel was moderated by Ed Struzik.

The Way We Green

The panelists covered quite a range of topics, and I thought Ed did a great job of keeping the discussion moving. Here are a few things that stood out for me:

  • Most of the panelists used the word “comprehensive”. They generally agreed that a comprehensive approach is required to tackle the environmental issues we face. I’m not convinced. I think you need to break the problem down and work in parallel from a variety of angles.
  • I found myself disagreeing with David quite a lot. Near the start of the panel he said something like “A sustainable Edmonton, in an unsustainable province, in an unsustainable country, doesn’t work.” I think Edmonton should lead by example, rather than relying on other orders of government to agree on policy and regulations. If we can make Edmonton the model sustainable city, why wouldn’t other communities in Alberta want to follow suit? And if they did, guess what, we’d be on the road to a sustainable province. Start local, and bubble up.
  • Pong, who I thought was the best of the panelists, said in response to David, “We can’t be paralyzed waiting for the perfect political environment to show up.”
  • Guy talked at length about density, pointing out how vital it is for us to address sustainability. He also mentioned some of the negative impacts our continual sprawl has had on the environment.
  • David then talked about population growth, noting that Edmonton is roughly doubling every 30 years. He basically said that we can’t keep growing and be sustainable. Again, I disagree. The issue isn’t how many people we have, it’s where and how those people live. Population density is far more important than population growth, at least here in Edmonton. Debra said as much in response to David.
  • The one thing David said that I did agree with was that we need some economic diversification. Everyone laughed and applauded when he said that Alberta “relies on one very oily teat.”
  • Ed asked the panel about taxes, everyone’s favorite topic. Debra said that affordable housing in the core would help reduce urban sprawl. I would talk about it more generally. Incentives are what drive behaviour, especially financial incentives. Right now, it’s too easy a decision to live on the edge of the city than to pay more and live near the core. The incentives are not aligned with the vision. Tax breaks for sustainable decisions and tax increases for unsustainable decisions might be one tool we can use to address that.

I thought the panel had some interesting thoughts and discussion points, though I’d have preferred if there was more opportunity for the audience to ask questions. You can read more about today’s event here.

“City Council gave us a 10-year goal to become a national leader in setting and achieving the highest standards of environmental preservation and sustainability,” said Jim Andrais, project manager for the Way We Green plan. “Now we have to find out from Edmontonians and environmental experts which environmental challenges are most important and areas where we can make the greatest difference. This panel debate, discussion papers, workshops and the online consultation are all part of that process.”

The second public survey for The Way We Green is now online – you have until August 20 to fill it out. The two questions being asked are about the challenges we face and the major changes we may have to make to address them.

You can learn more about The Way We Green here. On Twitter, follow the #yegeco hashtag.