Reagan-era economic thinking focuses on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the bellwether for how well society is doing. It’s a narrow view of the world which ignores everything except the movement of capital, yet many economists and politicians are stuck in this outdated way of thinking. In this context, and with the influential power economists have, it’s noteworthy that Cambridge economist is openly advocating to not use GDP and focus instead on making a sustainable society. We need to plan ahead for the future and build a better tomorrow instead of punishing future generations with an unsustainable economic system for short term wealth now.
“A focus on GDP without proper regard for environmental degradation or inequality has been a disaster for global ecosystems and undermined social cohesion,” said Prof Diane Coyle, who leads “Beyond GDP’ research at Cambridge’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy and is a key speaker at Tuesday’s public event.
“Statistics are the lens through which we see the world, but they have made nature invisible to policymakers. Twenty-first century progress cannot be measured using 20th-century statistics,” she said.
Can you tell the difference between a big leaf maple and a Japanese maple tree? If not, then you may suffer from plant blindness. Hopefully you can tell them apart when looking at them though. The concept of plant blindness is not so much being able to name every species as it is to appreciate the variety of species that exist. It’s also very easy to cure – just go look at plants.
One key to reducing plant blindness is increasing the frequency and variety of ways we see plants. This should start early – as Schussler, who is a professor of biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, puts it, “before students start saying they are bored with plants”. One citizen science project aiming to help with this is TreeVersity, which asks ordinary people to help classify images of plants from Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum.
Everyday interactions with plants is the best strategy, says Schussler. She lists talking about conservation of plants in local parks and gardening.
Canada Post is changing and the workers at the company want to see it grow to be more than just package delivery. They’ve looked at other postal services around the world for inspiration and see a very green, community-focussed future. A simple improvement is postal banking which is popular around the world yet doesn’t exist in Canada. The neatest ideas for the future of Canada Post is to turn their retail locations into green energy hubs and on-demand support for an ageing population.
Among the ideas proposed by the Delivering Community Power campaign: -Electric vehicle charging stations at post offices; -Converting the postal fleet to made-in-Canada electric vehicles; -Assistance to vulnerable people via check-ins on seniors and those with limited mobility; -Public financial services as a means of financial inclusion and green investment; and -Delivery of groceries and medicines.
Many of these ideas were presented by CUPW during their negotiations with Canada Post and will be presented during arbitration hearings.
Cities need to work with their local ecosystems and not against them. This is evidently true when it comes to waste management and overt displays of green initiatives. There is a harder aspect of ecological thinking for cities and it’s usually beneath our feet: water.
Water systems are complex in every direction – getting drinking water in and storm water out. The way cities plan for water issues is more important than ever before as we enter a time of water scarcity and extreme weather. What we should be doing (and smart cities already are) is designing our urban spaces with the flow of water in mind.
“We need to acknowledge that the water is eventually going to do what the water wants to do, and shift our approach, as human populations living on the Earth, from one of trying to dominate nature to one that acknowledges the power of nature and works in synchrony with that,” says English. “We’ve already set ourselves down this path of dams and levees and water control systems, and it’s really hard to turn back. But we don’t need to keep replicating that. We don’t need to make the situation worse. It’s time to step back from the approach of control and fortification.”
“Cities that today start to embrace water and take advantage of the skills of water, will be the cities that have a better performance economically and socially and politically in 20 to 30 years,” says Koen Olthuis, founder of Waterstudio, a Dutch firm that has found designing around water to be more than a niche market. “When situations change—and that’s happening now, the environment is changing, the climate is changing—cities have to react. You have to change the skills and the performance of the city to give a reaction to this situation, and the reaction should be not fighting it, it should be living with it.”
This year, Toronto has become the hub for green roofs! Torontist took a look into what made this happen and why green roofs are perfect for cities.
There are approximately 500 green roofs, big and small, in Toronto. This is thanks to a 2010 bylaw [PDF] requiring all new developers to cover between 20 and 60 per cent of their buildings with vegetation. It’s the first (and, for now, only) regulation of its kind in North America, making Toronto uniquely positioned for environmental design.
The bylaw is why the 41-story RBC WaterPark Place [PDF] at Bay Street and Queens Quay has three green roofs that together could fill a NFL football field.
Developers can opt out of installing anything remotely grassy for a fee. But Jane Welsh, City Hall’s project manager for environmental planning, told Torontoist only five per cent of buildings choose to go sans-green roof.
Welsh also says municipally-owned buildings install a green roof anytime there’s a repair or replacement to the top of the building, when feasible.