We must celebrate! Last week, Highland Companies – the corporate potato farmers providing cover for the world’s ninth largest hedge fund, Boston’s Baupost – pulled the plug on their plans to build North America’s second-largest quarry just north of Toronto.
This would have been no ordinary quarry. It was to be a hole that would bury an area equal to 60 per cent of our riding, 20 stories below ground. It would have required 600 million litres of water to be pumped – per day. It would have sent 7,200 trucks full of aggregate headed to Toronto – per day. And it would have required us to look much further afield to find about half the potatoes we eat in this city.
From one perspective, nothing’s changed – the status quo prevails. Moreover, it was a fight that consumed the time and challenged the faith, patience and good humour of thousands.
But, it was also a fight that inspired. Twenty-eight thousand people showed up to Foodstock in Melancthon Township in the fall of 2011 to be fed local fare by the Canadian Chefs’ Congress. Almost 40,000 flocked to our riding last month for the same in the form of soup. And for another week or so, the fascinating and clever mega quarry-inspired posters of OCADU students will hang on the walls of my office.
This was a campaign that generated energy – creative energy – not exhausted it. So what’s worth celebrating is, in part, that success is not just possible but that issues can be won using art, food, humour, a little bit of skin (yes, some posed near-naked for the cause), intelligence and optimism – an unrelenting optimism.
What’s worth celebrating, too, is that common ground was discovered – not scorched – through this campaign. Too often, it seems, even the broadly like-minded fall apart in the heat of campaigns. We get divided in too many ways and even sometimes, depressingly, by equally rational but contradictory positions. But this time happily, urbanites and farmers found common cause on the issue of sustainability. The East Enders who rode the bus with me to the Headwaters to see for themselves were greeted with such warmth, appreciation and camaraderie by those who have made a living from growing our food for, in cases, generations.
And so we have hope – the hope that we have started something new here and forged a lasting coalition for sustainable urban growth. Urban sustainability looms as an enormous challenge. With somewhere between 70 and 80 per cent of Canadians and 50 per cent – and growing rapidly – of the global population living in cities, the equation is simple. Global sustainability is not possible without sustainable cities.
Some of what we must do is not particularly sexy. It’s about transit, we know. But it is also about the design of our communities and the energy efficiency of our built environment. In spite of gridlock, record commute times and the prevalence of transit deserts in Toronto, it is the heating and cooling of our buildings that is responsible for 60 per cent of the greenhouse gases emitted. So, it’s also about amendments to our National Building Code and the completion of our National Energy Code.
But urban sustainability stands before us as a great opportunity for us to embrace, one that we must embrace. It means better serviced neighbourhoods, healthier neighbourhoods, greener neighbourhoods, better connected neighbourhoods, thriving neighbourhoods. It means complete neighbourhoods. And our federal government needs to do something about this.
I hope you’ll come out and participate in my effort to get us to that place. Craig Scott and I host the East End Sustainability Network on the last Saturday of every month. Your thoughts, ideas and energy will be more than welcome. Call 416-467-0860, email Elaine at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out facebook.com/matthewkellway for more information.