City moving ahead with Institute for Sustainable Brampton
The City of Brampton made it official this week, signalling that it wants to move forward with establishing the Institute for Sustainable Brampton, an organization that will work with the municipal government to coordinate efforts to achieve a green and more environmentally sustainable city.
City environment planner Stavroula Kassaris announced Tuesday at an Environment Advisory Committee meeting that in addition to forming the institute, a key component of Brampton’s 2040 Vision, “The city has retained a consultant to help with the process, working with the city ... to answer key questions such as: What is this institute? What role will it play? What subject matter should it focus on? Who needs to be involved and what are their roles? How is this going to be structured, for profit, not-for profit etc? And who will report to it?” she said.
David Laing, 67, the chair of Bike Brampton — a member of the Grow Green Network, a coalition of groups with environmental concerns — is a big fan of the concept; he made a pitch for the institute to council on the network’s behalf back in February that prompted councillors to ask staff to study the idea. But he wants to know more about the unnamed consultant and what sort of engagement process the city is planning, which is integral to accomplishing the goals of the institute as envisioned by a network working group. “My expectation is that at some point in time in the very near future there would be public engagement that will include myself, but nothing can be said,” Laing said.
The ISB is a key piece of the Brampton 2040: Living the Mosaic document, which is meant to guide the city into a prosperous and sustainable future. The objectives of the institute would be directed toward the goal of “One Planet Living” — a concept developed by Bioregional, a UK- based environmental organization. One Planet cities are those that aim to ensure "happy, healthy lives within the limit of our planet, leaving space for wildlife and wilderness,” and go beyond “cutting carbon and conservation to enhancing wellbeing and building better communities and businesses.”
David Laing, a member of the Grow Green Network, a group of local organizations pushing for the establishment of the Institute for Sustainable Brampton.
Laing said that although environmental sustainability is considered important in Canadian society, it usually gets subordinated to economic and financial considerations. But focusing on the environment is the need of the hour, he said. Otherwise, “we are in peril of having a world that will be unrecognizable from a civilization standpoint that we currently enjoy today,” he said. “We are at a tipping point right now,” he added, in which many areas of the ecosystem are collapsing in the wake of climate change, including a huge increase in species facing extinction.
Laing envisages the institute as a kind of “crucible where commitments laid out by the International Panel on Climate Change and other, local, efforts [such as] Sheridan College’s zero-waste program come into play, around a program which actually moves the city forward in lockstep in a number of different areas.”
The institute as envisioned will consist of two elements.
One of those is an Environmental Education Centre that would partner with Sheridan College, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and Credit Valley Conservation Authority, among others, to commission new studies. It would create a confluence of academic scholars, critical thinkers and innovative minds, “where they come together to focus on the environment and sustainability.”
The institute would communicate best practices and spread awareness about environmental policies in schools and other community spaces. In addition, the institute would evaluate legislative decisions that have implications for the environment. “There would be some sort of a report card which will analyze those decisions that are being made and hopefully influence those decisions in a positive way.”
Laing says the institute’s partnership with respected organizations and experts will lend it the credibility to ensure its input is taken seriously. “So we have to make sure that there is no perceived conflict of interest, that we will work very hard to separate ourselves from any external influence.” The institute will further build credibility through transparency and candour, Laing said.
The second element of the institute would involve encouraging green enterprises to set up in Brampton and hire “Brampton-based talent.” Laing believes this would showcase Brampton as a leader in green innovation and help fulfil its objective of One-Planet Living.
The idea is to make sustainability synonymous with economic development. Laing said the main intention behind the institute is to shatter the notion that the economy cannot run without fossil fuels and other industries that have a negative impact on the environment. He said alternative sources of energy such as wind farms already contribute significantly to the continent’s employment, and further progress in alternative energy will offer relief from our dependence on the oil industry. “There's a big disruption that's going to happen there,” Laing said.
The Grow Green Network asked the city to put up $120,000 out of $575,000 required in the first phase of developing the institute, and to create a partnership that would make it easier for the institute to seek investment from the private sector and other levels of government. Laing says appropriate analysis would be required to calculate how much money would be needed to expand the program over the next 15 to 20 years. “This would help the institute to [receive] sustainable funding that would allow the ISP to come to creation and to provide at least a minimum staff level until we get that commitment from the City of Brampton,” Laing said.
While the Brampton 2040 Vision document mentions the institute as a key action, it does not give the city responsibility for establishing it, noting that the institute should be a "joint venture organization coordinating private action where this is most effective and government powers where this is essential."
Laing seconded that, saying it’s important that it not become part of the city structure, nor be staffed by city employees. It needs to operate at arm’s length to protect the autonomy it needs to carry out its mission responsibly. “It must be an independent organization, but there must be a very strong partnership between the ISB and the City of Brampton,” he said.
Laing said that the city funding would be used to set up a governance board and appoint an executive director who will develop an operating plan to coordinate the efforts of various partners, including private and non-governmental organizations. But the institute’s development hinges on city council’s support. “Frankly, there's not much point in us moving forward independently. ... There has to be a partnership between the city of Brampton and the Institute.” Laing said that if everything goes as planned, the institute could launch early next year.
One big challenge the institute might face is convincing council that it should approve development plans only if they are compliant with the city’s environmental goals; that could impede developers from building single-family homes, a lucrative style of building that has contributed to Brampton’s difficulties in becoming a more sustainable city. Considering the outsized influence developers have traditionally wielded in the city, the institute could expect resistance.
According to numbers from the Brampton Real Estate Board, single-family homes have dominated the Brampton market for years. In 2017, Brampton had 4,577 single-home sales, totalling over $3.7 billion, with an average price of around $823,000. This far exceeded sales of semi-detached homes(1,776), condo-townhouses (626) and condo-apartments (561). Halfway through 2018, the city had recorded more than 2,000 single-home sales totalling $1.6 billion, with an average selling price of about $812,000 — again, well above sales for other forms of housing. This despite changes introduced by the provincial government aimed at limiting sprawl by emphasizing intensification and multi-unit development.
Mid-range housing in two- to five-storey structures and townhouses is still being overlooked in favour of the extremes: highrises and detached homes. The problem, say critics, is that this building pattern almost guarantees that younger buyers starting off on the housing ladder will climb out into sprawl after they outgrow apartment-style living.
Laing says the institute could tackle this problem by educating the public about the decisions being made at city hall and bank on their participation in holding officials accountable. Without that, Brampton’s situation will only deteriorate. “We can't afford to have the kind of urban sprawl development that has been happening over the last 30 years,” he said.
“One of the things that the institute would do would be to help people make the connections between the individual development decisions that are being made and the impact that that's going to have on their natural capital and on their future prosperity.” He pointed out that developers could, if they chose, act as a catalyst for sustainable development. “There’s nothing wrong with development, by the way. I mean, we need development, but we need smart development.”
Laing, who says he has already dedicated many hours of work to developing the institute project, acknowledges he’d like to be a part of its governance board, but says he wouldn’t want to assume the role of executive director due to his age. “I am in the twilight of my career. And I don't want to spend that kind of intense time and effort,” he said. “And secondly, I believe that this is going to require multiple skill sets. And there were certain skills that I don't possess that I would want to see in the executive director position.”
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