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In Rod we ecoTrust


You could almost hear the wheels turning when Stephen Harper announced the Canada ecoTrust fund earlier this year. "I don't want to deal with global fucking warming," would be the prime minister's thinking. "Let's punt it to the provinces. They'll grovel for a few crumbs and I've got someone to blame when the world doesn't get saved." By literally passing the bucks (the ecoTrust is a pool of $1.5 billion split across the provincial governments), Harper is taking advantage of a traditional power prerogative. But the time has arrived for more than politics as usual.

Two different events, both last Wednesday in Halifax, highlight the gap between the way things are and the way they need to be. One was premier Rodney MacDonald announcing a new program that spends some of Nova Scotia's ecoTrust cash. The other was renowned urban designer Ken Greenburg giving the opening talk at this year's Killam lecture series. Greenberg was inspirational. We'll start with RodMac.

The ecoTrust is supposed to pay for provincial projects that benefit the environment. But a province is made up of towns and cities, each with local governments, each able to play political games. On Wednesday, at a meeting of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities in the Westin, RodMac used $7.5 million from the province's share of the ecoTrust to enlist the locals in the global warming fight. He said: "This funding will support creative ideas from across the province...any municipality is eligible to apply for the "Ecotrust Municipal Program' to help fund projects that aim to reduce greenhouse gas and air pollution emissions." He meant: "Kiss my ring, win a prize." The room, full of politicians and bureaucrats from Nova Scotia's 55 municipalities, applauded heartily.

There were no mayors, premiers or prime ministers at Ken Greenberg's talk, but he is a man with ideas. And experience. Based in Toronto, he has worked on urban development all over the place, including Brooklyn Bridge Park, Fort Lauderdale's downtown master plan and a strategic vision for Grand Parade. Although he is a trained architect, it was the environment he touched on early in his presentation. "We know we are doing things to the planet earth that are threatening our very survival," he told the few hundred people gathered Wednedsay at the Dal SUB's McInnes room.

The theme of this year's Killam series is "resilient communities"—how some places bounce back from hardship while others fester. Along with the looming environmental crisis, Greenberg described several other challenges facing urban areas, from the high cost of running cities to the fact it's impossible to predict every catastrophe that might happen. In other words, it's going to be difficult to design for resiliency. With that established, Greenberg used a couple case studies to show how he does it.

Most importantly, he doesn't do it: He's part of a team. Repeatedly during his talk Greenberg spoke of the way traditional planning has changed to better handle complex problems. Now biologists, hydrologists and other scientists join the professional designers and architects around the table, and they use unconventional leadership models to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Greenberg's involved with a development planned for Ottawa that will see a community grow on the former Rockcliffe military base, about five kilometres from Parliament Hill. He projected slides of the finished plans, which show an attractive, bustling area where cars take a back seat to people. No one will live more than a five-minute walk from green space and public transit, or more than a 10-minute walk from schools.

He also showed where the plans started: A messy sketch produced by a mixed bag of experts grappling with the lofty mission statement that Rockcliffe should have "a commitment to environmental sustainability and long-term economic viability." About the beautiful result, Greenberg says "no one of the disciplines represented around the table could have done this by being in the lead and having the others follow. This way of working is new."

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