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October 5, 2012
TORONTO, ON, Oct 5, 2012/ Troy Media/ – All over the world, governments – including Canada’s – are wrestling with their finances. Austerity is the order of the day.
Notwithstanding the fact that there’s a lot that needs doing most of it is getting pushed off into the future yet again, with a nod and a wink, and a hope and a prayer that nothing goes wrong.
In the United States, we’re seeing roads ripped up and returned to gravel, as in Michigan, in order to avoid maintaining them, and state routes closed altogether, as in New York, to avoid having to find the money to repair a bridge.
Canada’s greater geography and lesser population means that if its provinces went down that road we could end up isolating whole regions. But, no matter how broke our governments are, we’ll have to do something.
But while policy makers try to figure out the big picture, we have our own individual concerns. What can individuals, or managers in companies, do?
The less we need broad infrastructure to handle our needs, the better. Think about the Wal-Mart food distribution centre for Western Canada that was built in Calgary. It’s a brilliant piece of green engineering (the building is essentially a giant refrigerator/freezer). Wal-Mart deserves to be complimented for what it’s done. The fork lifts run on hydrogen, which they buy from Quebec and ship across the country – because even with the truck transportation over thousands of kilometres there’s less carbon emissions than if they bought local, Alberta-made hydrogen from coal.
Good green thinking to achieving a lower carbon load, which depends on the continued health of the road network across five provinces. Unfortunately, three of those provinces are in dire financial straits, and a fourth, Manitoba, is struggling to make austerity work, although without Quebec, Ontario and Alberta’s grief.
Now add another decade of ‘failure to maintain’ the road system and there might be no choice but to follow Michigan’s example.
So maybe, just maybe, different solutions were needed.
Flash across the country to the Beach neighbourhood in Toronto, where the East End Sustainability Network gathers monthly to exchange ideas and try and answer the question ‘what do we need?’
‘Better public transport’ is one answer. But while it is true commute times are horrendous, some of the people in the Network answer the question by asking ‘Where’s the work?’
The reason transport is an issue isn’t because it doesn’t exist: they have street car service and buses to the subway system. Transport is an issue because few of the residents are employed in the community in which they live.
Opening the new Beach business centre, with the ability to book a meeting room, or a desk and network connection, may be a way to make the neighbourhood even more enticing for those who now commute to an office space elsewhere. That’s one project that has been brought to fruition.
Another is to copy something done by economic development officers in American towns, and bring people in the neighbourhood together to forge economic links. Could the neighbourhood print shop handle the needs of the other enterprises locally, at a similar price to something printed elsewhere and shipped in? Which ventures are natural partners to share space, and reduce rental risk? Could another project in this neighbourhood – a community solar panel installation on the roof of a public school – be extended to power quiet, clean, light industry in the community rather than locate it kilometers away in an industrial estate?
One idea the East End Sustainability Network is looking at now has to do with food. There are small fruit and vegetable stands already in place but there’s been discussion of schools growing gardens as a part of educating students about nature. What if the vegetables from the schools were used to supply one or more of the existing neighbourhood markets? Would that help fund the community’s other community ventures – and feed people, too?
Matthew Kellway, the MP Beaches-East York, wants to know from the Network what he should be proposing in Ottawa. That’s good, but in the meantime they’re not waiting. The Network is ensuring their community doesn’t wait for a dribble of money from elsewhere in tough economic times.
That, at the end of the day, is a path open to all of us. Wasn’t it what our forefathers did when they built the country, one town at a time?
Troy Media Columnist Bruce Stewart is a management consultant located in Toronto.
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