From ‘car-dependent hell’ to green cities, Canadians are finding new ways to fight climate change

Canadians contemplating their family’s finances know that there are always more ideas about how money should be spent than what money should be spent.

This global economic principle was evident at COP27, the latest edition of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change He went to overtime This weekend in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. It included a long list of competing demands for those funds compensation climate damage, Biodiversity loss And the Ending fossil fuel use.

As governments at all levels consider the wiser use of tax revenues to avert global climate catastrophe, there is mounting evidence that urban development—that is, how Canada builds its cities to accommodate it—is failing. growing population The cornerstone of long-term climate policy.

And while frustrated critics worry that the car-centric urban sprawl is still in the works, there are new glimmers of hope as a growing wave of low-carbon, high-density, tax, people-friendly city building shows signs of spreading. .

“If we care about climate change, we need to make it easier to walk, bike or use public transport. Period,” said Jason Slaughter, a critic of car-centric urban development who grew up in the suburbs of London, Ont. Until he got his driver’s license at the age of 16, he said, he was trapped in what he calls “a car-related place.”

Our conversation was over email, in part because Slaughter’s YouTube channel isn’t just bikes, a sarcastic and sometimes hilarious collection of Cutting edge videos about urban design Which has received millions of views also keeps him busy, but also because he’s in a different time zone. A popular Canadian export, it is a refugee from Canadian urbanization.

Infographic created by urban design firm Urban3 for Lafayette, La. Upward elevations in the densely populated parts of the city show areas of high tax productivity. Downward increases have occurred in widely spaced suburban developments, where revenue appears to be a net cost to taxpayers. (Urban3)

“I fundamentally don’t think Canadian cities will change materially during my lifetime, and that’s exactly why we’re giving up on Canada,” Slaughter said in our article last week. “This is literally why our family left Canada to live in the Netherlands permanently.”

The shock value of this despondent commentary is typical, but it’s belied by its opus, which includes hits like Why do I hate HoustonAnd the Attack on the vastness of Wonderland Road on his hometown (“fake London” as he describes it to his international audience) and what some considered an unfair critique Mississauga, Ontario’s BRT system at a cost of half a billion dollars.

While comically and scornfully written and delivered, Slaughter’s well-thought-out and well-produced videos, often in conjunction with Strong Cities America non-profitoffered an accessible lesson about what doesn’t work in North American cities, and using his current home in the Netherlands as a counterexample, how North American cities need to change.

Tetris with lots of squares

And while the task of transforming Titanic’s current development model is daunting, there are signs that Slaughter and others have planted roots. This is especially true in Canada’s largest cities, simply out of necessity, said David Gordon, an urban planner at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

“You can’t build a big city out of separate houses with everyone driving,” Gordon said on the phone last week as COP27 was wrapping up.

Urban centers of Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto have done a much better job, he said, than U.S. cities, where government funding structures have created an “inner” downtown blight uncharacteristic of Canada’s vibrant and pricey urban cores.

Cars fill the highway leading to Vancouver International Airport. Canadians dream of separate homes and the freedom to drive on empty roads, but across North America, things weren’t like that. (cbc)

Almost 60 years ago, Canadians imagined perfection Leave it to the beaver The lifestyle, Gordon said, is “a detached house where you can drive everywhere on uncrowded streets,” but like a giant game of Tetris with many squares, the constant suburban sprawl leads to traffic jams.

Gordon’s research shows the suburban sprawl model in medium-sized cities and outside urban centers in part because they have not yet reached saturation point, but also because the model, including subsidies from existing regional taxpayers, offers developers a lucrative short-term dividend.

But as work by Edmonton-based global design and engineering firm Stantec and others have shown, in the long run, sprawl can bankrupt a municipal government.

Suburbs do not pay

It’s a hard lesson learned by a number of US cities that have run out of money to pay for critical infrastructure repairs.

What Stantec’s research for the city of Halifax, nicely illustrated by graphics produced by urban design group Urban3, has shown is that relatively crowded, walkable parts of downtown produce huge amounts of tax revenue, while suburban areas are low-density. result in a net tax. cost.

“A lot of our services are delivered in leaps and bounds, so the more out there you expand, the more tubes you have to run, and the further your buses go, the more waste delivery you have,” said Kate Green, Halifax Regional Planning Director.

Following Edmonton’s Stantec plan that demonstrated the high cost of sprawl, and with the support of Mayor Mike Savage, Halifax became a leader in smart, green, and pedestrian-friendly growth. (Halifax Regional Municipality)

What the tax productivity data shows is that the “rich mansions” with plenty of parking for cars, which were subsidized when the neighborhood was developed, continue to be subsidized throughout their existence. Single-family homes in the suburbs on large lots simply don’t cover the municipal expenses for things like fixing all that asphalt and clearing all that snow.

And in Halifax, transforming itself into a relatively small, walkable, climate-friendly city, free from urban sprawl, has become an integral part of all planning decisions right up to the mayor’s office.

“Our city is committed to economically and environmentally sustainable growth,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said last week in an email. Outside experts like Gordon say Savage isn’t just hot air.

In the city of Guelph, the only Canadian municipality analyzed by Urban3, the city’s chief urban designer David de Groot said the analysis came as inspiration. What it shows is that even the poorest areas of the urban center provide much more municipal revenue than the sprawling edges where the city was spending its development resources.

watch | Visualize the cost of development as cities expand:

The city has a beautiful, well-protected city center on a river that once powered its mills, and de Groot said since Urban3’s first study in 2014, Guelph has encouraged low- and mid-rise development in the heartland that has made it an increasingly vibrant place to live, work, and visit.

“For its long-term sustainability, adding more people downtown was a critical direction for the city,” said de Groot.

And decisions about development today have more impacts than developers’ profits.

Tax efficiency equals green

“Land use planning has been affecting communities’ tax efficiencies and communities’ energy efficiency for decades, possibly centuries,” said Kate Daly, Region of Waterloo-designated expert on environmental sustainability.

The Ontario provincial municipality spreads from the historic town of Galt north along the Grand River Trail, straddling Highway 401, and is home to two of Canada’s finest universities as well as plenty of rural farmland – but it has adopted a development strategy that would not be entirely out of place in Slaughter’s Europe. .

As part of its goal of preserving farmland and green space, all connected by a central rail-transit corridor where the “Ion” LRT operates, the region reached consensus last year on a plan called convert wr To build a “15-minute city,” where everything is accessible on foot, by bike, or by public transportation. The strategy, which is the opposite of automobile-centric expansion, aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Daly A. wrote Book-length dissertation 2017 He described what it was about the Waterloo Region – its people and its government – that allowed it to overcome popular opposition and the Ontario City Council to “embrace smart growth policies” and green new growth.

Now that she’s a regional employee, Daly said that kind of talk is off limits.

But she says the move to prevent sprawl was a community-building exercise, and has allowed the region to launch strategies that will be important for major cities where reliance on cars gets in the way of green innovation.

“Figuring out how to use future development and densification in particular, to modify existing neighborhoods into 15-minute neighborhoods, that’s, I’d say, the biggest challenge,” said Daly.

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