Springing Forward

On the lovely sunny afternoon of March 6, over forty people gathered in the Ukrainian Church Hall on Bagot Street to learn, share, and strategize about how to advocate for the Inner Harbour. Looking ahead to the “North King’s Town” Secondary Planning process the City will be starting this summer, we wanted to start drawing together ideas from community members about what we like about this area as it is, and what we might like to change.

In an introduction, we gave some basic background on the fight against the WSE, and shared an image of the Wellington X vision generated at a meeting about a year ago:

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 8.35.33 PM

As you can see, this image shows how Wellington X sees the fight against the WSE in the context of other political and social goals. We oppose the WSE because we have affirmative appreciation of and hopes for the place we live. So we think we have a foundation for the broad approach that the Secondary Planning process will invite or demand.

In brainstorming discussions at the meeting, we asked about what people like about the neighbourhood. The goal was not to do a systematic survey at this point, but to get people thinking and conversing and weighing ideas. And there were a lot of ideas.

The three most-mentioned qualities were quiet, walkability, and a mix of different kinds of people. The fact that there isn’t a lot of traffic in the Inner Harbour came up again and again, and its effects that you can hear birds, allow your kids freedom, and spend peaceful time at the river. People really appreciate that people can walk to stores, schools, social services, jobs, parks, and to each others’ homes — and that they do. And they like that the neighbourhood has a mix of old-timers and newcomers, a range of skills and worldviews.

On this positive beginning, people did have suggestions for change. The number one issue seemed to be a desire for more trees, more greenspace, and more bike and walking paths through green space. “Not fancy greenspace,” perhaps even “more naturalized,” a number of people said. They wanted better maintenance of sidewalks and streets for those walking or cycling, and better connectivity or access to routes that already exist. A number of people also mentioned affordable housing as a desirable quality to maintain the neighbourhood’s diversity. Hopes were expressed that vacant buildings or lots currently undeveloped should be used for the community’s benefit.

My personal favourite idea was to open up the little creek that runs from Dufferin Street down under the play structure into the river. It’s buried now, but you can hear it when you near the bottom of the hill, and see the outlet pipe on the bank. Wouldn’t it be cool to bring it to the surface again?

People connected the WSE into the bigger picture in various ways. One person’s sticky note summed up the general perspective on the road’s effects: “more traffic, less park space, less friendly space, space people don’t go, not green, oil sand and salt in water, chase wildlife away.” Roads cut up community, people said. Tourists and new residents will want parks and greenspace just as much as we do, it was suggested.

While there was hope about the Secondary Planning process, people did note various obstacles. There was a widespread feeling that residents’ views are not really being listened to, in contrast with various financial interests. People are concerned that city staff seem to be committed to “1950s ideas” of growth, rather than sustainability. It is exhausting to resist this over and over, people observed, and it will be hard to keep our energy up.

As for me, I found this meeting energizing, and I hope others did as well. I hope we can continue to energize each other, to reach out to others, and to come up with and defend visions for the future of the place we live. This was a very auspicious start to the next stage of the fight against the WSE and for a sustainable and liveable “North King’s Town.”

— Laura Murray

Greening the City of Kingston’s Official Plan

Published in Kingston Heritage March 3, 2016

A few years ago I was involved with an organization in Toronto called Trees for Life, a coalition trying to increase the urban tree canopy in the GTA to 40 per cent cover. What impressed me most about Trees for Life is how their diverse network of personnel managed to engage and educate the public as to the benefits of green infrastructure (GI). I am a PhD student working on opportunities for enhancing social and ecological resilience in cities. My prime interest is transportation (road) developments in different municipalities across Ontario. Thinking about the winter we have had so far I believe that it is time for the City of Kingston to more closely consider these benefits, especially when it comes to development which may lead to trading green space for built “grey” space. I want to argue for the importance of including stronger policies for GI in the City of Kingston Official Plan, especially pertaining to the maintenance of Kingston’s existing green space.

Waterfront protection and increased green space are not just pretty; they promote valuable ecosystem services such as CO2 sequestration, storm-water management, pollination services, and provision of clean air, water, and food. A study sanctioned by the David Suzuki foundation last March reiterates what many other researchers have found: that urban green spaces not only reduce local air pollution and help to cool cities, but they also contribute to improved health and well-being. Unfortunately these services are not adequately considered in municipal or provincial planning.

There are many ways of “greening” a city. Active GI approaches include urban tree planting, installing green roofs, and using green building materials in the construction and renovation of houses, buildings, and roads. But passive GI approaches are equally important, and involve simply maintaining and enhancing existing urban green space. Here in Kingston we are very lucky to have a great network of green space and associated waterfront that provides a myriad of important ecosystem services. We have made a commitment to sustainability in our Sustainable Kingston Plan. We have the opportunity to become an innovative leader among municipalities nation-wide in terms of adopting stronger and more diverse GI policies in our Official Plan.

But there are proposed developments that threaten the City’s green spaces. One of these is the Wellington Street extension (WSE) that would run along the riverfront and through other land further north that is currently unbuilt. If the WSE is built, the City will lose historic, cultural, and ecologically significant green space. This will negatively affect residents who use that space, and animals (such as turtles and migratory birds) who live there. And trading green space for a built road will increase the City’s open grey space. It will contribute to increased urban heat island effect, which in turn will lead to increased cooling costs during the warmer months. With more vehicles on the road the local greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) will increase. This not only poses a risk to residents’ air quality but it means that the City will not be helping to reach both national and international GHG reduction targets.

Across Ontario other municipalities are struggling to reclaim waterfront or establish green space. We don’t have that problem here, but we need to protect what we have so we don’t find ourselves in that situation a decade or two from now. A couple of weeks ago our Member of Parliament Mark Gerretsen indicated that there will be $60 billion of federal infrastructure funding available to the country over the next 10 years, and that one third of this money will be allocated to GI. Kingston will be in the running for some of these resources if it shows vision. It is a good time to start thinking about enhancing and maintaining the waterfront and green space in Kingston. It is also a good time to stop thinking about building the Wellington Street Extension.

— Colin W. Khan, PhD student, Queen’s School of Environmental Studies