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