Category: Discussion

A Little Toolkit For Confronting Climate Inaction

2019 was heralded as the year that ended climate change denialism. Enter a new era, where we must face a new threat: inaction on climate change.

Just over a week ago I published a short writeup on my twitter feed explaining how an enormous fountain in our town was an outsised contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in our city. This was due to the sheer volume of electicity used to power the monstrous pumps that spewed a steady stream of water 6 stories into the air.


Stay Tuned, Steward’s Notes Will Be Back After This Short Break

The past two years of writing for Steward’s Notes has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Those of you who follow and comment and send me such pleasant emails really make this project a lot of fun, and it is much appreciated! As some of you may know, I have been in the process of writing a master’s thesis: Polycentric Models for Urban Greenspace Management. I am desperately trying to finish writing in the coming month, and I really need to set this project (Steward’s Notes) aside for a little bit. I miss you lots and I really can’t wait to come back! I have lots of exciting plans for the months and years ahead and I can’t wait for you all to take part. However I really need to hit the pause button for a little bit. Make sure you don’t miss the return by subscribing below! Thank you all for your understanding and I’ll likely see you in the new year!

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To fill the time, why not check out some of the most popular content of all time!

Reflections on a Year of Steward’s Notes

This year I’ll be celebrating 2 years of writing Steward’s Notes. This week I’ll be celebrating a year of taking it more seriously and a nomination for an award! When I started writing Steward’s notes in 2017 I was just starting a Masters of Sustainability Studies at Trent University, part of my job as a student was to reflect on our regular colloquium events on Trent’s internal communications tool “Blackboard”. These reflections were meant to be presented in a blog format visible to other students in our program. Unfortunately people who are not students of the program were not able to access the reflections of some of the brilliant minds in my program. In an effort to tie my studies closer to the community I started writing my own blog on Sustainability and Environmentalism in Peterborough. (Initially I included some other content, but that has since migrated to another site) I believe the interest in this blog reflects a real desire in the Peterborough community to hear real grounded stories on environmental issues, where people can and are making a real difference in our city. I also believe that this has been an excellent opportunity to share the diversity of life and nature in our own back yards.

Working with some Fleming Students to complete a baseline documentation of environmental conditions in Harper Park.

For myself this blog has been an opportunity for catharsis, when the issues of the day frustrate me, I like to write about how I might act to solve them. The name Steward’s Notes comes from my desire to take real concrete action to care for the land we live on and to do the best that we can when we can. I have a fondness for the term stewardship, it conjures a picture of one’s labour being reflected in the places and people they care about. I believe that others appreciate the work that I have done and have used it for inspiration to take their own actions.

Reflecting on the stories that I have written over the past year, I see that the most popular stories are ones that share the hidden beauty of our home, or those that promote real action that people can take (And one April fools joke). I think that in a period of political disenfranchisement, being shown a way forward is an act of empowerment that people can latch onto. In a recent interview someone described to me how for their organization, moving forward was the only option and that banging heads against a wall is a pointless exercise. In a land where we enjoy the privilege of freedoms that we have, it is possible to take advantage of a world of opportunities for caring and stewardship before we need to start pushing boundaries (Not that we shouldn’t push boundaries). I was recently reminded of this by a good friend, and it goes to show that sometimes being forced to refocus can have incredible effects. I like to think that in my own little way, Steward’s Notes is an outside beacon encouraging people to refocus when they get lost in the details of environmentalism, sustainability and stewardship.

One of my favorite images of our beautiful landscape, taken within the city limits of Peterborough. Beauty and nature is in our back yard.

As a final note, I’ll say that I’ve discovered that the three (or four) pillar approach to sustainability makes for good and engaging content in addition to being much more holistic way of viewing the world. Much of the most popular content I’ve written in the past year has been when I have made a conscious effort to consider an issue from all environmental, economic and social perspectives (I’m still not entirely sure how to separate culture from social in the four-pillar approach). Logically this makes sense, since you could expect that readership would have some vested interest in viewing any particular issue from their pillar of expertise. Mostly I view the world through an environmental lens, but it is a useful tool to remind me to leave my comfort zone and consider other ways of thinking and being.

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An additional fun little tidbit I’ll share is that according to my internal analytics, the large majority of my readership has a love of dogs. Not sure what this says about the blog, but as a bit of a dog person myself, I’ll take it.

Change Comes To Steward’s Notes

With the coming spring and increased readership of Steward’s Notes I have decided to introduce some exciting changes! Some of you may have received an email late last night that read like a cryptic field note, and for that I would like to apologize! I am adding a section to this site where I will be publishing my regular field notes. To keep email spam to a minimum, subscribers will not receive an email in the future when field notes are published, only for the more substantial content published here. If you are interested you can find a link at the top of the page.

Additionally, I have recently removed all of the content from this site around some of my other projects such as the 3D printers, DIY cell phone etc. You can find all of that at my sister site This change is to keep the content of this site focused on my passion for Peterborough and the outdoors. It always seemed rather clunky to me to have a site dedicated to nature and making even if I did try and create some overlap. I found as time went on that blog subscribers would drop out when content they were not interested in was published. I have therefore decided to entirely focus this site on Peterborough’s natural heritage and natural history.

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Thank you to the Peterborough Community! The support I receive for this little blog is nothing short of incredible. I look forward to sharing and hearing stories of the land we love in the coming years!

Stewards Notes Talks Natural Heritage on Pints and Politics

While you’re in for the weekend relaxing before the holidays begin in earnest, why not check out this weeks episode of Pints and Politics. Bill Templeman, Ben Wolfe, Ian Attridge, and myself all sat down to discuss our city’s important natural heritage and how we might plan for a more ecological future. Check out the podcast from the link below and let us know what you think!

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Despite Lack of Provincial Leadership Dianne Saxe Offers a Vision for Way Forward

Its difficult to envy the position that Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe finds herself in every day. Her role as an independent commissioner of the legislature is to oversee Ontario’s ministries through an environmental lens and to administer the Environmental Bill of Rights. Throughout her tenure as the ECO she has issued dozens of reports critical of government activities and responses to pollution, environmental degradation, and planning. Just last week she released the annual ECO report detailing worrying trends in Ontario regarding wetlands, woodlands, water and wildlife. The report seems to have fallen on deaf ears at the legislature. Even worse, funding for the ECO office was cut nearly immediately following the release of the report.

It was a coincidence that that very day here in Peterborough we were fortunate enough to be joined by Dianne Saxe to discuss the protected areas shortfall that the province is facing in meeting our Aichi target 11 goals to protect 17% of Canada’s landmass for conservation y 2020. Currently Ontario sits at 10.4% protected area which is less than the global average of 14.5%. The response from Doug Ford and the CPC cacus has been that it was an agreement signed federally (by Stephen Harper), so it isn’t his problem.

Peterborough citizens making a difference!

Near the beginning of her presentation, Dianne offered examples of how leadership from cities, towns and other low tier governments is creating real change in the absence of higher leadership on environmental issues. South of the border, the “We Are Still In” coalition is on track to meet their Paris climate targets representing a constituency of over half of American Citizens an an economy of 6.2 trillion USD.

Now that the City of Peterborough has elected a council that may take environmental issues seriously, it may be time to discuss how our city may reach out to others to meet climate, water or protected area targets in the absence of provincial leadership. Perhaps our council and the engaged and eager citizens of our city can step forward as a leader in Ontario to create a vision for the future of not just our city, but the province as a whole. Organizations such as the Kawartha Land Trust, GreenUP, and The Nature Conservancy have all demonstrated the real change that can happen from the ground up when we decide to work together, lets hope that we can find an ally in our new city council.

Dianne Saxe may have a difficult road ahead as the environmental commissioner, and it may be difficult to be the harbinger of bad news but my respect for her comes from her ability to offer real solutions to the large problems that we face. I’ve trusted her advice since she took office and regardless of what happens, she will continue to be an invaluable asset for the people of Ontario.

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The Environment, Jackson Park, Springtime, and Elections

With the upcoming provincial election possibly having a dramatic impact on the jewel in our city that is Jackson Park, I decided to take a stroll along the creek to explore the lush green valley that has recently sprung to life. The polls seem to suggest that the Progressive Conservatives will be the ones to lead the province for the next 4 years. Thus far they have not indicated in any capacity that the Natural Environment is of concern or a priority. Tomorrow, make the effort to go to the polls and cast your ballot with the future of Ontario and Peterborough’s natural environment in your mind and in your hearts. In the meantime, enjoy the eye candy that is Jackson Park in the spring!

Updating Peterborough’s Natural Heritage System

(Originally published in Peterborough’s Greenzine)

This year City council has embarked on the process of revising the City of Peterborough’s official plan. The official plan will have far reaching consequences on the structure and function of our city far into the future. In the past few decades the province has mandated that a natural heritage system plan be integrated into the process of the official plan.

Over the past several decades environmentally minded planners have recognized that a healthy environment is not just made up of individual parks and greenspaces, but includes the connections between those spaces. Consider that many different creatures require different habitats as they progress through the stages of their life. A Blanding’s turtle for instance, will live its life in forests, wetlands, rivers and fields. If the turtle is not able to travel effectively between those spaces, it will be unlikely to reproduce and live a full life. A robust and effective natural heritage system will map out these core natural areas and recommend strategies to enhance and protect connections between them.

This wholistic approach to protecting healthy ecosystems acknowledges that natural communities require the ability of creatures to move from place to place. It also recognizes that humans are just as much a part of the environment, and that there are benefits to protecting our natural spaces. An effective natural heritage system can help a municipality meet health, recreation, and infrastructure objectives in addition to any environmental benefit. Therefore, it is critical that the official plan and the city’s natural heritage system strategy be completed in a way that is recognized and put into practice by all city departments.

In order to effectively implement a natural heritage system strategy there are a number of key principles that can help us protect our environment into the future.

Principle #1: The Natural Heritage System Should Be A Living Document

Nature is not static, and neither should our relationship with it be. In the past governments have allowed the destruction of critical habitat simply because it was not written down as such. The natural heritage of our community is too large for one person or company to map out or write down. Fallow fields and meadows can turn to wetlands or forests given time, it is therefore critical that as the landscape changes, so should the way that we protect it.

Principle #2: The Natural Heritage System Strategy Should Include Commitment To Improving Our Natural Environment

Currently the City of Peterborough is far below the recommended targets for natural space protection and connection. The strategy should set out objectives for the city and a plan to achieve them. With the ecological integrity of our environment under threat from climate change, habitat loss, pollution etc. we must work to improve the natural environment, not just maintain the status quo. A strategy to expand the natural heritage system of our city will provide benefits for years to come.

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Jackson Creek south of Parkhill Road

Principle #3: Citizens And Groups Should Be Involved In The Protection And Identification Of Natural Heritage Features

The city of Peterborough is full to the brim with some of the most knowledgeable and committed naturalists I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Again it is important to note that every single significant feature of our city’s natural heritage system would be impossible to map out and catalogue by any one group. With all of the work in this city being completed by so many talented people, it would be a waste to not include their input towards protecting our natural environment.

Our city still has a long way to go towards protecting and enhancing the nature which we all seem to cherish, a robust and important natural heritage system is an important first step. Whatever the results of our renewed official plan may bring us, there is no doubt that the citizens of Peterborough care very much about our shared natural heritage. Let us hope that council and city staff see the benefit of having a well protected and connected natural environment and that our shared passion for the environment is recognized in the process. Be sure to stay tuned to city hall and voice your support for a strong and resilient natural heritage system for the city of Peterborough.


Downtown Parking In Peterborough – Black Friday 2017

This past year there has been ample discussion within the downtown community on the number and location of parking spaces in our community. Constantly I hear complaints about the lack of parking in the core of our city. I decided today to go out and explore our downtown parking lots and catalogue just how much open parking space there is in the core of our city, on supposedly the busiest shopping day of the year. I can’t say I’m surprised, but perhaps you will be.

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The Simcoe St. parking lot roof at 12:13 PM

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The Simcoe St. parking lot level 4 at 12:17 PM

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Charlotte St. parking lot at 12:23 PM. According to city council, apparently there isn’t enough parking to justify taking spaces away for bike lanes.

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The King St. parking lot at 12:27 PM

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George St. on street parking at 12:36

If only we could harness our devotion to parking in the city of Peterborough to other quantifiably more important issues around environmental and social issues, perhaps we could see massive positive change within our community.

Biomimicry in Peterborough?

“The people who design our world usually never take a biology class” 

A recent exploration into bio-mimicry by 99 Percent Invisible and Vox had me thinking about how many of the systems and ways in which we organize ourselves in this city could be better informed through nature’s processes. When we are looking at biomimicry there are really three ways in which we can replicate or be inspired by nature they are as follows:

  1. Form – Shape, texture, colour etc. The physical form of the object
  2. Process – Methods for solving problems, communicating etc.
  3. Systems – Methods by which individual components interact with each other to form a complete ecosystem.

Personally I am very interested in systems thinking and coming to understand how different components work together to create a coherent whole. Within this city, there are no shortages of problems that I believe really need to be addressed on a system level. If our goal is to create a healthy vibrant community we need to understand the fundamental failures of our current system and work to address them. I’m sure much of this goes without saying, but perhaps biomimicry has some of the answers we are looking for!

One great example that I can think of is a recent set of conversations that I have recently had with a number of community members. The Jackson Creek corridor in our city is an environmental problem, but is also home to many of the social problems that exist within our city. Some questions I have that might lead to some creative solutions:

  • Tackling this from an ecosystem perspective, what resources exist that may help us address both of these issues?
  • Better yet is there a process we can use that would allow us to address one issue, while solving the other at the same time?
  • Even better, is there a system we could provide the initial starting conditions for that could flourish into something self sustaining?
  • In nature, resources rarely go underutilized. What resources exist within these systems that are currently being underutilized in our community?

The talented Natalie Naiper suggested that perhaps open sections of the creek could utilize the talents of those who spend their time there to animate the space and perhaps fill the roles of a steward for the creek. There are a number of curious spaces along the Jackson Creek Corridor that would lend themselves to this sort of work. An animator of these spaces could create greater awareness around our local environment and Jackson Creek further enhancing our local community’s capacity and knowledge.

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Jackson Creek Emerges from underneath the city. (Sarah Cullingham, 2017)

I believe we need to think about how our solutions can fix more than one problem, and create additional positive outcomes outside of our intent. By doing so we can sustain a vibrant healthy ecosystem that we all are a part of. Perhaps biomimicry is the future of sustainability.

Watch the video for some inspiration and come up with some of your own ideas for how the design and organization for our city could be greater informed by nature’s processes.