Category: Discussion

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.