Category: Municipal Planning

Should Peterborough Profit from Environmental Degradation?

In any democracy, as administrations change so do their priorities. In the case of environmental management, it often is the case that a single administration is capable of undoing decades of work to protect natural spaces. In Peterborough, the last several years have been marked with conflict around how our administration has approved countless measures to degrade the wetlands, creeks, and forests that are valued by humans and wildlife alike. With work commencing on the policy portion of the official plan, now is our chance to shape policy that will discourage environmentally destructive behavior by our city.

Harper Creek regulated to the side of the road by urban development. (2018)

There are many proponents of environmental degradation, one of the more obvious ones are real estate developers. Many real estate developers across the province have realized that it is not in their best interest to destroy the things that make these places desirable to live. Others in Peterborough have yet to catch up. Based on the sheer scale that they operate it is possible for them to have an outsized environmental impact on our city’s natural spaces. The approach thus far to prevent development within sensitive environmental areas has been to set a limit or buffer around each sensitive area and declare that no development should take place within these areas. Unfortunately, this has not been enough for the city to stop granting approvals that violate this policy.

One of the major drivers of development approvals for municipalities is development charges. Approvals for construction often come with a fee that is paid to the city. Therefore, the more development that a city approves, the greater access they have to funds. As an example, a recent apartment complex approved with a 20m setback from a provincially significant wetland (PSW) in Peterborough (100m beyond Otonabee Region Conservation Authority policies.) The development charges for the property are $12,910 per unit, totaling $555,130.00 raised for the city. When cash strapped city councils approve development, it is no wonder that when the environment comes into question a nice half a million dollar payout wins out.

The “conservation community” currently under construction at the edge of Peterborough.

I would propose that as part of the natural heritage system the following policy should be put in place:

“The city shall not collect development charges for site plans approved within 120m from provincially significant wetlands, 30m from permanent water bodies, or within areas identified as part of the natural heritage system”

This removes the cash incentive for approving development within environmentally sensitive areas. The other option that may be more appealing to some would be to offer developers a discount on development charges if properties that they are developing contain environmentally sensitive features providing a discount based on the area that is occupied. It by no means prevents developments from happening in this area, but it at least removes the dollar sign distraction from clouding the vision of our city council.

Left Hand for Bikes – Mini Urban Interventions

The desire pathway north of the Park and Murray Intersection (City of Peterborough 2016)

Have you ever been around the city and noticed where a small change could make a huge difference? When the city installed stop signs on the corner of Hunter and Bethune, that small change made such an incredible difference for traffic in the area. I’ve been thinking over the past several months, what small changes would make a huge difference in our city?

For years when I lived on Murray St. I would often bike to Reid St. and turn left into the hatched area jump the curb and connect to the bike trail to travel downtown. I’m not the only one that does this, I would argue that it is one of the strongest desire pathways in the city. You can actually see it from google maps!

Strictly speaking this isn’t a legal turn. Traffic flows in the opposite direction along the one way street. However, there is more than enough room for this maneuver to be just as safe as any other left hand turn. The nearby traffic lights create large gaps in traffic which creates more than enough time to cross over all three lanes. There are a huge number of people who live in the nearby apartment buildings who turn off of Murray in this way every day.

Perhaps it is time we looked at a way of making this turn recognized with the proper infrastructure? I would argue that this whole area needs serious work to provide proper crossing for bikes, but this may be a great first step. Check out the map below and let me know what you think!

A left hand turning lane for bikes only and a protected bike lane within the painted hatched area follows the pathway that hundreds use every day.

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This Is Why Jackson Creek Matters

This spring so far has not given us much in the way of precipitation, but that’s not to say that we can’t see our surrounding environment hard at work. In Peterborough we have a long history of flooding in our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Looking at old maps of Peterborough, it is easy to see why this is the case. When the area was first settled 200 years ago, Jackson Creek meandered through a wetland located where the downtown currently resides. The river still carries memories with it, when the downtown flooded in 2004 the path of the stream passed through buildings and shops in much the same way as it did in times gone by. (more…)

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.