Welcome to the Municipal Blog relating to the 5 Year Review of the Municpality of Meaford Official Plan. Please note that this blog is not intended to replace formal public consultation under the Planning Act but is instead meant to be a forum for information sharing on topics and ideas relating the review and community planning in general. Feel free to post comments or questions. Also be sure to visit the Municipal Webste (here) for additional information about the Official Plan Review.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Youth & Sustainability


I had the opportunity to visit Georgian Bay Secondary School’s EcoProject classroom a few weeks ago to speak about planning and sustainability. The EcoProject {ECO= stands for Environment, Community & Outdoors} is an innovative course led by some very dynamic teachers who have developed a curriculum which includes survival camping trips, community service and job placements, tending to a community garden, learning about transition towns, sustainability concepts and municipal facilities and much much more.
 Speaking of which – don’t miss the GBSS plant sale from 9-1 on Saturday May 19th. The sale will be located at the highschool’s community garden (Aiken St.) and they will be selling a variety of tomatoes, peppers, flowers, brussel sprouts as well as a number of plants that were sown in the high school green house. All proceeds go the Golden Town Outreach Food Bank.

A Planner, yes. A Teacher…maybe.

I have to say, I was a bit nervous heading into the classroom. Though I was a teacher’s assistant in university, the stereotypical teenager is not generally known for their extended attention span and I was cautioned to expect perhaps an hour of attention before my words would fall on uninterested ears. But as it happens, I shouldn’t have worried. I found myself amidst a very attentive and expressive group of students who were more than willing to share their thoughts and insights with me. And who, after two and a half hours of talking, suggested we meet again (a wonderful idea in my opinion…one which is currently in the works).
 My goal for the afternoon was to lead a 'dialogue circle' in order to generally introduce the concept of sustainability, speak briefly to the way in which sustainability falls under municipal and community influence and try to and get a sense of what the students knew and felt about planning & sustainability.
I was blown away by some of their comments. I was also incredibly impressed with the fact that for each concern or complaint raised, there were a number of constructive and creative suggestions and solutions offered up by the group.
I give this background to you today as I would like to take this opportunity to share some of what was shared with me. I would note that I am paraphrasing. I did not take word-for-word notes and so it is my full intent to convey the spirit of the discussion and individual comments. If any of the students happen to read this and feel I’ve misinterpreted something, I would certainly encourage them to correct me as needed.

What I learned

  • There was a good understanding of general concepts of sustainability among the group. They also had a clear sense of community and identified strongly with the natural attributes and amenities of our community – especially Georgian Bay.
  • The students expressed that in general their parents modeled sustainable behaviors at home – through recycling, composting, energy conservation efforts -  with some also buying local foods and others encouraging active transportation wherever possible. There was considerable variability across the group, however. Economics and time-limitations were suggested as possible reasons for choosing less sustainable behaviours.
  • A number of the students expressed frustration at one point or another regarding what I understood them to be describing as the unintentional stifling of their initiative to be involved with their community. For example, several students mentioned that they had been involved with community initiatives but saw little evidence of their input and received little or no follow up. Others expressed that they had the skill, know-how and motivation to assist with the design and day-to-day maintenance of student-friendly facilities but that they were either not involved or were actively discouraged from doing so due to other considerations (i.e. liability).
  • Transportation is a major issue for these students. Transit – or lack thereof – is a barrier to their day-to-day activities. Further, they expressed concern about limited permissions and the issuance of tickets relating to the use of skateboards on streets. Skateboarding was identified as a preferred means of active and affordable transportation.
There was extensive discussion and brainstorming around the above issues and I feel that I walked away from the room a wiser planner having heard what they had to say.
But the topic of discussion that most deeply resonated with me – and which has stuck with me over the past weeks - was in relation to the expectations/standard of living that we have become accustomed to and the related concept of ENOUGH. Think about that word for a moment…enough….mull it over. What does it mean in your life? What about with respect to sustainability? On a household scale? Globally?
You see, the students expressed a keen awareness that our society’s way of living is in many ways unsustainable. They are also aware that knowing and doing are separate matters. One student expressed that their vision for Meaford of the future did not include ‘growth’ but instead focused on enhancement and preservation of our natural environment and our sense of community. Another expressed sadness and frustration at the fact that their generation (and the next few to follow) will be expected to spearhead a return to a more resilient and sustainable way of living – which means undoing the harm caused by their parents and grandparents– and re-defining ‘need’ vs. ‘luxury’ …a process that is not anticipated to be pain-free. They gave several very relevant examples of how we inflate our ‘needs’ on a day-to-day basis (think gadgets, gizmos, widgets) and how the bar of what is ‘the norm’ is always being raised.

Reflections - Momentum vs. Choice

Though not specifically addressed that day with the class, I have given this a great deal of consideration in the weeks since and have come to believe that an additional underlying element of our discussion about ‘enough’ was the  momentum’ of our society which tends to lead us away from the more sustainable choices and behaviours available to us.
The students had noted that in their households money and time factors influenced their parent’s choices…and it strikes me that they're exactly right. Less sustainable choices and behaviours often are cheap and easy, while those that would build our resilience or that would be more sustainable in the long run are more expensive or time consuming. And so we are swept along making incremental choices that meet our ‘needs’ now but that will make life much harder for these students, their children and their grandchildren.
This to me reveals what I believe to be one of the main objectives of developing sustainable municipal policies – to use the authority under the Planning Act and strength of the priorities expressed under the Provincial Policy Statement to commit our community to actively seek out and consciously choose sustainable options– even when they seem less attractive in the short-term.
 I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to shift this momentum. Do you swim upstream, or go with the flow? Is long-term sustainability a factor in your decision making process?

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