Dec 21, 2008

Setting sustainability and environmental targets (3): Ottawa’s “Choosing our future”

Here’s one important and highly relevant major exercise of setting long-term goals, objectives and visions for a sustainable city 50 to 100 years from now. The city of Ottawa jointly with the city of Gatineau and the National Capital Commission has embarked on a two to three years exercise to develop a vision for a sustainable region. Following the pioneering work of CitiesPlus in Greater Vancouver, the project will bring a wide range of specialists and stakeholder into the process. Some of the same peole are also involved, including urban planner/ process facilitator Sebastian Moffat from the Sheltair group.

The most recent phase of that project was a four-day charrette held December 9-11 2008 in the Ottawa Art Gallery in downtown Ottawa. The event brought together urban planners, architects, designers, academics, and other specialists to colectively articulate the vision for a sustainable region 50-100 years into the future. To bring the exercise down to earth, four representative neighborhoods were selected, in which the vision was to be worked out in much greater detail, addressing the specific physical, and urban demographic conditions.

The exercise was guided by a set of fifteen end-state objectives describing the features of the sustainable society, which are reproduced here with permission:

1. Ecological limits: Of interest to our own project are the 15 and state goals which the charrette used as a driving force.

2. Ecological capacity: Rates of consumption and waste generation within the region are compatible with the long-term productive and assimilative capacity of the ecosphere.

3. Ecological services: The region’s production and consumption cycles have a net zero or net positive impact on the planet’s long-term ecological productivity and diversity.

4. Municipal ecologies: Natural resources within the National Capital Region provide a framework for land use decisions, ensuring that critical resources are easily accessed, are exploited in a sustainable fashion, and are used to achieve a high degree of regional self-reliance.

5. Cultural assets: The region’s heritage structures, and sites with special historical or spiritual significance, contribute to a strong regional identity and provide a framework for land use decisions, ensuring access to cultural assets for all residents and visitors, and helping to augment the value of local landscapes with a rich overlay of myth, story and artifact.

6. Connectivity: The region is connected at all scales, providing efficient and safe transport of goods and people, offering real choice in transportation modes, and providing frequent opportunities for high quality social interaction, and healthy, affordable lifestyles.

7. Resilience: Natural hazards throughout the region have been mitigated through land use planning, and through disaster-ready design guidelines for buildings and infrastructure.

8. Green infrastructure: Trees, gardens, ponds, wetlands, hedgerows, streams, greenways, green roofs and engineered ecologies have become the elements of a cost-effective ‘green infrastructure’ that cleans and constrains storm water flows, contributes to a quieter and more pleasant micro-climate, shades buildings in summer, improves air quality, and generally contributes to the livability and biodiversity of neighbourhoods.

9. Urban metabolism: The natural resource demand by each neighbourhood is consistent with the long-term capacity of the city’s infrastructure and the region’s resource base.

10. Urban and rural containment: The containment of both urban and rural areas, and an integrated approach to management of the boundary areas, has revitalised urban centres, enhanced the viability of local farming, and increased the quality of life, lifestyle choices, employment and recreation opportunities across the region.

11. Compact, complete communities: The region is a community of communities, where residents can work, shop and play close to home.

12. Adaptive capacity: Neighbourhoods are adaptable and resilient by design, capable of accommodating with ease, both expected and unexpected changes in climate, technology, the economy, resource availability, family size and lifestyle.

13. Housing affordability and choice: Housing meets the needs of the whole community.

14. Security: Neighbourhoods are designed and operated to minimise crime, to quickly respond to and recover from disasters, and to provide residents and visitors with a safe, secure environment in which they have freedom from fear.

15. Everyone has a voice and is heard, and key stakeholders within the region regularly collaborate to set shared directions and align policy.

What makes these end state goals noteworthy is that they cover all the dimensions of society and economy in a given region. They demonstrate clearly that everything in a sustainable society is interconnected. For the purpose of climate change, innovation and barriers to change, our focus will be much narrower and focus on those technologies that relate to energy and greenhouse gas emissions.

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