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Opening an environmental dialogue in the Eastern GTA

Residents discussed a range of important environmental issues during a breakout session at the Eastern GTA Eco Summit held at UTSC on March 3. Photo by Don Campbell.

More than 160 residents participated in the inaugural Eastern GTA Eco Summit held at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) on March 3. 

The aim of the summit was to begin setting an environmental agenda for the region by bringing together members of the community for an open dialogue. Organizers said the event was a huge success. 

“The interest and enthusiasm shown by the community has completely exceeded my expectations,” said Tim Lang, summit organizer and manager of the UTSC Sustainability Office.It has strengthened my faith that the eastern GTA is committed to working towards being a demonstrative and catalytic region on environmental issues.”

André Sorensen, associate professor of urban geography at UTSC, kicked off the summit with his keynote address, in which he spoke about the importance of building a resilient city-region. Listing off the risks and costs associated with climate change, rising sea levels, species extinction, desertification, topsoil depletion, social polarization and toxic accumulation (among many others), Sorensen said that efforts to “reduce our expose to such risks are essential.”

In addition to avoiding the risk of rare but potentially catastrophic environment disasters such as Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Sorensen said it is important to create greater local capacity in terms of energy, food supply, talent and innovation. He emphasized relying less on long-distance supply chains, the importance of protecting soils, water and groundwater quality while creating stronger, local social systems that can better handle a crisis.

“Building resilient city regions is crucially a matter of building local social and organizational capacity. But is also about social cohesion and social innovation, inventing new networks, and new ways of working together.”

Lastly, he urged the audience to make the most of the opportunity provided by the summit, and stressed the importance of their work in moving towards a sustainable vision for the Eastern GTA.

There were four breakout sessions held throughout the day separated into themes of transportation, parks and recreation, sustainable food and climate action. An Eco Fair was also held throughout the day in the Instructional Centre with participating organizations ranging from green tech companies to local environmental organizations such as the Pickering Naturalists and the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

The ability to engage Eastern GTA residents on potential plans for the Rouge National Urban Park was enough to get Andrew Farnsworth excited about the summit. The rehabilitation projects coordinator with the Friends of the Rouge Watershed – a non-profit, community-based group dedicated to protecting the Rouge Watershed – was encouraged by the input offered by local residents. 

“Sometimes residents can feel like a marginalized group when it comes to being involved in developing policy around environmental issues, so a summit like this is important to foster community engagement. I think that involvement can only result in a stronger environmental vision for the area,” he said.

The summit was such a success that there were calls from participants to hold a similar event again perhaps every six months or every year. Meanwhile, results from the summit’s breakout sessions will be published in a report and emailed to all participants, while a copy will also be available online.

“We are busy parsing the results of the breakout sessions,” said Lang, “but we hope to get something out to attendees soon regarding next steps, so we can keep moving forward on these issues.”




© University of Toronto Scarborough