Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
Evergreen: Advancing Urban Sustainability
The world is undergoing a rapid and unprecedented process of urbanization. Today, about 85 percent of us live in cities, a jump of nearly 50 percent in a mere 30 years.
As urban populations grow, greater pressures are placed on natural green spaces both within existing built-up areas and beyond. Underlying this challenge is the fact that traditional city building has shown little regard for the ecological features and functions that support the natural systems upon which we all depend.
To make way for streets, buildings and bridges, forests have been cleared, wetlands drained and waterways polluted or buried altogether. It’s no surprise that city dwellers often feel a sense of disconnect from nature, which they assume can only be experienced in the wilderness areas beyond city limits.
Evergreen, a Canadian charity, has been responding to this challenge for over 20 years, advancing urban sustainability through a range of hands-in the-dirt projects.
To foster an ethos of environmental stewardship and appreciation of the natural world, Evergreen’s approach has been to give communities the tools to transform their own neighbourhoods through collective action. Our work traditionally focused on parks, school grounds and other shared public spaces, supporting projects that include habitat restoration, food gardens, public art and more.
Evergreen Brick Works
As Evergreen has grown, so has the lens through which we are address pressing urban challenges. Most notably, Evergreen led the transformation of an abandoned brick factory into Evergreen Brick Works—an international showcase for green design and urban innovation. Located in the heart of Toronto’s extensive urban ravine system, the site is a dynamic venue that engages both the public, through our farmers’ market and children’s programs, and urban planners and innovators, by showcasing emerging ideas and solutions in urban sustainability.
At every step, the development and design of the Brick Works was guided by natural systems, which one will see embedded in the technologies and innovations (both new and old) featured on-site—from solar chimneys and rainwater cisterns to pervious parking lots and naturalized greenways. On track to receive Platinum LEED certification, the site is a model for adaptive reuse of heritage buildings and the redevelopment of a brownfield into a dynamic public asset. The principles and values it embodies makes it the perfect venue for hosting Meeting of the Minds this September.
Evergreen Brick Works is also home base for Evergreen’s national programs as well as our newest initiative, Evergreen CityWorks. Building on over 20 years of experience as a leader in the green city movement, CityWorks advances urban resilience by focusing on systems-level change. By convening leading urban thinkers, innovators and entrepreneurs, Evergreen is exploring innovative and sustainable approaches to how we design, build and optimize urban infrastructure systems—from rooftop gardens and solar panels to smart grids and efficient transit networks.
Since its launch, CityWorks has fostered new thinking through workshops, leadership forums and public Innovation Talks. We are also driving collaborative action through key projects, such as the Transportation Lab and the Lower Don Greenway initiative. In 2012, we hosted MOVE: The Transportation Expo, our first in a series of public expositions that celebrate and advance cutting-edge ideas from across our region and around the globe.
One of CityWorks’ priorities is to promote new models that make urban infrastructure more efficient and sustainable worldwide. As part of this effort, Evergreen is leading Our Urban Future, a collaborative research project with the World Bank, World Economic Forum and UNEP, which will forecast municipal infrastructure spending over the coming decades and use tools such as scenario planning to better prepare for future uncertainties.
Evergreen is very excited to be collaborating with Urban Age Institute on Meeting of the Minds 2013, the first time this high-level event will be held outside the US. We look forward to welcoming you to Toronto this fall!
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.
In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:
How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?
Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.