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
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I spoke recently with Jacques Beltran from Dassault Systemes about how the crisis has been an accelerator for cities and public agencies to implement digitization strategies. He’s an experienced public servant now working with cities to address their data needs. He shares some relevant examples of how cities in Europe were lagging one to two months behind what was really occurring on the ground. I am particularly impressed by their work to build a virtual twin of the city’s concert hall to simulate coughing, masks, and other conditions to plan a safe reopening. They found some very surprising findings. They also worked at a regional scale to predict and visualize viral spread to anticipate hospital capacity a month ahead – a key tool for regional officials. The use of virtual twins are extensive for cities.
Since historically marginalized communities are already being disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am frustrated to see these communities also negatively impacted by the lack of on-the-ground public engagement. While I realize the threat of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions make conducting on-the-ground public engagement challenging, I want to encourage fellow planners to think more creatively. I will admit that I struggled to think creatively when I first heard that Clackamas Community College (CCC) would continue having mostly online classes in Spring Term 2021. CCC has had mostly online classes since the end of Winter Term 2020 when COVID-19 first started impacting Oregon. CCC’s decision about Spring Term 2021 became more stressful when Clackamas County staff told me that public outreach for their new shuttles could not be delayed until next summer.