City ends last in sustainable cities survey

Winnipeg wasting away with no vision, says city planning expert

Michael Dudley of the Institute of Urban Studies believes Winnipeg needs a concrete plan for sustainability. Mark Reimer

Winnipeg finished dead last in the medium city category of a national survey of sustainable cities.

The Corporate Knights, an independent media based company that focuses on corporate responsibility, released the study last month.

The problem is long-term planning, said Jenny Gerbasi, city councillor for Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry.

Gerbasi said the city tends to react to development rather than plan out sustainability, pointing to the development of big box stores as evidence.

“We should be encouraging developments that strengthen existing neighbourhoods rather than be big box and car orientated,” she said.

“It’s fiscally unsustainable and socially unsustainable.”

Alec Stuart, the city’s environmental co-ordinator, points out the survey is only a snapshot in time.

“It’s a good reality check and shows us where we can learn,” Stuart said.

It is difficult to compare Winnipeg to other cities nationwide, he said.

“Victoria can promote active transportation year round,” Stuart said. “When winter comes, I put my bike away.”

“We don’t really have a comprehensive vision or plan,” said Michael Dudley, research associate for the Institute of Urban Studies.

But city hall is not alone to blame.

“It’s difficult to persuade people on issues because we don’t see the impact,” Dudley said.

For example, Winnipeggers tend to not think about the environmental impact of cars because we do not have problems with traffic congestion.

Stuart said the upcoming Plan Winnipeg will include sustainability measures throughout the entire plan when it undergoes public consultations later this year. Plan Winnipeg represents the city’s long-range vision and policy plan.

Dudley wants to see a socially conscious marketing plan that helps us think about waste differently.

“We need to change our attitudes on the environment,” said Josh Brandon, the Living Green Living Well co-ordinator with Resource Conservation Manitoba. “We’re not just an open field to dump stuff.”

The report specifically pointed out that Winnipeg is the only city to not have waste diversion targets.

Brandon said the daily habits of Manitobans placed them at the bottom in terms of recycling.

“Most other provinces have programs for beverage containers,” Brandon said.

Manitoba recycles only 30 per cent of its beverage containers, compared to 80 per cent in British Columbia.

Stuart said the city plans on harnessing gases from Brady Landfill, with construction on the project planned for late 2009. This project involves using the gases captured as a future energy source.

But Brandon wants to see more work done in the area of leadership and responsibility.

“Government regulation and policy makes it easier to live a sustainable lifestyle,” he said.

Published in Volume 63, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 12, 2009)

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