Welcome to the interactive map / blog of the 2013 Cascadia Sustainability Field School. We are a group of UVic geography students traveling down the coast from Victoria, BC to San Francisco, CA meeting with community groups, First Nations, planners, academics and others grappling with the pressing social, ecological, economic and cultural challenges in our region. This is our blog where we are sharing our reflections - what we are learning about the challenges and opportunities for sustainable community development and ultimately what we are learning about ourselves through this adventure.
We have spent the first few days of the field school (from May 9th-14th) in the Victoria area introducing ourselves, learning a bit about this region some call Cascadia, coming up with critical who, what, where, when, why and how questions of sustainability that will guide our travel study and checking things out in our own region.
On May 9th we met with Sarah Webb of the Capital Regional District who provided us with an overview of some of the challenges facing the region and some of the cool projects being undertaken. (See: http://sustainability.crd.bc.ca/). The CRD plays the role of regional service provider (in terms of water provision, running the landfill, running regional parks, pollution prevention, recycling programs etc.); land use decision maker, regulator, convenor of the regional growth strategy and as educator / facilitator. A key element of the CRD's approach is establishing effective partenrships "to serve the public interest and buikld a livable, sustainable region". Jurisdictional tensions, funding sustainability, self-interest of those invested in the business as usual status quo and general public lack of awareness, willingness and ability to change are among the barriers in the way of achieving this objective. Sarah drew attention to a number of inspiring projects in the region such as:
- The regional parks acquisition fund - a levy of $20 per household that allows for the acquisition of land for green space providion.
- Impressive set of bylaws, services and programs to reduce landfill waste and generate energy from landfill gas [NOTE: one interesting irony Sarah mentioned was that these programs depend on funding from landfill dumpage use which recalls similar concerns that sustainable transportation initiatives are often funded by tolls, gas taxes or other taxes on automobiles]
- A regional pedestrian and cycling master plan
- A 100 year Action Plan to restore / manage Bowker Creek reflecting changing attitudes around the importance / "use" of watersheds (i.e. from nuissances that need to be paved over to important eco-systems]
Here we are taking in a rare view of Victoria's downtown from on high (CRD Offices)
On May 10th, we welcomed Irwin Henderson and DIck Faulcks into the class to talk about transportation sustainability and the potential for some form of commuter rail and light rail transit in the region and beyond. Students grappled with the excitement of such a future vision as well as the political barriers in the way. Is this an answer for the notorious traffic congestion around the six-mile pinch point known as the "Colwood Crawl"??? With an aging population in the region, might transit improvement get some much needed attention?
On Monday, May 13th we visited the T'souke FIrst Nation, the site of the largest solar installation in the province. Ironically, it was pouring rain most of the time we were there. Interestingly they were still generating some power. The project was inspirational in exploring how traditional indigenous principles (e.g. thinking 7 generations into the future and connecting deeply with the elements) were brought together with modern technology to produce some measure of local autonomy and energy security. The talk called into question the politics of centralization / control and our investment in BC Hydro and what a decentalization of power (in both senses of the term) would look like, why it is threatening etc.
Here we are taking shelter from the rain under a bank of solar panels.
Finally on May 14th (our last day of programming in Victoria), we wandered through the neighbourhood of Fernwood and learned about its revitalization under the Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group. Lee Herrin lead us around the neighbhourhood drawing attention to the small business mix, the vibrant community square, innovative art projects, affordable housing efforts etc. that make this an inviting place, Small-scale community economic development and the cultivation of sense of place were important dimensions of this discussion which raised a number of interesting questions reflected on over a pint of beer at the Fernwood Inn. Students wondered about the efforts of the Fernwood NRG. On the one hand, it seems the NRG invites commendation on these efforts to create a more inviting urban realm and yet students raised concerns about gentrification and who benefits and who loses when neighbourhoods transform.
Now off to Vancouver...