Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Annual Ontario Environment Report Out Today

Gord Miller, Ontario's Environmental Commissioner, came out with his annual report today.

I'll read it - haven't yet although I'm not looking forward to it as the media release that accompanies the report is disturbing.

Basically,  Miller's argument is that the province has lost momentum on addressing the pressing environmental issues.

The report, Engaging Solutions, notes there has been "no shortage of talk about the problems such as climate change, waste diversion, and the loss of biodiversity.  But when it comes to doing something there doesn’t seem to be a lot actually happening, says Miller.

For example:
  • On Waste:  The MOE  has written four different reports and discussion papers outlining options for increasing waste diversion in the province" but little action has resulted.
  • On Species at Risk:   We are "not doing enough to protect and recover species at risk."
  •  On Funding:  Good legislation has not been accompanied by the  additional resources needed  "to oversee and monitor new legislation while also covering ...core responsibilities."
  •  On the Great Lakes:  Lengthy negotiations "threaten to paralyze progress towards further" clean-up.  Meanwhile the Americans are making investments.
What most disturbs me is Miller's comment that the "lack of action is not accidental" and is rather "actually the goal of critics of environmental protection."  We can't move forward when responding to people who say there are no problems “by going back to the research findings to debate and explain it all over again." 

These delays open us up to the legitimate criticism that ours is "a culture of inaction and procrastination," the Commissioner concludes.

For the full report, visit http://www.eco.on.ca.  It won't be the most uplifting read.

I'll have more to say later in the week.

Monday, November 07, 2011


Not in my Backyard (NIMBY) is a term coined thirty or so years ago to refer (negatively) to residents’ opposition to development in their neighbourhood.

Usually it’s about housing – like stopping a group home or rallying neighbours concerned about apartment building heights.

There can be legitimate concerns about development, redevelopment or infill projects.
However, too often NIMBY comes out of narrow minded attitudes and uninformed opinions.

Over the years I’ve been developing a list of my favourite examples of NIMBYism.

Like the time when politicians in a neighbouring suburban community forced non-profit housing residents to install uniform and identical window blinds.

Or on another occasion when assertions from residents that the addition of a new city bus route would bring violent crime to the neighbourhood led to the route's cancellation.

Probably my most memorable NIMBY moment, though, occurred when a resident suggested that the addition of a painted centre line to a local street (recommended for safety reasons) would bring down property values.

It is good, then, to see that the lesser known movement YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) is coming to the fore in Vancouver.

The driving force for YIMBY in this city is the Pivot Legal Society. Pivot uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion. To deal with NIMBY they have put together a YIMBY toolkit.

According to a news release this kit “is intended for people who understand the value of addressing homelessness, addictions, and mental illness in a proactive and positive way...” The toolkit will help people “who want to say “Yes in my backyard!” to projects that help people get off the streets.”

The 44 page guide explains the right to housing, offers useful myth busting information and includes some exercises as well. The Cringe Test, for example, challenges you to ask some basic questions in order to tell the difference between discrimination and a legitimate objection to supportive housing.

“If it sounds wrong when you say the same thing about a racial, ethnic or religious minority, then you know you’ve heard a discriminatory statement.” And that kind of statement goes against basic human rights.

The kit also details the human rights and legal framework supporting the YIMBY position, case studies such as the UBC Hospice and success stories like the Rain City Housing and Support Society’s development in Vancouver.

This excellent community building resource can be downloaded at http://www.pivotlegal.org/

(This article was originally published in North End Breezes - (http://www.northendbreezes.com/)