Our planet is rapidly becoming more urban. According to UN-Habitat, an agency mandated by the UN General Assembly to encourage socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities, global population growth between the years 1950-1975 was relatively uniformly divided between urban and rural areas. However, this post- 1975 equilibrium exists no more – in 2008, for the first time, over half of the world’s population lived in urban areas. Current projections indicate that 70 percent of us will be urban dwellers by 2050.
While the majority of this growth will be occurring in developing regions, the developed world, including the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) will experience its share of growth as well. According to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006) the GGH will see an increase of 3.7 million people (from 2001) by 2031, and be home to 11.5 million people, representing 80 percent of Ontario’s population growth. This makes the GGH one of the fastest growing regions in North America.
As the majority of our cities continue to grow (there are exceptions such as Detroit, the archetypal modern example of a ‘shrinking city’), there is an increasing need to not only design our neighbourhoods in a sustainable manner, but to also service them in new and sustainable ways. While urban designers, urban planners and architects have been promoting the development of ‘complete communities’ – that is communities designed to provide easy access (preferably by transit or walking) to options for food, transportation, housing, recreation, education, retail, and employment – there seems to be less discussion and promotion of greener infrastructure needed to ensure ‘complete communities’ can actually function.
The way our transportation, energy and water and wastewater infrastructure is planned, designed, and constructed is a key piece of the sustainable city puzzle. With the Growth Plans’ call for increasing densification in built-up areas, together with the need to replace existing aging infrastructure while servicing new growth, infrastructure is going to play an increasingly important role in the municipal sustainability agenda.
One way municipalities can be more sustainable when it comes to infrastructure provision is to ensure municipal sustainability principles (most municipalities have them) are considered in the early stages of infrastructure planning – holding a ‘sustainability working session’ similar to a value-engineering workshop, is a good point of departure.
With my colleagues at HSAL, I recently designed a sustainability working session as part of a Class ‘C’ municipal wastewater infrastructure Environmental Assessment (EA) Study. The objective of the session was to develop actions the Project Team could carry that puts into practice the municipality’s existing wastewater sustainability objectives during the project planning, design, and construction phases. Here are the key steps we took to implement the sustainability working session, which can be applied to any municipal infrastructure project:
- Undertook a comprehensive review of existing municipal policies and identified pertinent sustainability principles and policies;
- Developed a model (process) for preparing ‘sustainability actions’. The preferred model was a one-day working session, however a number of other models can be used depending on the objectives, scope and complexity of the project;
- Invited the right people to the working session including municipal staff, regional staff and key Project Team members in the fields of wastewater and environmental engineering, urban, environmental and cultural heritage planning, archaeology, and terrestrial and water ecology;
- Provided background materials and assigned clear roles and responsibilities to working session participants well in advance of the meeting in order to facilitate meaningful and informed input;
- Executed the model identified in step 3. This entailed (i) presentations from key participants at the outset of the session; (ii) systematic review of wastewater sustainability principles and policies; and, (iii) the development of actions for each sustainability principle/policy to implement each during the planning, design and constructions stages of the project; and
- Organized all action items generated during the session into a table format for future consideration.
The sustainability working session offered the opportunity for knowledge sharing, innovation and collaboration in the planning, design and construction of wastewater infrastructure. The result of the exercise was a collective understanding of the municipality’s wastewater sustainability principles and the identification of more than one-hundred and fifty actions to carry out the project in a manner that is not only consistent with those principles, but is also innovative and sustainable.
Andrzej Schreyer , R.P.P. is a senior land use and environmental planner with Hardy Stevenson and Associates and a member of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute and the Canadian Institute of Planners. His experience includes developing and implementing public participation and communications plans, managing social impact assessments and land use studies in support of infrastructure projects and preparing community-based strategic plans.