Hope springs eternal at Charles Sauriol Environmental Dinner

A young man took the podium near the beginning of the recent Charles Sauriol Environmental Dinner for the Living City. He read a poem he wrote about the city, in which he finds himself in a dirty and toxic streetscape. He is surrounded by filth and noise — I picture Dickens’s turn-of-the-century London. When he closes his eyes he escapes into the forest and its purity and cleanliness. At the conclusion of the poem he goes to the edge of the trees where he sees clear cutting. Distressed, he asks what is happening. A worker tells him that they are clearing to make way for development. “Go play in the forest while you still can,” the young man is told.

It was a moving reading, but is the situation really that dire for Toronto? I don’t think so, and judging from the 800-strong contingent of environmentalists, politicians, community leaders, and policy makers in attendance at the dinner honouring Charles Sauriol, the father of Toronto conservation, I don’t think our city’s green stakeholders think so either.

The dinner honoured some of the people people and organizations who broke free and found their way around — or creatively broke through — the funding and attitudinal constraints that limit many green projects. Waterfront Toronto was presented with the Living City Award for Healthy Rivers and Shorelines for its Toronto East Bayfront Integrated Storm Water Management design. This is one of those initiatives which takes a space and turns into something functional, attractive, and environmentally sound. Storm water runoff is a problem for our lakes that many cities don’t manage well, but in this project (currently being built on the Toronto waterfront) an artificial wetland has been incorporated into the design of the promenade. Not only is this visually appealing, the natural filtration system and UV sterilization begin the initial processes of cleaning the water, thereby decreasing the load on the Sherbourne Common UV Purification Facility.

The business community was also recognised for contributing to a sustainable Toronto. LoyaltyOne (the company behind Air Miles) has made significant efforts in diverting waste, reducing energy use, and helping their employees create green habits as well. LoyaltyOne took home the Sustainable Communities Award.

The awards dinner left me heartened by the sincere and innovative efforts of the many honoured, individuals, groups, and organizations. Though there are times when the city feels toxic and dirty, rest assured there are passionate people who are working towards bringing the forest into the city — not to denude the trees but rather to celebrate them, absorb them into city design, and, mostly importantly, respect them.