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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Facebook Friday: Pollution prevention

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As the name suggests, every Friday Spacing will profile Facebook groups that are using the social network to articulate their experiences and share information about Toronto.

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This week, I searched through over 300 groups that are currently addressing Toronto pollution and smog. One over-arching theme seems to be Torontonians dedication to cheap, active, green alternatives to driving. Students in particular have been using Facebook to discuss how being environmentally friendly actually helps lighten their financial burdens. Bike2YorkU, for example, discusses the benefits of biking rather than driving to school and how having a car unnecessarily adds an average $8,500 to a student’s annual debt. Other groups address the issue of transportation more light-heartedly. I Can’t Drive . . . and I’m Proud Of It! for example, a group I myself am a member of, is for those of us who are willing to admit that they never bothered to get their licenses . . . and who want to try and justify it: it’s healthier to walk or ride, short-distance car travel is unnecessary, cars are expensive — between insurance, gas, repairs, tires, oil, etc. — driving harms the environment, and all in all cars are a luxury, not a necessity!

Other groups, including WeloBike and I support Wind Energy in Ontario, are using Facebook as a platform for creating awareness about the benefits of alternative forms of energy production in reducing pollution levels. I was shocked to learn that Welobikes, stationary bikes that create usable energy when ridden, can produce an average 50W/hour of electricity (and upwards 100W/hour for experienced cyclists); and, they’re actually being used in Toronto! The Gateway homeless shelter in downtown Toronto, for example, is currently using 12 Welobikes as part of a pilot project. Moreover, precisely because over 72% of new generation in Ontario is wind, these groups and others are providing accessible, up-to-date information about developments in a field that directly affects us as Toronto citizens.

Other coalition groups, such as the Toronto Environmental Alliance, are taking a broader approach to urban pollution (their Facebook group was just recently started). Outside of Facebook, TEA has over 8,000 paid members dedicated to being as politically effective as they are environmental. Using Facebook as a means of generating open-ended discussion, members of this group propose and discuss policy and infrastructure changes that they believe would help Toronto’s pollution problems. Suggestions have included eliminating street parking on Bloor and Danforth and replacing those curb-side parking lanes with a continuous Take The Tooker bike lane, creating a congestion tax, and perhaps applying a hefty increase to meter-parking rates and funneling that increase directly into TTC improvement, expansion, and modernization.

While these are but a few examples of the sorts of efforts and city-wide discussions that are taking place, the number of these eco-conscious Facebook groups continues to rise; as such, this social network is providing an accessible virtual forum for all Torontonians who are interested in urban pollution and smog prevention.



  1. Is there a group that promotes pedal power for all the computers and TVs that we use to help save the world?

  2. “this social network is providing an accessible virtual forum for all Torontonians who are interested in urban pollution and smog prevention.”

    Facebook is a closed system which you can only participate in by first sharing personal information and ideally providing a photograph and list of your “friends.” There is a definite trade-off when using a privately owned and operated site to discuss these issues. I sometimes worry that Spacing, in its enthusiasm to celebrate this new networking tool, fails to properly acknowledge these trade-offs.

    Spacebook Fridays effectively high-light the virtual discussions that are going on, but it would also be interesting to see, what, if anything, actually comes of all this networking. My fear is that it may just beget more spacebooking and little tangible change.

  3. Theresa> It’s a networking tool like any other. Like a room in a local church that can be rented for cheap or free so people can get together to talk about issues. So I would say that Facebook cynicism can be applied to any and all networking “things” and groups, real or virtual — how many “traditional” avenues lead to real tangible change? I wonder if it’s the same “success rate” as new ways, or maybe new ways are better? Or worse? I don’t know, but I’m not cynical about it yet.

    Facebook is just another (very powerful) development in how people network, but it still depends on real people and their level of commitment, like it always has.

    As for the info you’ve got to share, you can give them minimal info, and then hide it from everybody, then get access to all this stuff. So the trade off seems small, and I’m not sure how we would go about properly acknowledging this trade-off, other than saying, as we have, that you’ve got to sign up, and it is a closed system (which is why it works, I would submit). Facebook Fridays is also one post one day of the week — there are all kind of other networking/doing/advocacy things this blog highlights on fridays and other days.

    Personally I don’t know why people get upset about giving some information over — even a tiny bit (I’m not criticizing…I’d like to hear what the objections are). I give maximum info and hide nothing because I’m certain my details are extremely boring and the same as everybody’s else. My Grandfather will not buy something online with this credit card no matter how many times I tell him nothing will happen, and his account will be safe, and he’s not giving his digits to the Illuminati….but he still won’t do it, and I don’t know why. I pretend it’s because he lived through WWII, and is paranoid.

  4. Shawn > thanks for your reasoned response. Perhaps I was being a bit grumpy when I made the post, but ebullient praise of the wonders of Facebook garners this visceral response in me, for reasons I am yet able to completely understand.

    I think part of it is simply the hype about the technology. It seems every time some new gadget or tool is introduced people praise how it will bring an end to all that which ails us, be it hunger, work or in this case air pollution. Did the invent of cellphones make our lives easier? In some ways yes, in other ways definitely not. I guess my frustration is that so much time is spent talking about the wonders of Facebook and so little time spent discussing the drawbacks, not the least of which is having to join the network, provide personal information, and maintain a series of often tenuously contrived “friendships.” I can’t think of any other time in history when such a thorough airing of personal relations would be required to join discussions with otherwise complete strangers.

    But I say this as someone who has not yet “caved” and joined the Facebook party. I think it is telling that some people on Facebook use phrases like cave or give-in when describing their decision to join the network. It appears there is some underlying acknowledgement of the pressures to join, as though to not would be detrimental. This seems to challenge the notion that Facebook is completely innocuous fun with only positive, or at worst, neutral implications.

    In the end I will likely join the party even if I don’t agree to the conditions of participation, because I do want to experience the discussions in the groups that Sarah has profiled. I just wish I could do so without having to be part of a process where friends are accepted and rejected, headshots are fundamental, and people are rewarded the more privacy they relinquish.

  5. Theresa> I will admit to thinking many other social networking programs were silly, or just plain awful looking (myspace) — but Facebook is one of those times when technology fits into “real life” really well. It helps where it should help, and can make life better (or easier, or more efficient or…).

    Of course, it isn’t always used that way, and can be a (sometimes fun) long distraction. I have a semi-rule-with-a-few-exceptions that my Facebook must reflect reality. So I can only be friends with people I have had two interactions with, or had some kind of professional relationship with (virtual encounters do count). So there is now a list of 20 some people who have requested to be friends that I either don’t know, or knew 15 years ago in highschool and haven’t talked to since. So they sit in a sort of Facebook purgatory, not approved but not totally discarded, because that just seems harsh.

    I think some people on Facebook have turned their personal friend list into a sort of group collection that doesn’t have a personal connection to them. If i have a house party, I want to be able to invite everybody on my list — I think I can do that now (I should check though). But the actual group function takes care of that — you can start a group on whatever topic, and see who joins….then it’s up to them to do something.

    Etc etc and sorry for the over-response….this is a pet area of interest, and hoping to get my design students at OCAD to look at how Facebook fits into and around real life in this coming school year.

  6. Theresa, I’m sympathetic to your cause. Facebook doesn’t make it easy, but you can control how much information you disclose.

    There are plenty of members with abbreviated names or nicknames, and a good number without photos. You can prevent all but your “friends” from seeing your profile and your list of friends. (Click Privacy to set these options. Note that if you join a new network, that network is treated with the default settings; you should return to the Privacy screen to lock everything down again.) Basically, if you’re just looking, you don’t need to connect with any friends and no one will ever know…

  7. My TTC Environmental Citizens’ Group on Facebook, and the recent one “Toronto Transit 4Change”, is geared primarily to create less smog, end air pollution, and focus on new clean fuel technologies!

  8. Interesting picture of Toronto. Working o preserve the environment is a wortwhile task. Only by taking actions are we able to preserve our history to future generations.