What would our city look like in a world that had gone beyond fossil fuels? It’s an important question, for if we can’t paint a picture of the future we want we’re not likely to get it.
Oddly enough, it’s not a question that many people have tried to answer. Most of the thinking on alternative energy has focused on the cool technology, rather than the urban spaces it would inhabit or the social relations that would underpin it. The debate on public space, on the other hand, has largely ignored where our energy will come from (as a case in point, this blog doesn’t even have a tag for it). Meanwhile, the best sci-fi writers are much better at dystopias — at least when dealing with the near future.
But it is a question that we are going to have to answer if we are to avoid the darker futures of a world ravaged by climate change envisaged by some of my favourite authors.
The Living Planet City is as an attempt to start answering that question, in a way that is (hopefully) more fun and accessible than the various technical reports I and other environmentalists have released over the years.
And thanks to the cleverness of the internet we can not only paint an picture of the future we want, but can also back up each click-able part of that picture with a thousand words of text and even more pictures of real-life climate solutions being implemented in Canadian cities, including Toronto.
A big part of that picture will be about bringing energy production home, into the spaces where we live, work and play. We’re going to have to grow out of being simply consumers of energy (although will have to more efficient in using the energy we do consume) and become energy producers. Our homes, office towers and factories will all generate at least some of the energy they use from renewable energy sources like the wind, sun, water and earth; that energy will also power our fantastic systems of light-rail transit and plug-in hybrid cars, while freeing up space for bikes and pedestrians.
What is interesting about Toronto’s strategy is that many of the major elements — Tower Renewal, Transit City, the leadership role being played by Toronto Community Housing Corporation — will improve the quality of life for low income and marginalized communities. Done right, greening the city can also help knit a stronger social fabric.
It’s not going to be an easy transition — as evidenced in the response to the proposal for an off-shore windfarm in Scarborough. Energy production has been out-of-sight and out-of -mind for far too long, and it would be a lot easier to keep it that way but the planet just can’t bear the cost. If we want to stop the tar sands, we’re going to have to break our urban areas’ addiction to oil.
We’re now looking for people to comment on this vision, and share it with their friends (and their elected representatives). Because — as I hope this little website helps illustrate — a better world is not only possible, she is on her way.