Monday, March 30, 2009

walkable talk

Dreaming of a walkable world

, The Hamilton Spectator

StreetBeat appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday(Mar 30, 2009)

Hugh Dobson is on the line. He has a few words for me. Ten, to be exact:

"The world has too much transportation. Two feet are enough."

Dobson worked for many years at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters. He mapped, plotted, studied water quality.

He's retired now, lives in the Burlington core. His dander's up because the grocery store near his house was squeezed out by new condos. And the other food stores are beyond his walking range.

So Dobson's now doing some formulation. He has made a list of the places we need to go in this world -- work, grocery, bank, library, medical clinic, park -- and is now trying to weight them, according to how often you need to visit each place.

His formula is still a work in progress. But he wishes we could buck this big box trend, where the only place to shop, go to a movie or educate our kids is miles away.

I tell Dobson his call is most timely. I'm just about to make a call myself, to the Montreal home of Mary Soderstrom.

She has a new book called The Walkable City and will be in Hamilton Saturday, April 4. She'll be attending a panel discussion at 2 p.m. at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, part of this year's gritLIT festival.

Soderstrom knows a thing or two about Hamilton. A few years ago she wrote Green City, and showcased 11 centres around the world. There was much surprise that Hamilton made the list.

But she pointed out that by the 1930s, Hamilton had more parks per inhabitant than any other Canadian city.

But there have been missteps since then. We've been awfully accommodating to the car and it's no wonder that in her new book Hamilton doesn't get cited as walkable.

We reach her at the two-storey row house she and her husband bought in the '70s, in the area north-east of downtown.

On this day, she has already been out for a 75-minute walk, past parks, shops, the school where her kids used to go. Yes, they walked there.

The neighbourhood is called Mile End. The area's garment factories have gone north or offshore. Now the arts have moved in. For instance, software giant Ubisoft has its flagship studio here, with 1,800 programmers, designers, artists. So there is the opportunity for these people to walk to their work. New young families are moving in.

Density matters. "I've heard that you need about 10,000 people for a walkable shopping street," Soderstrom says, a place with a small grocer, clothing store, drugstore, restaurant or two.

Density scares some people. They think it's dangerous. Quite the contrary, Soderstrom says. "You get foot traffic, eyes on the street. We've been in this house 33 years and we've never been broken into."

Her husband walks to the office, about 35 minutes. They do have a car, but only log about 4,000 kilometres a year.

"I've said that when this car dies, I don't want to buy a new one. Besides, in the next block there are three cars parked at Communauto." That's a Montreal car-share operation, where subscribers have access to cars for an hour, a day.

Soderstrom says by North American standards, Montreal is walkable. But Europe is bliss.

She takes us strolling along bustling rue Mouffetard, a Paris street that's part of an old road that led to Rome.

And that street is central to what she'll be saying when she comes to Hamilton. "The walkable city should be as viable in the 21st century as it was in the 18th century. Get out there and walk."

* * *

Monday, March 23, 2009

walking as intrinsically human

"Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance of spirit and humility."

Gary Snyder from "The Practice of the Wild"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

mud not monoculture

Mud on the March trails, but think about the diversity of species and organisms working together in ecology, and contrast it to a lawn. Where will imagination be challenged? and insight be stoked? where will poetry reside?
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Friday, March 6, 2009

green with strategies

Dundas Valley can spur green economy, vision report states

50-year plan places natural gem at core of sustainable community

Richard Leitner, Dundas Star News Staff
Published on Mar 06, 2009

The Dundas Valley is being touted as a potential hub for environmentally sustainable communities that support local farmers and cash in on its natural treasures.

A 50-year draft vision plan prepared by the Hamilton Conservation Authority contemplates a future in which the valley and Cootes Paradise are globally recognized and the core of a green economy in neighbouring Dundas, Ancaster and Greensville.

To achieve this, the wide-ranging plan sets out 11 goals and 41 strategies, many focused on protecting the valley and neighbouring lands, including by encouraging sustainable tourism-related businesses, development of best stewardship practices and the retention of farmland for local food production. It calls for more resources for outdoor education, sustainable passive recreational opportunities and to ensure pedestrian, bicycle and transit friendly areas.

“To me, the angels are singing on this. I can’t give this praise enough,” said Jim Howlett, chair of the authority’s conservation areas advisory board, which heartily endorsed the plan last week.

“There’s so much left to save here. It’s like we have the cake and all the icing is still on. It hasn’t been taken away,” he said, lauding the goal to encourage a green economy and culture in neighbouring urban communities.

“I think that it shouldn’t just be the conservation authority taking on these kinds of visionary jobs. The study highlighted the need for more long-range, comprehensive types of planning approaches to protecting waterways and natural areas.”

Consulting firm

Sally Leppard, whose consulting firm drafted the plan with input from authority staff, volunteers and the public, said partnerships will be crucial to realizing the 50-year vision because the authority only owns 27 per cent of valley lands.

This includes supporting valley agriculture, she said, a goal which will help stave off development pressures and take advantage of the emerging trend toward locally grown and produced food.

“Our sense is there is a lot of support for this in the community,” she said, noting the public also made it clear it wants the small-town character of Dundas, Ancaster and Greensville preserved.

“Quite frankly, this community has done so much already to protect this area, and what we’re trying to do is just build on that foundation.”

Ms. Leppard said the plan has identified a number of gaps in the valley’s existing preservation strategies, including that many significant aboriginal sites have not been comprehensively documented and ancient trails are not visibly identified. She suggested a parallel Escarpment to Cootes Paradise study being conducted by the Royal Botanical Gardens presents an opportunity to work together to gain international recognition of the area’s ecological importance.

Monday, March 2, 2009

into the west

Standing at the frozen edge of Coote's Paradise AKA the Dundas Marsh looking west from the Desjardins Canal, March 1, 2009. This almost primordial scene is only reduced in its potency by the endless rush of traffic from highway 403 just behind us. But you can't hear that, so enjoy the scene, all ice and sky.

From the city trails web page:

Desjardins Recreational Trail

The Desjardins Recreational Trail is a 1 kilometre long trail extending from Kay Drage Park access road, along the Chedoke Creek to Cootes Paradise, across the creek then on to the Desjardins Canal. Work on the southern portion of the trail was undertaken and funded by the City of Hamilton in 1996 and the trail construction was a component of the bank stabilization work on Chedoke Creek. The northern portion, funded through the Fish & Wildlife Habitat Restoration Project, was developed as a construction access road for the fishway located in the Desjardins Canal and now serves as a maintenance road/trail to the fishway.

The trail was officially opened on May 25, 1996 to coincide with the first anniversary of the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail. The Waterfront Regeneration Trust provided funding assistance for trail construction. The trail links with the Hamilton Harbour Waterfront Trail, officially opened July 1, 2000.

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