Once Upon A Time… In 2023…

…there were local folk who woke up to the seriousness of the climate crisis.

CHERYL LYON – Now, in 2038, they are being honoured as heroes with the UN Liveable Cities Award for their work done to re-imagine the City and County, once both named Peterborough. (Did receiving a UN designation as a Regional Centre of Excellence in 2016 have anything to do with this?)

In 2019, they had listened seriously to the City Council’s Declaration of a Climate Emergency. They took to heart the tears of young women who spoke to Councillors at that meeting, mourning in advance for the children when they believed they could not give birth to in a world devastated by inaction in the face of the mounting climate crisis.

Local leaders responded, led by youth. They began to bring together a new and strong network composed of non-profit and charitable bodies, new neighbourhood associations, city and county governments, youth organizations and local business representatives to envision and design different “futures.” They ended up with a unique vision that honoured necessary differences but united all in adaptation to the climate crisis.

They used existing municipal Official Plans and Climate and Sustainability Plans as their starting point, asking “What are we now and what do we need to be by 2035 to survive and thrive in the future climate?” They believed the warnings of the social and ‘hard’ climate scientists. The increasing number of weather-induced economic and social upheavals occurring during their 3-year process brought them more and more into common cause around what had to be done. “Weather is a great leveller,” said one participant from Douro-Dummer.

But it wasn’t easy.

Strong “turf” protection, deeply-held cultural memes, “climate despair,” emotional attachment to threatened landscapes, and differences between “town” and “country” had to be re-examined and reconciled. And, in late 2023, the Provincial government had resurrected its amalgamation of municipalities agenda, this time making it mandatory as part of its own climate crisis budgeting efforts.

Instead of moaning about projections of grim climate futures, the local community planning process recalled successes so far (like renewable energies), then extended them into the future to 2040, “reality proofing” them with sharp questions like: do we have the room and resources for the inevitable influx of climate refugees? How do you get Lakefielders to believe that their population will increase by 9000 people in a few years? How much can the tax-base bear? Are we ready for regional government? Are homeowners ready to accept mandatory secondary suites on existing larger lots? How much can municipal budgets afford to contribute to getting off fossil gas for home heating?”

The 3-year process of deep scrutiny of existing beliefs and the ‘grunt’ work of organizing community involvement assumed from the start that any results would require years of planning and a huge investment to implement to meet climate exigencies. But the existing Sustainable Peterborough Strategic Plan and the City and Townships’ own Climate Change Action Plans provided a good starting point.

It quickly became apparent that climate-adapted communities accommodating a larger and more diverse population (in terms of race, culture, and income) as a result of climate refugees, is the very thing needed to stay viable in a rapidly changing society. It would spur innovation and attract skilled labour while becoming more equitable, sustainable, and productive – the goal of any successful community of the future. Municipalities that did not do this, would suffer most from the climate crisis.

By the end of 2026, three distinct visions emerged of what local City and Townships (rural and urban populations) could look like by 2040 under the umbrella term “Green Havens.” They shared some common characteristics (like greener and cooler) but differed on some characteristics that preserved local identity, economy and culture. Local communities would be guided by which vision suited them best.

Artists were funded to create imaginative visualizations for the characteristics of the future. Their paintings, interactive installations, songs, plays and human tableaux gave a boost to imagining what could be. The range was realistic: a family picking peaches in their yard; a heat-helmeted farmer operating a drone-guided, automated sprinkler; teen volunteers restoring a former farm ice hockey pond to an experimental rice-growing area after the rise of an area water table.

POSTSCRIPT: About that “regional government” push by the Province? Well, the process to bring about the new amalgamated region was assigned to the area’s First Nation communities (under the Williams Treaty and Treaty 20). It proceeded alongside the visioning and planning process described above. Several Provincial governments have come and gone since 2022 but it was not until this year (2040) that the Province has set a deadline for the amalgamation to be completed by the end of this year. By then, the boundaries and name of the new municipal regional agglomeration will be announced jointly by current descendants of the original Treaties’ signers.

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