Experts Urge Edmonton to Push Ahead on Environmental Sustainability

 Edmonton must not wait for other orders of government to take action on environmental initiatives. Taking a harder line on urban sprawl, limiting growth, enforcing greater density rules, and using taxes to become a sustainable city were among the suggestions in a debate on the City of Edmonton’s new environmental plan.

“We can’t be paralyzed by waiting for the perfect political environment to show up,” says Pong Leung, Principal Advisor to the Natural Step Canada – a sustainability framework for communities around the world. “We must engage local stakeholders to tease out innovation... which will be a source for economic development as well.”

More than 150 people attended the noon-hour panel discussion at the Art Gallery of Alberta, plus many more watched the live online webcast, held as part of The Way We Green plan consultation process to gather input from experts, stakeholder groups and Edmontonians through 2010. When the plan is finalized in 2011, it will guide decisions and prompt projects to ensure Edmonton is a sustainable city for generations to come.

Leung advocated “taxation shifting” or increasing taxes for families who buy larger homes while rewarding sustainable “right-sizing” behaviour with lower taxes. “The status quo is not working.”

Debra Davidson, professor of Rural Economy and Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta said the lower tax mentality of Edmontonians and of Albertans must end. “I think we should just buck up and take it,” she said, adding that failing to move towards environmental sustainability now will have greater costs in the future.

Guy Swinnerton, an advocate for protecting biodiversity and natural areas within the urban landscape, said “Elected officials must apply the noble goals consistently. The complementary plan, the Way We Grow, has a great chapter on preserving natural areas… but does Council have the tenacity to deliver this product?”

The debate also included University of Alberta scientists Daniel Smith, and David Schindler, who challenged our community to consider if our predicted population growth rates are sustainable and if our governments should continue to rely on revenue from oil resources to help deliver services residents want.

“City Council gave us a 10-year goal to become a national leader in setting and achieving the highest standards of environmental preservation and sustainability,” said Jim Andrais, project manager for the Way We Green plan. “Now we have to find out from Edmontonians and environmental experts which environmental challenges are most important and areas where we can make the greatest difference. This panel debate, discussion papers, workshops and the online consultation are all part of that process.”

An archive of the broadcast will be available later in the week at, which is also the repository for a wide range of position papers, policy suggestions and opportunities for public input on a range of topics.

The website also launched a new survey of Edmontonians, following the panel debate, on Edmonton’s most important issues and changes needed to become sustainable.

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Article Author: Mary-Ann Thurber