Monday, February 19, 2007

Dr. Suzuki Makes House Call to Markham

David Suzuki has a way of talking that manages to express the great urgency of our situation while always remaining positive about solving the problem. Yesterday, he spoke to a group of people in Markham about climate change, the history, the problems and solutions. What I found most interesting was how he relates to his audience. Even though I'm sure he knows many people in the room are essentially causing (knowingly or unknowingly) the problem he's so concerned about, there's never a moment of judgement. As long as you're not flashing a camera in his face, he likes you.

Markham is a somewhat unique town, because, while being a huge suburban development, there is some momentum to make changes and to make environmentally friendly progress. For example, Markham is making faster progress than any other town in York Region in implementing the new bike plan. Markham also has made big changes in density in recent years. Densification is quite visible, especially near the Viva stops. If you stand on Highway 7, with Richmond Hill to the north and Markham to the south, you can see a distinct difference in building heights, locations, and connections to sidewalks.

From what I gathered, David Suzuki has been going to towns where he's been invited by a local environmental group. There were a few people from the environmental group in the room, along with a couple of the local councillors. He told us that he's hoping that everyone will help spread his message after he leaves, with the local environmental group providing some solid support.

As for his message, one thing he stressed was that our politicians are really not leaders. I think this was obvious to us all when we saw what happened with the Conservative Party after the poll came out saying Canadians put the environment at the top of their list of concerns. Not surprisingly, he had an opinion on the current round of Conservative attack ads. There wasn't a lot of love. During all this talk about politicians, we had a few laughs and listened to some of Suzuki's stories about conferences over his decades of experience. He gave the example of Al Gore as someone who wants to make a difference and has been on this issue from the beginning.

This all led to the key point: that everyone should stop worrying about the politicians and start to participate in the solution. The politicians will follow. His list of solutions is on his web site. You may have seen it before. The idea is to give people very acheivable goals (like avoiding driving a car on one of your workdays per week), and commit to meeting them. It seems like a very good way to get as many people on side as possible.

During the brief Q and A, one person (who I suspect was a reporter) asked what we are to make of these polls. We hear that everyone is concerned about the environment, but if you ask them if they're willing to pay more for gasoline or deal with any specific changes in their lives, people will not support it. The person pointed out that she suspects many of the people who want cheap gas are in this room. This was the first moment of confrontation in the event. The tension was quickly diffused as David Suzuki talked about asking people to pay extra, not for a litre of gasoline, but to pay something more for their children's future. The applauding crowd agreed.

After the talk, my friend and I left the crowd behind, hopped into my car and steered it over to the Cornell development, a highly touted new urbanist neighbourhood. With all these environmental issues on the top of our minds, it seemed like a good time to see what was being done in this town.

Maybe it was the fact it was bloody cold outside, with a biting wind, or the fact that we were in one of the new parts of the development, but it wasn't exactly bustling with life. The photograph is of one of the town-centre-style streets. It looks quite idylic, although a bit too new (unavoidably, I guess). This particular street appears to be brand new and still filling in with tenants. We saw another area that was a bit more active, with a hockey rink in the park outside the shops. We both noticed the distinct lack of a grocery store. The neighbourhood also failed the "I would like to sit down and have a coffee" test.

However, I'll take a page from David Suzuki's playbook and avoid passing judgement yet, because, like any neighbourhood, it could have been a matter of getting to know it better. The development was surprisingly large, and for all I know, we were just a couple of tourists in the wrong part of town. Cornell may still be one of Markham's small steps of progress. Unfortunately, with it being on the far edge of Markham, it'll be a long time before I go back.

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Darren J 2/19/2007 01:30:00 p.m.


Isn't his story inspiring. Dr Suzuki visited us in Darwin on his tour to sell his Autobiography. I really enjoyed his talk. It would have been a bonus if he'd spoken more about the environmental issues that were prominent in our area at the time.

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