Couchiching Online
nav button Conference Calendar nav button nav button nav button
Summer Conference 2002

Brock Carlton

James Orbinski

David Lewis Stein

Session Five – Livable Local Communities: Pollution Sans Frontières?
DAVID LEWIS STEIN, Adjunct Professor, Innis College, University of Toronto, novelist, politicial commentator, Toronto Star et al. (bio)
DR. JAMES ORBINSKI, Saul Rae Fellow, Massey College & Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto; Former President Médecins Sans Frontières International (bio)
E. BROCK CARLTON, Director, International Centre for Municipal Development, Federation of Canadian Municipalities (bio)
LUCIEN BRADET, Director General, Sustainable Cities Initiatives, Industry Canada (bio)

Synopsis by Katie Meyer

M. Bradet opened up the discussion by introducing Industry Canada’s pilot project, the Sustainable Cities Initiative (SCI) created in 1999 by National Round Table Environment and Economy (NRTEE) at the request of the Prime Minister. A video was presenting visually portraying the program’s mandate and vision to incorporate a long-term partnership between 500 Canadians from the public and private sectors with growth and development projects across the world.

"We believe that cities are extremely important in Canada and in the world – an intricate part of our fabric," says M. Bradet. "We are extremely privileged in this country to have the cities we have – we will always have problems but we also have a lot to offer to other countries across the world."

David Lewis Stein

David Lewis Stein took the delegates on an imaginary ride through the town of Ajax to draw attention to the issues facing mayor Steven Parish and the community in its urban development. He characterized the sprawling city’s "new urbanism" as a housing style rather than a strategy coming from developers and politicians. He juxtaposed the wants of buyers with the political will for more efficient land use strategies such as those embraced by communities such as Mississauga Ajax and Halton Hills at the recent smog summit held in T.O.’s symbolic CN tower.

In the second half of his talk, Mr. Stein outlined the need for regional strategies such as these between cities. Stein’s vision for sustainability minimizes the competition between cities’ public and private enterprises to promote the idea of a "regional soul." He coloured his talk with anecdotes and stories of political will to create this vision – namely Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallum’s advisory team of teenagers and her efforts embrace people who were feeling isolated in society. Mr. Stein said this is part of the core of regional consciousness and essential to people feeling safe in their cities.

Finally he shared his experience conducting a phone survey to ask people "if the Greater Toronto Area has a soul".

"No one laughed at me and they didn’t hang up the phone," says Mr. Stein. "Everyone had a special connection to their city."

He stated the need to politically tap into that consciousness.

"We are in fact a regional city – if we’re going to survive at all its in acknowledging that we do have a regional soul."

Dr. James Orbinski

To begin his talk about the realities and consequences of urbanization, Dr. James Orbinski described the role of humanitarian action based on the principles of Medecins Sans Frontieres and 12 years of experience in humanitarian aid.

This concept centers around the need to relieve human suffering by restoring people’s autonomy so they can make decisions about their own determination and to reveal injustices such as war crimes, AIDS – all part of the Dr. Orbinski’s theme that personal and political responsibility must encompass these factors in order to address the pressing environmental and health effects of urbanization.

In citing the massive urban growth and population pressure facing the world’s cities, Dr. Orbinski contrasted the developed world’s definition of a "super-city" – large centres of over 5 million people that are rational and organized (as the connotation suggests) to the realities of the developing world’s "peri-urban settlements" where formal and effective systems of good governance and infrastructure are not established.

He elaborated on the dramatic urban health crises in areas where there are a significant population concentration and to marginalized people in society who become more susceptible to illness because of their living conditions.

"Cholera, dysentery, hepatitis are a common part of people’s daily lives in slums without health service," says Dr. Orbinski. "There is an absence and access to clean, safe drinking water and sanitation services."

He cited the fact that one in three deaths are caused by infectious diseases in these "peri-urban" environments that are not limited to the developing world.

These illnesses are a result of environmental factors and human action states Dr. Orbinski, as he correlated the overload of geo-biological pollutants to patterns of respiratory illnesses and to patterns of physical and biological change such as rapid temperature increases. He linked the effects of climate change to conditions such as warm winters and spring drought that amplify disease and make urban populations more susceptible to outbreaks like the West Nile Virus.

Dr. Orbinski’s challenge to Couchiching delegates was to bring about local and international action by recognizing that each person should take interest in public health practices that serve the developing world and the marginalized people in society. He emphasized the fragility that results from climate change and the need to root public health research and funding in ecological thinking and equity.

"People’s human interests must be at the centre of every project," says Dr. Obinski. "We need to develop a sense of ourselves that reaches to future generations and around the planet so we have a sense of the other being and see them as part of ourselves. This will have profound implication on how we construct local and international polities."

E. Brock Carlton

Mr. Carlton opened his address with an outline of the importance of innovation and setting new goals for creating effective cities in and around the globe. He also outlined the challenge that municipalities are facing as they struggle with their role in development and advocacy and their role in the global community.

In framing his discussion abound the development work (begun in 1987) of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), Mr. Carlton was able to provide insight on the development strategies that are being employed to share knowledge at local levels.

The FCM offered a "municipal solutions" strategy by linking municipal workers with technical capacities in Canada to their counterparts in developing nations.

"These two people in spite of differences have a fundamental common bond," says Mr. Carlton.

He also states that this cooperation is also essential between national level municipal associations so that developing countries can also lobby their national governments with the support of other countries in a "global advocacy" approach.

This approach can then be further extended to an international level where organizations such as International Union of Local Authorities (IULA) can raise awareness of municipal issues, build networks and create guidelines. This was exemplified in the UN Declaration of Gender Equity and Municipalities report which outlined a major equity challenges facing municipalities across the globe.

Israeli-Palestinian cooperation also came from a project 3-4 years ago in the Gaza Strip where the FCM brought together a team of individuals – city planners, waste management etc to work with a group of Palestinians. With an underlying theme of governance and participation that engaged the public and encouraged inclusion in the community people began to have more autonomy and control over their situation says Carlton.

Then when recent problems started in the last 18 months – the community in Gaza got together for the first time to set up community based projects and strategies in order to survive.

"Municipal government when they work together can so some very important things – these examples are local expressions of massive global problems, health, war, food,"says Carlton. "Municipalities can fly below the radar – international agreements take years to achieve but the aims of these agreements can be reached directly and more quickly by working together as municipalities."

Question and Answer

Discussion addressed the role of the informal sector in developing countries and the challenge of making that work to provide formal infrastructure for health and other basic services.

Another question was raised regarding how citizens can take effective action to combat pollution in urban centers that is affecting public health. Responses noted the importance of personal commitment, lobbying and of government taxation breakdowns that could alleviate these problems.

The role of education was also noted in order ot break through the class, gender and equity divisions between sectors of Canadian society and between developed and developing countries.

A question was asked on how peace could be built through similar initiatives as that described by Mr. Carlton. The fundamental notion of justice in terms of accessibility to water and other basic needs was brought up to be central in improving quality of life so that dialogue and political participation (in efforts to bring about peace) and a sense of equity could be established.

Discussion was brought up about collaborating across national and municipal borders to collaborate on Great Lakes clean up projects.

A question was asked about the role trade plays in international development and the interests of both public and private sectors in these initiatives. Responses from the panel cited the fact that private industry are interested in the development of markets and they often put a lot of leg work in establishing basic needs and market possibilities for many years without seeing a return on investment. These market values take time to be integrated into societies that may be based around informal economic models. Lucien Bradet noted that government plays a coordinating role in developing employment opportunities and social services to increase the quality of life.

Finally a point was brought up about incorporating the real costs of urban sprawl and inefficient development practices of suburban development into those populations and the effects that would have on work and transportation habits etc. Discussion ended there for lunch.