Saturday, October 4, 2008

From inner city core to the suburbs

It's been a thrilling and exhausting day. It's approaching midnight and there's too much to possibly describe in a single post. So I'll say some thank yous and focus on one observation.

Thank you to DeWan, the inspiration for this walk. By the end of the day, he was clearly exhausted but kept trudging on with tired determination. Thank you Rita, for your wisdom and eternal good spirits. Rita brought her bike because of concern her knees would not survive, and as a result seems to be travelling greater distances going back and forth between supporters and walkers and running errands in between. Thank you Kim, Stuart, Alex and Mustaq, our permanent support network who look after us. Thank you to all the people who came out to walk with us today, friends, supporters, candidates, DeWan's endless stream of cousins. Thank you to the many people who are supporting us along the way with offers of food, shelter, errands and so on. Thank you to Stephen Scharper, Dorothy McDougall, Dave Martin, Carolyn Egan, Eddy, Misha, Waeza and the other young people who so inspired us with their thoughts at the kickoff which now seems eons ago. Thanks to people like John Bell, Rich, Paul York and Michael who helped make that kickoff a success. Thanks to the crowd of people who escorted us through the city. Thanks to the nice policemen who keep on eye on us to make sure we're safe. Thanks to Betty Anne, whose house I'm staying at and whose computer I'm writing this note at.

Today's journey was a journey through three different modes of living, three distinct challenges to evolving into a post carbon future.

We began in a city centre, with its hodge-podge of old inefficient and leaky buildings and new buildings which can hog more energy despite access to more efficient options. Along the city streets, most people moved by walking or on the many streetcars, or underground, unseen, on the subway system. It is a city that is evolving to meet the renewed demand for pedestrian friendly options, making street crossings prioritize pedestrians. But the city faces enormous challenges in a post-carbon future. I know, though today I didn't see it, that at night the city blazes with light. In the summer, people live and work in refrigerated environments. Old buildings have never been properly retrofitted for the requirements of a post-carbon future, beginning with the lovely building before which we began: the Legislature of Ontario.

Then we passed through older residential neighbourhoods, a complex, too of old and new and renovated. And still the streetcars scooted along, and buses too, though not with the same frequency. As we walked, they competed more and more with the cars. The challenge here will be to keep all those people warm in the winter without fossil fuels. It can be done. The Europeans have developed structures so well insulated that they require no mechanical heating system at all. California has declared that by 2020, all new buildings must be energy self-sufficient. Any energy they use, they must produce themselves. But existing, older buildings have their own challenges, which are more difficult to regulate. Yet still, we must do something. Because these areas are in many ways most suited to post-carbon living. The business areas are compact and accessible to pedestrians, the linkages to other parts of the city by public transit are superb.

And then we arrived at the suburbs. Kingston Rd became a 6-lane highway, cars whizzing by at incredible speeds and often with deafening noise. And every store was attached to a generous parking area and there was no place for Rita to put her bike, and every food store served primarily drive-throughs, with the odd lonely customer actually stumbling in. The suburbs will undoubtedly be the greatest challenge of all. It is mind-boggling here how life depends on cheap energy. The homes are newer and more efficient than the older city homes, but nowhere near enough to face energy descent. The reliance on cars is deeply troubling.

And yet. Here I am in a beautiful, compact suburban home. My hostess served me soup from celery which came from her own garden. She picks up a GO train daily nearby, and arrives at work in less time than Rita used to take to commute within the city. So there's some potential here for a post carbon future. And we need to find it.

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