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November 2014



Kingston: What Makes a City Sustainable?

Written by , Posted in Entertainment, Food, Leadership, Sustainability, Technology

Kingston: What Makes a City Sustainable?


Could you imagine, the city you live in, or in my case, nearby, has made it a priority to be the most sustainable city in the world. It’s an auspicious goal to be the best city at conserving the world. SAVING the world one block at a time.

That’s what I thought when I learned that Kingston, Ontario had made it its goal to do just that. I imagined towering trees and hover cars or at the very least thought we would at least be changing the conversation about sustainability. Kingston’s desire to become Canada’s most sustainable city was more than noble, it was the first step toward making the planet a better place.

But then I went to Chicago.

Chicago isn’t trying to be anything. It’s a sprawling city of almost three million people on the edge of Lake Michigan. Like Kingston, it has a beautiful view of one of the great lakes and as a port town, it was designed as an industrial hub of commerce. It has a sordid history filled with violence as well as a proud history in how it dealt with the great fire.

There were some trade-offs made however a few decades ago when they first built the roads that access the downtown and on the waterfront as a massive steel buttress was anchored along the edge of the city to ensure a shoreline that will never erode. A questionable act today when looking at the sustainability of fish habitat surely, but an interesting prospect for creating not just one side walk for navigation, but a path on the water and a bike path that spans the city. There were bikes and rickshaws passing traveling that path, something Kingston has had a very troublesome process to implement.

In Kingston, rather than build bike paths originally, they are attempting to force them onto the road, carving out a two foot wide path on the side where cars passed freely only weeks before. In some cases the victims of this path aren’t passing or parked cars, but the once vibrant businesses that dotted the landscape. These businesses suffer for the lack of parking, those patrons who had once travelled miles from outside of town no longer interested in navigating the mess that is the public transit system to arrive at their once favourite restaurants or shops.

It is a noble cause trying to institute a bike path, but Kingston’s choice to make their sustainable initiative member driven has removed the city from the conversation. Kingston has decided that the only way to get buy in is for our citizens to do the leg work. Unfortunately this prospect fails to get a unified voice. With every new mayor we may get a new initiative. There is no codification. No central push calling on every business or citizen to partake.
In Kingston, we don’t see rooftop gardens being built, we see rooftop patios for evermore restaurants. We don’t see a rent a bike program, we see ongoing and heated conversations on whether we should build a casino.

The thought process behind why the city has delayed the parking adjustments near the hospital is because they are waiting for two new bus routes to come into affect before changing the parking to permit parking around the hospital. Great you say, we should all use bus transit. But, the hospital? This isn’t the opera. It’s a hospital where people zoom in to save their grandfather or have their babies. There is no communication by our leadership to show the people what their options are. There are three tiny parking lots at the six highway entrances where people can car pool and of them all I’ve only ever seen a public bus at one. There are no signs indicating to people they should take the bus or suggesting they could save the planet one sustainable choice at a time.

The revitalization program that currently pulls entire streets out of use for months at a time destroy the few mature trees that do exist as well as the existing sidewalk gardens that have given character to the limestone city for decades. In the end we are given concrete benches and a few flower pots. The once vibrant streets are a dismal reflection of their once beautiful glory.

Don’t blink when you travel downtown because if you do, you’ll miss at least one local shop’s going out of business sale and the two new restaurants opening. Rent costs have gutted the downtown core in the name of beautification. In addition, there are no parking lots, but as I mentioned earlier, there is no infrastructure to compensate and no communication to inform.

The Kingston Public Market, once touted as the oldest and grandest in Canada is no longer considered a farmer’s market and you can see many faces are disappearing. In fact much of the produce is not local and still has the grocery store tags, the financial prospect of economies of scale outweighing the quality of artisans.

Kingston’s desire to become the most sustainable city in Canada is a great sentiment, one that should be applauded and emulated, but we need to make some hard choices for it to succeed. We need public buy in for the established strategic plan to work. We need consequences, good or bad, for the choices we make. A beautiful water front and a few private gardens are a far cry from a smart transit grid and urban gardens. Do you agree? Or do you think the Limestone City’s plans are enough to proclaim it the most sustainable city in Canada?

Click here if you wish to educate yourself on what the non-profit set up for the city, Sustainable Kingston, IS doing.