With North Dundas facing unprecedented development, it seems like a good idea to tackle the subject of sustainable development. What exactly are we talking about when we commit to sustainable development? In short, sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. That rather vague definition came from the 1987 Bruntdland Commission Report at the United Nations General Assembly. Sustainable development recognizes the interdependence of environmental, social, and economic systems, and promotes equality and justice through people empowerment and a sense of global citizenship.
There are a few ways small towns are trying to make sure their development is sustainable. Some towns have accessed funds from various levels of government due to natural disasters, such as a tornado. Others are trying to make sure that sustainability is built into their future development. The idea is that development today cannot come at the expense of either future generations, or marginalised people in society. Sustainable development is founded on the belief that groups cannot be left behind. Many countries, cities, or international groups have developed policies or plans that outline a legal and practical framework for how to go forward while keeping sustainability at the forefront of the agenda.
The environment needs to be protected. Recently, the provincial government has overridden concerns for the environment saying that economic recovery post pandemic is more important than protected wetlands, or the power that conservation authorities have to protect watersheds. This approach holds the economy in higher regard than the environment, threatening health and well-being of current residents and future generations.
It is easy to overlook the need for protection of the environment in a small town, for aren’t they surrounded by green? Yet, huge areas of monoculture, with no attention to native plants and animals, is not environmentally sound. The municipality has the power to stop deforestation, and enforce progressive practices, such as maintaining hedgerows, and edge planting. Small towns and rural municipalities are in a perfect position to make massive contributions to carbon sequestering. A township’s carbon footprint could be cut drastically.
A municipality has the power to implement green initiatives into future development, such as LED lighting, green buildings, green infrastructure to help manage water, and a commitment to green, renewable energy. The LEED Certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a rating that certifies that a building is green. There is a series of guidelines. It’s an independent, third party verification. Many people choose to live a more environmentally conscientious life. Shaping policy for a municipality that addresses water conservation, energy consumption, tree planting programs and partnerships with conservation authorities are all possibilities, and make good sense. Marketing a town as green has proven to be very effective in some small towns.
As the urban centres continue their sprawl, it seems like a good time for small towns to make conscious decisions about what they want their future to look like. Some small towns, many of whom have seen their main industrial employer leave, have decided to focus on maintaining a Main Street. The goal is to focus on the pedestrian experience, making sure that sidewalks are accessible and maintained, ensuring that nature is featured, and making a place for small, unique businesses. There is a lot that can be done to guide the right kind of development.