Always eager to learn more about community engagement, A\J attended the Sustainable Neighbourhoods Summit presented by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) at Evergreen Brick Works. The summit began by featuring neighbourhood initiatives within the Golden Horseshoe that are tackling community-scale sustainability issues.

Sonya Meek of the Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plan (SNAP) discussed how they are working at helping established communities develop science-based action plans to become more sustainable. Meek is the project manager for the Black Creek SNAP, which is aiming to locally produce 25 per cent of the community’s vegetable supply through eco-edible landscaping. She recommends a multi-objective approach, which allows access to wider grant potential by way of having broader goals.

Similar to SNAP, Glynis Logue of Green Impact Guelph (GIG) is focusing on quantifying green impacts and removing barriers to participating in water and energy conservation initiatives. They’ve distributed over 16,000 conservation kits and retrofitted over a thousand apartment units. But Logue maintains that “small incentives are not yet motivators. It’s the attitudes of friends and family” that encourage people to make positive environmental changes.

Karen Nasmith of Project Neutral echoed that while there is a great deal of potential, retrofitting established communities is a challenge. This is because new communities can incorporate sustainability principles and new technologies from the bottom up, while traditional housing developments didn’t account for environmental sustainability and it can take a lot of work to bring them up to snuff. When it comes to incorporating sustainability measures in established communities, “It’s more about enabling change in the neighbourhood and bringing it to the community-scale,” she explained. Fittingly, Project Neutral’s goal is to enable the transition of neighbourhoods to carbon neutrality.

During the question period, the speakers shared some of their organization’s challenges and lessons learned. Logue mentioned that measuring progress is very important as it helps sustain engagement. Meek advocated collaborating through strategic alliances, but explained that it’s imperative to respect brand identity. Overall, sustaining momentum was identified as the top challenge, in terms of keeping up both a volunteer-base and funding.

Appropriately, the theme of the following panel was sustainable funding models and community engagement. Asier Ania of HiveWire, Mary Pickering of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and Sameer Vasta of MaRS Discovery District discussed innovations that can help advance community-scale projects.

Of particular interest to the panellists and participants were crowdfunding and Local Improvement Charges as mechanisms for incentivizing and financing projects. The value of community-scale data was also iterated. “When you have better data, you can make better decisions,” said Vasta.

The summit was capped with a tour of Evergreen, a previously abandoned brick factory that is now a showcase of environmental design and urban innovation. The facility is a great example of “creating infrastructure for emotional attachment,” as advocated by Nasmith earlier that morning. This attachment is perpetuated by the people working on community projects and is vital for the health and sustainability of our future neighbourhoods. A\J extends many thanks to all community champions who are paving the way towards better communities.

Join our Twitter SNSummit list to connect with the summit attendees or search the official hashtag #SNSummit.

Julie is an urban planning graduate student at the University of Waterloo, focusing on sustainable transportation.

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