I should have paid more attention during Social Studies class in grade eleven. I had opted for a special version of the curriculum called Socials 11C: The City is People. Our teacher, Mr. Bertie had a passion for urban studies and had shaped the geography portion of the course around themes such as urban planning, mapping, land use, and social and community needs. Sadly, much of his enthusiasm was wasted on me, as I was then an unfocused student in all ways; it was not my finest hour academically; my ideas of civilization and culture were formed more by benign daytime television than any real appreciation of the natural or built environment.
I grew up in genteel Oak Bay in beautiful Victoria BC. Ideas such as green space, transit, and housing affordability meant nothing to me, that is until I moved to London England three years later. There I discovered the value of green space in Hyde Park through which I walked to college each morning. I loved the democratic efficiency of the Tube (Members of Parliament shared hot and dusty Central Line cars with folks of all sorts and conditions). The fact I could not drive was not an issue; everyone moved about by public transit. I discovered a host of other challenges facing London and other metropolitan cities – multiculturalism and immigration, access to fresh food and water, cultural opportunities, care for the vulnerable and the elderly; all these came into tack sharp focus.
All these memories flooded back to me as I joined a group of twenty or so folks on a stroll through Downtown Kamloops a few days ago. This inaugural walk showcased a number of sites, each with a sustainable story to tell. I say sustainable, as these stories illuminate much more than local history alone; they don’t just explain what’s there: a water fountain; a special entryway; a store featuring handmade items made with love by local artisans for example. They help us tourists in our own town understand how these community assets connect with one another, and how they serve a shared sustainable purpose.
Through these narrated visits, we learned how these community features came into being; we heard what makes them literally extra-ordinary. The tour gave me confidence that over time, with social will and political determination, Kamloops can improve its sustainability quotient – that balance between what a community takes from the earth, and how what is taken is returned. The tour helped me believe that all of us can respect the planet and create a new relationship with the earth and with each other.
Think about water for example. Kamloops once had dirty, smelly, and sediment-laden water. Now through political will and technological accomplishment, our water is glorious to drink and to play in. This change did not happen overnight or by accident. Over many years, decisions were made resulting in the construction of a modern water treatment plant. Think what might happen in the next five to ten years, as Kamloops implements its Community Climate Action Plan. Think for instance how transit might evolve, where lower fares and safer cycling opportunities might entice hundreds if not thousands of people to travel differently, in comfort, in safety, and with pleasure.
The Sustainable Stories project is an important first step in awareness and inspiration, where residents and visitors can discover walkable tours that connect the past, present, and future of our city, exploring the way we live on and share this land together. The number of stories will continue to grow; some are complete; others are being developed. From notes on the Transition Kamloops website we learn:
Locals and visitors alike are being invited to experience our city in a new way via a series of walkable, self-guided audio tours with a sustainability theme. Sustainability Stories was created by the Community Alliance for a Resilient Kamloops, a loose partnership of local groups and individuals. Signage at various locations features a QR code, scannable with a smartphone, which links users to the website. Listeners can click on the audio and enjoy a 5-minute story as they continue walking.
The working group and story creators have drawn on their own experiences of sustainability: events that transpired during their life in Kamloops, businesses or agencies they have interacted with, or natural places they have sought out for rejuvenation.
“We wanted to focus on potential and current solutions, however experimental and tentative, and to connect people to the landscape,” says Kim Naqvi, one of the program’s creators. “Whatever change occurs will also be carried out by everyday people in their everyday lives, thinking about how they work, play, and shop. New experiments and new ideas will shape the city of the future. They need to come from us and from our discussions and practice.”
“The stories complement the City’s Community Climate Action Plan, which was adopted a year ago,” says Deb Alore, another creator. “Sustainability is integrated into every facet of our community. By raising awareness of how we interact with each other and with the land around us, we’ll hopefully sow some seeds and get more of us talking about how we want Kamloops to develop in a healthy way in the future.”
I offer special appreciation to Deb Alore, Gisela Ruckert and Kim Naqvi who with a number of city staff, assembled this unique opportunity to participate in our city’s sustainable evolution/revolution. I must say that I found Dr. Naqvi’s oral presentation informed, relevant and delightfully presented. I liken Kim to the late Jane Jacobs who first drew our attention to the problems and possibilities of urban design in so many cities, including Toronto over many decades. There was a particular irony as she spoke on the lawn of City Hall, as a particularly noisy and long train passed across the street. An aural competition ensued. Such is Kamloops, described by some as “brown, with trains.” Industry, commerce and residential neighbourhoods co-exist here. That is one of many particular challenges facing Kamloops.
May this work (powered exclusively by volunteers) continue to grow and flourish. For me, it is an innovative and attractive way to learn about this place we call home.
To hear a great interview about this project, click on the July 12 podcast link with Radio NL’s Paul James and our Dr. Kim Naqvi!