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Preparing for climate change: how to make a resilient city

Nature is resilient, evolving and changing over time to survive surroundings. It is time for people to take a lesson from nature’s finest and learn how to be resilient.

Climate change is imminent and preparation is the key to saving cities that are otherwise under threat from rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and water shortages. AECOM, a company that designs, builds, finances and operates infrastructures assets for governments, businesses, and organizations in over 150 countries, is helping countries create a strategy to prepare for the future and survive the inevitable effects of climate change.

In a recent report report called “What’s Next in Making Cities Resilient?”, AECOM outlines a set of criteria that could change the way infrastructure is built in large urban centres, focusing on sustainable planning choices. By starting at the end, planners can predict the outcomes of potential natural disasters that could occur in the future and make decisions through strategy instead of just designing only for immediate city needs. The company also emphasizes the importance of maintaining and updating transit infrastructure to make sure that people and business can move around the city quickly. This also reduces the environmental impact of other types of transportation. Finally, city planning must begin using sustainable and resilient planning tools right now instead of in the future. Climate change has been determined to be true, and every city must be responsible and made aware of that fact.

Climate change will impact vulnerable areas around the world, and the coast is at the top of the list. Coastal areas are popular for human habitation, with 40 per cent of the population living in these regions. This creates key challenges for urban planners because of rising sea levels and the risk of flood. AECOM is working with these cities to provide insights on how to prepare for flooding and adapt infrastructure goals to this natural threat.In Australia, 85 per cent of the population lives along the island’s coastline. AECOM released reports that presented the future impacts and hazards of climate change to the federal government. In response, Australia has adopted a new set of standards called “Considering Climate Risks when Managing, Owning and Funding Coastal Assets”, which forces developers to properly assess how to build infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of flooding and extreme coastal weather.

To respond to a variety of planning challenges across the world, AECOM has come up with a Sustainable Systems Integration (SSIM) tool that measures the costs and benefits of any plan by making urban planning more environmentally focused. SSIM measures environmental, social and economic sustainability by analyzing energy and water usage, transportation options, green building, ecology and carbon footprints. For example, the city of Tianjin in China used the SSIM land-planning tool to decide on the most environmentally effective way to build the most sustainable city possible for Samsung, just south of Tianjin. The smart city includes electric car charging outlets and is built entirely on an LED light grid to save energy.

An approved criteria of SSIM includes using natural systems as a way to protect cities. Natural systems include flood plains, bioremediation tools, and using plants that absorb pollution. By creating green space near open water for example, this green infrastructure filters pollutants and helps prevent flooding by creating a natural floodplain between the city and the open water.  A city that is using natural systems is Jeddah, acity in Saudi Arabia, which has implemented green infrastructure in the form of green space at the waterfront to prevent from extreme flooding. This is an issue that plagues the city as climate change progresses.

AECOM is leading the way with resilient infrastructure around the world. Every city should begin to look at their urban planning agenda with the future of climate change in mind. Extreme weather conditions, whether it be fire or water, which will become more common and if we don’t prepare, our cities will be ruined. In the age of internet and mass communication, we have one final shot at saving ourselves from a planet that has been devastated by human consumption. What will you do to save our home, the great planet earth.

Extreme cold shuts down too many streetcars

By Sarah Thomson

With 28 street cars pulled out of service Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning due to extreme cold a question many should be asking, is what will happen as global warming causes more extreme weather conditions for Toronto? Ice storms and snow storms also play havoc with above ground transit. The T.T.C. has announced they’ll have busses runnng to fill in where they can -502 Dowtown, 503 Kingston Road & 511 Bathurst – check transit app to get updated times.

Major cities around the world invest in underground transit. With the extreme weather predicted for Toronto’s long-term future, it makes the larger investment today all the more reasonable. Toronto must begin to look at transit planning through a bigger lens than merely cost. The last time Toronto’s subway shut down fully was during the July 2013 flood when all major highways and transit in the city was shut down for a few hours at the height of the flood.

The subway system has proven over the years to be the most reliable system through the winter months, but we have to invest in it. It is an aging system in need of significant upgrades and investment, and remarkably small system given the growth of Toronto ove the past two decades.

The downtown relief line running under Queen Street and joining up with Eglinton Street at either end is still the most important subway line that Toronto needs to build. Unfortunately political maneuvering continues to stall it’s progress. With so few politicians willing to stand up for the dedicated transit that is needed to fund such a project.

While Mayor Tory announced his Smart Track as an alternative for the downtown relief line, the truth is that it too will suffer from the increasing extreme weather conditions (primarily winter conditions) that Toronto is expecting over the next few decades. And while his Tax Increment Financing (TIF) may have seemed the perfect solution to transit funding during the election, it was merely a strategy for borrowing and it does not actually raise funding, but merely works as security for a loan. And unfortunately it will leave future generations forced to pay it back.

Personally I believe Mayor Tory knows that Tax Increment Financing is nothing more than a strategic campaign platform, it is not a funding tool but a financing strategy that has worked on small projects across North America.  He still has a lot more work to do when it comes to supporting the basket of revenue tools – increase in development fees, parking levies, sales taxes or tolls – that he has advocated for over the years.

But for some reason, with Tory at the helm, I can imagine a time when Toronto decides to invest in itself, when revenue tools have been put in place to generate funds that we can invest into our transit system. Add in a Federal transit funding strategy to the provincial and municipal funds and then our City will have a real choice – invest in below ground subway or cheaper above ground rail that continually shuts down during extreme weather conditions?  If the funding is there Toronto will build subways because they are a better long-term investment.

It’s time for Mayor Tory to get started on securing the dedicated transit funding tools that he’s advocated for over the past few years.  He’ll need all the help he can get, and each one of us can play a part in convincing our neighbours to support dedicated transit funding.

A courageous man once said “If anyone tells you that Toronto does not need revenue tools for transit, they aren’t being honest.”  It’s time again for that man to show courage.