Toronto Star Article – first urban carbon neutral neighbourhood

The Junction’s launch is the June18th at Annette Public Library, 145 Annette St., at 10 a.m.

Riverdale, Junction vie to become world’s first urban carbon neutral neighbourhood

If this was a reality show—The Biggest Carbon Loser, say — The Junction and Riverdale would be scheming against each other to claim neighbourhood supremacy.

Instead, they are trying, separately but ultimately together, to become the first carbon neutral urban communities on earth — green beacons in the struggle to prevent a global warming catastrophe.

It’s heady stuff — but first both communities must organize free trade coffee and other details for their Project Neutral launches next Saturday.

“We could get 40 people or we could get 200 and neither would surprise me,” says Sean Drygas, a leader of the east-end effort involving homes and businesses bounded by The Danforth and Pape, Logan and Langley Aves.

Rita Bijons has high hopes for the west, bounded by Annette St., Clendenan Ave., Runnymede Rd. and the CPR tracks, because her arrival on doorsteps with launch invitations already has residents thinking.

“Some are saying ‘My kids are terrible, they never turn off lights.’”

Project Neutral is the brainchild of Karen Nasmith, an urban planner who wants to broaden thegreenhouse gas focus from new green communities to drafty old houses and the lifestyles of those in them.

Research done by Nasmith and Project Neutral co-founder Julie Dzerowicz turned up rural communities — including Ashton Hayes, England, and Eden Mills, Ont. — trying to reduce their measurable carbon dioxide output to the level they absorb or offset. But there are no urban neighbourhoods, not anywhere.

“The irony is that most of us live in the mature neighbourhoods where the built environment represents at least 25 per cent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Nasmith says. “So there’s huge potential.”

Project Neutral was launched with $10,400 from Toronto’s Live Green program. Fifteen neighbourhoods formally applied and the two were chosen.

After the launch, teams of 10 to 15 will survey homes and businesses to develop a baseline of emissions, develop a carbon footprint and identify reduction opportunities. In the fall they’ll have summits with experts offering strategies and solutions.

Then comes the next phase — an emissions reduction plan, with private and public sector partners, and implementation and the tracking of results.

The Riverdale team is comprised of a few groups that Nasmith suggested band together. Drygas, an executive with Maple Leaf Foods, says he’s eager to learn.

“We’re only talking about getting so that our emissions are stable, not reducing them. We have to do even better than neutral as a global civilization,” he says. “Anything the community sets its mind to is possible. I have enough faith in humanity that, when push comes to shove, civilization will step up.”

He envisions solar panels on slopes along the Don Valley Parkway, group shares in a wind turbine and maybe collective use of an electric or hybrid car from one of the auto share services.

The Junction group has an organizational head start because it is rooted in Green 13, a grassroots environmental group in Ward 13.

“Many of us have in our own homes made behaviour changes, or retrofitted, so a chance to come together as a community is a very hopeful thing, a very exciting thing,” says Bijons, a retired kindergarten teacher.

“I’m grabbed at my heart by climate change. I feel a fierce need to advocate for all those young lives I was privileged to be in touch with all those years.”

On a café patio, she and volunteer Japjeev (Jap) Bhasin rhyme off ideas ranging from caulking windows to homeowner loans that can be repaid with savings from reduced energy bills. Galvanizing neighbourhoods of roughly 1,000 households is expected to make going green more affordable through bulk purchasing.

The 350 citizens of Eden Mills near Guelph managed to shrink their overall carbon footprint by more than 13 per cent in three years, says resident Charles Simon. Half is from planting 30,000 trees, which absorb carbon dioxide, and half from conservation and green energy sources.

Mass tree-planting will be tough in Toronto, he says, but Eden Mills has no public transportation, while city living offers many alternatives to fume-spewing cars.

Simon is telling the Toronto teams to keep control in the hands of volunteers and, most importantly, keep it fun.

“It’s how you keep the enthusiasm up. We have meals together, and concerts, and they become fundraisers. And no finger pointing or preaching. That doesn’t help anybody.”

The Riverdale effort launches June 18 at Frankland Community Centre, 816 Logan Ave., at noon. The Junction’s launch is the same day at Annette Public Library, 145 Annette St., at 10 a.m.

The Star will periodically track the progress of both neighbourhoods


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