"I think the new generation is much more demanding about respect for the environment than we have ever imagined."
— Carlos Ghosn
For a council chamber that over the years has been pretty diligent in making sure every decision they made looked from a fiscal return outwards, it was a pleasant change of pace this past week to see a commitment made to furthering an environmental initiative within the city.
Local environmentalist, educator and former Green candidate David Barnes presented a concept to councilors for a protected space committed to ecological substantiality in our city.
The often colourful Barnes is proposing the home of the preserve along the river off the 200 block of 17th Street East, bordering Barnes’ own land known as Treesblood Farms.
It could be said that around the council tables of the past decisions were weighed by initially measuring their economic impact and a hard dollars and cents return for the ratepayer before their community benefit.
In a time when economics play such a large role in many day-to-day operations, it is often right for councillors to think this way and to measure decisions like many would measure decisions in a business or family finance setting. This is prudent and this is generally responsible governance. As well it seems in the community there is never a shortage of naysayers for most any decision that our elected officials make.
It is often a no win scenario, it seems to be the nature of the beast for politics and politicians in Brandon. That is why the decision to enter into further discussions with Mr. Barnes on the green space project for the Wheat City bucks the trend and it is refreshing to see unanimous support to explore this option further.
Projects like this have worked in other communities and show a certain level of sophistication. They often work well too when blended with scattered bits of eco-friendly commercial appeal.
Residents need look no further than Assiniboine Forest at Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg, the large stretch of land that is Rouge Park in Toronto or the popular Ravine Ecological Preserve in Yorkton, Sask.
All three are shining examples of commitment to ecological preservation in a fairly urban centre. Each becomes an attraction in its own right, tourism by way of preservation you might say.
This is where the Barnes’ project, dubbed Treesblood Forest Permaculture Preserve comes in. The idea has some significant benefit for the city to look into further as an investment in our future.
When looking at the Toronto project alone, a 2012 study by Natural Capital Research and Consulting found that the impact of the Rouge Park area provides a $115-million ecological stimulus to the GTA. Further to that, the social implications of a commitment of this nature some would argue is even greater.
Too often we get wrapped up in measuring ideas merely against return on investment and not looking deeper at the community impact an idea could have, regardless of its perceived financials. Community building and growth as a result of that takes on a larger picture approach.
It is about investing both in the holistic appeal of an urban centre while blending it with stretches of natural habitats. The mere fact the city has stated they would form a working group with Barnes on the idea is a progressive and forward-thinking strategy and shows at least an initial commitment to making this a go.
With that being said I know the fear will be, what is this going to cost? And how much will my taxes go up as a result?
Both are fair questions and any idea put forward still needs to be achieved with finances in mind.
But I feel something like preservation efforts can be fiscally responsible while beneficial at the same time. The mindset that needs to prevail is the building of community.
Ideas like a preserved habitat need not have a direct return on investment that can be seen on the bottom line of a budget document, but as is the case in the above-mentioned attractions, the possibility often exists for a region to benefit financially.
In reality, some in the city may not align with decisions of this nature, but as one councillor noted, they are pleased to see a city resident passionate about improving their community and at the end of the day that should be the hope for us all.
Brandon is more than a collection of stats or rankings. These are reflections on where we as a community can improve but they should never define us.
This community should exist as engaged, passionate citizens working towards achieving common goals with an eye on the bigger picture.
If and when we do that, we will see through projects like the ecological preserve that the best things are yet to come for this city.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation. His column appears regularly.