On Thursday, November 23, 2017, at the Glen Eagle Golf Club, a group of “Thought Leaders” were called together by the TRCA, the Town of Caledon, and the Region of Peel for a day of inspired community planning.
The Project is called the Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plan, or SNAP. Our thoughts this day were focused on our own community in West Bolton.
SNAP has a very simple goal: to focus on working with the community to achieve measurable environmental and neighbourhood improvement. This project is one of six SNAPs happening across the GTA examining municipal priorities, neighbourhood-specific issues and a variety of watershed and regional objectives across a range of theme areas that include:
- Long-standing drainage and erosion issues in Jaffary’s Creek and the surrounding catchment.
Historical note: this creek used to run past a slaughterhouse, carrying the effluent downstream – the smell used to be so bad that homeowners would have to close their windows and doors!
- Improved water balance and Low Impact Development (LID).
- Watershed regeneration (or, How to Mitigate Flooding 101).
- Regional urban forest and public health priorities.
- Energy consumption hot spots.
- Increased active transportation (walk, bike, board, zipline).
The day opened with a captivating musical Red Heart beat accompanying inspiring visuals of the human community enjoined sustainably with the natural environment. From there, ASCENTIA facilitators Hilary van Welter, sister Lesley Southwick-Trask, and Mitch Harrow took us on a journey through our past, present and preferred futures of Caledon and specifically the West Bolton area.
The “Past” room was set up with an informative timeline, data charts and photographs that took us from our paleo past in 7000 BCE (Before Common Era) to the present.
The “Future” room had us stretch our thinking to create a wish list of projects – economic development, healthy living, re-creational playspace, and resource efficiency – that would help us develop a healthy, sustainable, environmentally responsible community into the twenty-first century.
Of course, sandwiched in between was the “Present”, and rather than enter into the usual suspects discussion, Hilary took us on a right brain storytelling curve, left brain organized by the traditional plot development sequence for a good short story. We divided into groups of five and were given character cards that outlined each of the “characters” that we were to bring into our story, including one character designed to twist the plot.
I had no idea how this related to the present day West Bolton, but I trusted Hilary’s ability to choreograph a creative design approach. It was not until after lunch that we saw how it all came together – the stories turned out to be a metaphor for the current state of our West Bolton community. I was so taken with the brilliance of the approach that I expanded my group’s story and it is now on my blog at skidcrease.com, endorsed by Hilary, titled The Gardens of a Beautiful Mind. It will be moved under “Stories” to make way for this report.
The Glen Eagle provided a nourishing lunch to the participants and demonstrated their environmental responsibility by keeping the thermostat turned down to what felt like 15ºC – the chilly rooms brought everyone closer together after lunch. That was when we found out the metaphorical nature of the characters in our stories.
For example, poor down and out Raju in my story, a character who had given up hope and was about to turn in the towel, turned out to be … no, you’ll have to read the story to get it. But what a mind-shifting exercise to get the participants looking at their community in a totally new way! Suddenly, giving the real “Raju” hope and a new lease on life took on the human dimensions of community care.
In conclusion, the group discussed the need to ensure that the community of West Bolton all knew that they were part of this opportunity, and to use their expertise in establishing a baseline of existing community benefits and needs. We were reminded of the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid. Like when all that the children really wanted in their playground was a swinging rope with a tire on a tree, but what the “experts” designed was a cantilevered mechanical monstrosity on which no children ever played.
These thought leaders were humble enough to know that their ideas were part of a process, evolving through 7000 years of history to the Bolton of the future. Rejuvenated parks for play and just plain relaxing in nature, safe walking/cycling paths, networking of home businesses and the “love economy” provided by volunteers, retrofitting for energy and budget efficiency, education for wiser resource use, and working with the topography of the land to connect neighbourhoods – these ideas and more were left with our facilitators and the SNAP team. Stay tuned, West Bolton, it’s only going to get better!