Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Now Is the Time

I am in Victoria at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainability Conference, which, for the first time, is held outside of Ottawa. Our Mayor, two councillors and our Manager of Operations are also here, and so hundreds of delegates from around Canada. We are here to learn from each other experiences and to know more about programs available to address the quality of life in our communities. The day was intense but very insightful. The next few days also look to be as dense and productive.

As I was chatting with some of the delegates, I was told that Lake Country, in its small way, is a leader in addressing sustainability issues and very open to foster innovation the 'green' way. I replied that we are far away from where we should be but that we are taking small steps to get there. With that in mind, I approached the various sessions with a desire to see what others are doing better and why.

Now, Canada prides itself to be a leader in sustainability and green policies. At least that is what we believe. So, it was with a humble heart that the delegates learned from a Colombian speaker that it is not the case. Gil Peñalosa is the Executive Director of the Canada-based non-profit 8 – 80 Cities (formerly Walk & Bike for Life) as well as a successful international speaker and consultant. He was born and raised in Bogota', Colombia where he was appointed Commissioner of Parks, Sport & Recreation for that city of 7 million people. As such, he and his team were instrumental in designing and building over 200 parks, of which the best known is the Simón Bolívar (360 hectares). They were also successful in opening 91 kilometres of car-free city roads on Sundays, the Ciclovia (Bikeway), where over 1.3 m. people come out weekly to walk, run, skate and bike. They also created the Summer Festival, with over 100 events in 10 days and more than 3 million people attending and since the first year has become the main recreational event in the country.

His presentation was full of energy and mesmerizing at the same time. Denmark has been a leader in sustainability since the oil crisis of the 70's. I still remember the 'Austerity' time as a kid in Italy, when certain half of the cars could circulate in odd days and the other half in even days, and when cars were not allowed to circulate during weekends at all. Denmark's record is astonishing as 40% of the population runs a bike to go everywhere, and where many others choose to walk or to run the public transit.

Gil mentioned many examples and gave us a hint of so many ideas we can use in our communities. But Gil was very frank: you have to be a real leader to get things done. Enough of thinking and talking. It's time for doing and the time is now!

Following is the link to Gil's presentation.



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