Saturday, August 8, 2009

Green Cities Prepare for Copenhagen: ICLEI in Edmonton

Big change starts small. That’s the idea, at least, behind the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), an organization made up of representatives from over one thousand municipalities around the world. Six hundred of them arrived in Edmonton recently for a multi-day conference on topics ranging from wastewater treatment to public engagement. Their mandate stems from a United Nations program called Agenda 21, adopted in Brazil at the 1992 Earth Summit and designed to allow participation by non-state actors in policies affecting the global environment.

In Edmonton, the purpose was clear: radical and rapid change is needed, they said, and local governments must push for it at December’s UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Yet creating and presenting a unified voice for local governments is not really what ICLEI does. Their mission is twofold: it acts as an association to share best practices, research, and support networks among sustainably-minded cities, and it organizes local programs and policies which feed into global climate goals.

So what can be achieved at a local level that will affect the big picture? For ICLEI president David Cadman, also the Deputy Mayor of Vancouver, the answer is varied. He points to Ontario’s recently adopted feed-in tariff which he claims will “stimulate you as the individual to put in solar panels, or a wind generator if you have a farm somewhere.” And the top-down incentives and responsibilities don’t stop there.

“We need to steward our fossil fuels - our oil, our gas, our coal - for a much longer time, because much of those resources are going to be key to this transformation,” he says, “The absolute key, though, is moving toward energy efficiency.”

ICLEI has a vociferous advocate for local governments in Mr. Cadman. Major emissions come from cities, he reasons, and cities are growing rapidly. This is where the big changes will occur; must occur.

Cadman will be roaming the hallways at the Copenhagen conference, just as he has done at the previous climate change summits in Bali and Poland. Their presence represents millions of citizens worldwide, he says, naming the organizations with which ICLEI is working, including United Cities and Local Governments, Canadian Federation of Municipalities, C-40 (an association of the world’s largest cities chaired by Mayor David Miller of Toronto), and the World Mayors Council. The top-down policies Cadman advocates on a local level will be the same he proposes from the ground up in Copenhagen, where ICLEI will mingle with global heads of state and federal ministers.

“ICELI has been following the negotiations on a post-Kyoto agreement,” Cadman says, “What we’re trying to do is have local governments working closely with national governments. We’re all on the same page. We know what we want - a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050”

The conference began at 9:00 am each day with keynote speakers (including Toronto’s Adam Fenech of Environment Canada, Mathis Wackernagel of California’s Global Footprint Network, and Alex Wong of the Davos World Economic Forum global industries sector) and wrapped up around 7:00 pm in break-away sessions for mayors, CEOs, and city staffers. There were multiple social functions as well, including a reception at city hall hosted by Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, and a dinner and dance at Fort Edmonton. A concurrent conference for academic researchers took place, also in the Shaw Convention Centre, and attracted well-known authors Dr. Mark Roseland of Vancouver, Dr. Peter Newman of Perth, Australia, and Dr. Yvonne Rydin of London, England, among others.
Published in National Post, August 8 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Calgary Folk Music Festival

The quiet, urban, tree-lined oasis known as Prince’s Island Park was transformed last weekend for the 30th Calgary Folk Music Festival. As dozens of happy sun-soakers floated by in rafts on the Bow River, thousands of people lined up for hours in the early morning heat to secure a spot for their tarp or camping chair on the island’s largest field. Space secured, the tarps and blankets before the main stage were abandoned in a cheerful mosaic while their owners wandered around the island. Main stage shows began at 6:00 pm every night of the four-day festival, and there was a lot to see otherwise.

There was a large grassy area with picnic tables and picnickers. There was a row of small white kiosks manned by everyone from the Green Party to the Grey Cup, and another filled with vendors selling bamboo didgeridoos, handmade clay teapots, leather purses, clothing, and more. And as one strolled through the island, there was music.

Stage one - sponsored by Ship and Anchor Pub - was close to the arts market and one of the free water dispensers, behind which a row of food trucks were positioned. Meals - from pizza to oyster burgers to butter chicken - were served on heavy plastic plates from Enmax, which could be redeemed at various places around the island for two dollars. The forks and cups were biodegradable, and there was composting. Stage two, slightly further down the path, hosted 60 year old legendary Celtic folk signer Dick Gaughan among others.

On all six stages during the weekend afternoons, artists were thrown together for an hour of improv and jamming. Stage 3 - the Field Law stage - featured Ontarians Steven Page (former front man for the Barenaked Ladies), Sarah Harmer, Justin Rutledge and the Good Lovelies together in a set called “The Young and the Restless”, while Stage 6 - the Broken City stage - featured an edgier, electro-acoustic group including Calgary’s own Chad VanGaalen, Montreal’s Kid Koala, Toronto’s Esthero and American Emily Wells. The group met for the first time five minutes prior to stepping on stage. The result was a haunting and unpredictable set that kept a sweltering audience in their grassy seats.

Musical highlights came from both the main stage - Arrested Development and The Decemberists provided consecutive knock-out, jaw-dropping, and thoroughly original sets which brought a lounging crowd quickly to its feet; they were opened by another excellent performance from British rockers Gomez - and the more obscure.

Stage 4 - the Local 510 stage - gave its audience plenty of grass to sit on, even a little hill beside the stage, and a good view of the impressive collection of bicycles housed in a gated depot. Here, too, were some surprising and entertaining performances. The Tom Fun Orchestra Cape Breton, Nova Scotia riled the crowd with their aggressive punk folk songs, underscored with traditional fiddle, brassy trumpet, and teasing accordion, enveloped in lead signer Ian McDougall’s whiskey-Waits-and-Springsteen voice and wildly beautiful back-up vocals from Carmen Townsend.

Published in National Post, August 1 2009

Banff Midsummer Ball

The Banff Centre, a home for working and developing artists in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, hosted its 30th annual signature fundraising event last weekend: the Midsummer Ball Weekend.

It began Friday morning with a friendly golf tournament and reception at the Fairmont Banff Springs. That evening, after checking into the lodge-style residences at the centre, guests were treated to an array of fine food - sushi, bison, seared tuna included - and a wine and scotch bar, before an intimate musical performance. Juno-award winning jazz pianist Hilario Duran played a three song set with bassist Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Mark Kelso, head of percussion at Toronto’s Humber College.

Between songs Occhipinti, who is an alumna of The Banff Centre, remarked on the pleasures of playing in Alberta saying, “The Banff Centre is the crown jewel of Canada … and I would hazard that in this resource-based economy, we can all appreciate that art is the ultimate renewable resource.”

The performance was followed by several pieces from the musical Loulou, a work in progress by Kelly Robinson, theatre arts director at The Banff Centre and director of creative development for Mirvish Productions. Broadway stars Hugh Panaro and Carly Street were joined by the centre’s opera students.

Following the program, The Banff Centre’s board chair Jeff Kovitz asked Alberta Minister of Culture and Community Sprit Lindsay Blackett to do a reverse ribbon-cutting, which would signify the closing of Donald Cameron Hall. The building will soon be replaced by The Kinnear Centre, a structure designed by Diamond & Schmidtt Architects and set to open next summer.

“If there’s a camera and a microphone, I’ll do it,” the Minister quipped before hopping onstage.

Saturday morning brought a fresh-faced and excited crowd to three keynote sessions. In the first, prima ballerina-turned-filmmaker Veronica Tennant, O.C. showed excerpts from her film Shadow Pleasures, a work done in partnership with Michael Ondaatje and filmed in Toronto’s Distillery District. Tennant manages to capture both the intense energy of her subjects - dancers - and the intimacy of the words to which they are performing, poems and paragraphs by Ondaatje. It is a rare and beautiful sight, leaving the viewer’s heart thudding in time to the score. The second session featured well-known pianist and organizational coach Michael Jones, who spoke eloquently about personal leadership and played songs for reflection. Author and Banff Centre alumna Maria Coffey capped off the morning with stories of travel and transcendence. A prolific author and recent guest of the Oprah Winfrey show, she and her husband Dag now lead small paddling trips to Croatia, Antarctica, Vietnam and other places.

After lunch, the group split into the three separate tours; some sneaking behind-the-scenes looks at film engineers, ballet dancers, and opera singers at work, others touring the new building, and still others toured visual artists’ studios with Berlin-based critic Jan Verwoert.

The evening’s gala attracted around three hundred guests, clad in black tie and ball gowns. Guests included former Premier Peter Lougheed, Alberta's Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Relations Maria David-Evans, Former MLA and current chair of the Western Financial Group Jim Dinning, Pat and Sherrold Moore, Margot and David Kitchen, Ian and Judy Griffin, Murray and Heather Edwards, Glen Sather, president of the New York Rangers, Matt Fox, president of ConocoPhillips Canada, John Lau, president of Husky Energy, and Mary Hofstetter, president of The Banff Centre. The master of ceremonies was Angela Knight of CBC Radio. A four course meal was served, including candied salmon salad, duck confit on brioche, veal tenderloin, and blueberry panna cotta. A performance by the Eric Friedenberg Orchestra had guests dancing late into the evening.

Published in National Post, July 25 2009