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Doors of Perception: November 2009 - In Halifax with Antigonishts

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  • Eric Britton
    Doors of Perception Report November 2009 In Halifax with Antigonishts **** **** **** **** ****THIS MONTH S HIGHLIGHTS Four Days in Halifax - - The Antigonish
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 4 4:09 AM
      Doors of Perception Report
      November 2009
      In Halifax with Antigonishts

      **** **** **** **** ****THIS MONTH'S HIGHLIGHTS Four Days in Halifax - - The
      Antigonish Movement - - Citizen Assemblies - - Doomer Trades - - Ecological
      Stewardship - - Spacing - - Lifeboat Workshops - - The Hub - - The Hots - -
      Urban Forests - - Power Without Energy -- Smart Grids as Social Grids - - The
      New Economics - - Design and the Green Economy - - Melons We Can Believe In
      **** **** **** **** ****

      I went to Nova Scotia for "Four Days Halifax" - a time-compressed mini-festival
      whose aim was to help the city get its hands muddy in a green economy. One
      quickly felt the influence of Moses Coady, a key figure in the cooperative
      movement in Atlantic Canada and founder of the Antigonish Movement during the
      30s and 40s. Coady, who helped small, resource-based communities, was a pioneer
      of what today is called asset-based community development. It's an approach
      which advocates the use of skills and resources that are already present within
      the community, rather than relying on help from outside. Until the global
      crisis, this philosophy was thought to be most relevant in developing countries
      - but we are all emerging economies now. Many of Coady's innovations in adult
      education, co-operatives, and microfinance could surely be dusted off and
      re-purposed for Halifax today.

      Our starting point in Four Days was that many elements of a resilient Halifax
      already exist in embryonic form - but not all of them are visible in their own
      backyard. The most important preparation work was to identify these local
      assets. Peter Wuensch and Rachel Derrah from Breakhouse, a Halifax a design
      firm that's headed strongly into social innovation, and Joanne Mackenzie and
      Sera Thompson from The Hub Halifax, duly rounded up some inspiring people
      and projects.

      Our next step was to figure out what practical steps might help these projects
      improve and multiply. First off, we kick-started five "social innovation
      charrette" teams from Nova Scotia College of Art + Design (NSCAD).
      Next, we did a Dragon's Lair event in which social enterprise start-ups pitched
      their case for investment to local entrepreneurs; the pitchers included a
      car-share start-up, and a chef with a roof-top herb garden. The next evening,
      a local team staged a mini TEDx conference. This was followed by a Four Days
      workshop for politicians, officials and business people. Friday night there was
      a Pecha Kucha in which, inter alia, the design student teams reported back.
      The final event was a street party where we exchanged stories
      about who we'd met and what steps needed to be taken next.

      One of the TEDx speakers was Peter McLeod. Inspired by Canada's first Citizens'
      Assemblies, Peter is out to "reinvent public consultation" and develop a new
      provincial-municipal approach to collaborative decision-making. His group is
      developing Citizens' Reference Panels whose work can vary from a weekend-long
      learning process that produces new understanding and strategic direction - to a
      year-long process that can reach difficult decisions with popular support and
      produce a clear mandate for public action.

      Peak-oil doomers are fond of publishing lists of the skills that will have value
      when industrial civilization has collapsed: blacksmithing, hat-making,
      baby-delivering, that kind of thing. The effect of such lists is to increase the
      anxiety of those - such as this writer - who are stronger, to put it mildly, on
      theory than on practice. So I was thrilled by our visit in Halifax to Nova
      Scotia Community College [NSCC]. This remarkable organization trains 25,000
      students a year in a wide array of life-critical skills: cooking, energy
      sustainability engineering, ecotourism, truck repair, refrigeration, funeral
      directing. NSCC offers 'journeyman diplomas' to those who successfully complete
      an extensive combination of technical training, essential skills education, and
      practical experience in a designated trade. But the most inspiring thing of all
      about NSCC is its guiding ethos. NSCC's President, Joan McArthur-Blair, told us
      that a commitment to ecological stewardship is "not an option, but an
      obligation, for every student, teacher and business partner that works with
      NSCC". This is remarkable. NSCC is a major teaching and training institution,
      heavily linked to industry - and yet sustaining, regenerating, and preserving
      the earth's ecosystems are the institution's non-negotiable bedrock.

      McArthur-Blair took us on a tour of NSCC's new building, the Centre for the
      Built Environment. Opening in 2010, this $26m building is unlike unlike any
      other trades and technology building I've seen. [My first job was as a
      publisher's rep visiting 50 technical colleges a year all over the UK and
      Ireland]. The NSCC facility is a live test-bed for green technologies - and for
      the skills needed to deploy them. The facility pays equal attention to
      ecological remediation and restoration, land conservation, and biomimicry, as
      models for energy- and eco-efficiency. The building has been designed so that
      five different rooftop photovoltaic panels systems at any one time can be
      compared in real-time. Other features include planted rooftops and two huge
      interior biowalls, planted from floor-to-ceiling with plants that act as natural
      air filters. 50,000 cubic yards (38,000 cubic metres) of industrial debris have
      been re-used to create vegetated berms, a bio swale, a retention pond,
      a one million litre rock-lined sedimentation pond, landscaped areas,
      and gathering spaces.

      Spacing is an excellent new-paradigm magazine and multi-city blog (Toronto,
      Montreal, Ottawa, Atlantic (including Halifax). The blogs feature daily
      dispatches from the streets of these places; they with architecture, urban
      planning, public transit, transportation infrastructure - just about anything
      that involves the public realm of our cities.

      On a visit to Halifax's fabulous farmers market, I met a permarculture pioneer
      and teacher called Alex de Nicola. Alex has just launched a programme of
      'Lifeboat Workshops' which focus on natural building. Participants build a cob
      oven & wall and, in Alex's words, "apply a lot of earth plaster". Among other
      workshops are making veggie ferments and growing great garlic.

      The Hub Halifax proved a fabulous base from which to run Four Days. The
      availability of a well-located space supported by expert and welcoming hosts
      brings a region's social ecology literally to life: our residency coincided with
      an International Herb Symposium and a B2B Expo, at the World Trade Centre,
      which had a particular focus on sustainable business practices.

      Something in the Nova Scotia air causes weird buzzwords to breed like crazy.
      When I expressed an interest in facilitation skills and training, I soon
      received information about groups with names like "Emergent Futures", "Courage
      Group", "Genuine Contact" "Integral Visions", someone (or something) called
      "Marquis Bureau"..... and my favourite, "Holistic Organizational Tranformation
      Inc" which I have nicknamed The Hots.

      As the effects of climate change and urban heat island continue to escalate,
      urban forests can provide essential cooling, shading, pollution sequestration,
      and protection from droughts and floods. The city of Toronto has set itself a
      target of 35% canopy coverage the City by 2050, but coverage in Toronto
      currently stands at 17%, and it has been estimated that it will actually decline
      to 10% over the next several years as aging trees deteriorate and die. So the
      need to plant trees has never been more urgent. An organisation called
      GreenHere GreenHere works with community stakeholders on a fascinating array
      of tree stewardship and urban forestation projects. I specially like the sound
      of their tree stewardship workshops where citizens can learn about everything
      from mulching, the planting bean-yielding climbing vines, to making seed bombs
      for 'guerilla gardening' of abandoned spaces. GreenHere also trains trainers.

      I was much impressed by GoodWork ,"Canada's green job site". It connects
      passionate, green-minded people with opportunities to contribute and be
      employed. Facing reality head-on, the site advises, "rather than compete for
      existing, or non-existent, jobs, why not create your own?" There's a ton of
      useful information on conservation jobs, stewardship jobs, volunteers, barter,
      work exchange and other ways to do good work without having a job.


      Tessa van der Zouwen asks this pertinent question: "Of the total energy usage in
      the US in 2007, seven per cent was renewable energy of which just one per cent
      came from solar power. Compare this to the fact that in one hour, the sun
      provides more than enough energy to supply the earth's energy needs for one
      year; and in one day, it provides more energy than the world's population could
      consume in 27 years. So if we have a plentiful, universal source of energy � why
      aren't we totally solar powered?" Writing in Material Connexion's newsletter,
      van der Zouwen says one explanation is "our, to-date, clumsy and inefficient
      (compared to nature at least) methods for harnessing that power". Solar cells
      have taken many years to improve their efficiency range from a mere six per cent
      in 1954 to 30 per cent by 2007. The article goes on to describe innovations in
      the shape of new materials and device structures that are "putting the means for
      energy generation in the hands of consumers rather than 'big energy'".

      Echoing van der Zouwen's pointed question about who should best control new
      energy systems, a special issue of the Innovations says a "new institutional
      structure" is needed if emerging solutions are to be deployed effectively. Nobel
      laureate Thomas Schelling, joint editor of the special issue, proposes the
      equivalent of a Marshall Plan for energy to coordinate assistance from advanced
      industrialized countries to developing countries. Another contributor, Bill
      Drayton, founder of Ashoka and of Get America Working, writes that "it makes
      no sense to subsidize the use of machines by keeping energy prices low while
      penalizing the use of labor through payroll taxes". He urges structural changes
      in the economy "to favour people, not things".

      Measuring success solely in terms of money blinds us to those aspects of wealth
      that are not measurable in that way. And the way money is created, bearing
      interest - so that debts have to be paid back in a way that demands
      unsupportable infinite growth - is a built in driver of unsustainability in the
      economic system. What are we to do about an economic system that destroys
      the biosphere for economic reasons? What would a politics based on wellbeing be
      like? David Boyle and Andrew Simms, authors of an excellent new book, The New
      Economics, propose a new approach that turns our assumptions about wealth and
      poverty upside down: Real wealth, they explain, can be measured by increased
      well-being and environmental sustainability rather than just having and
      consuming more things. The book is entertaining, eye-opening and very clearly
      written: do read it.

      As urban or peri-rural agriculture becomes more important for our food security,
      the fate of un-built urban spaces becomes important. The Stalker Group, based in
      Rome, continuously monitors areas around the city's margins and forgotten urban
      spaces. Two weeks back they staged an "urban action" to defend left over
      agricultural spaces, 'agro romano', not yet been subsumed by speculative
      housing development.

      Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
      told the US Congress last week that Japan's debt path was out of control. Simon
      warned of "a real risk that Japan could end up in a major default". This febrile
      situation added energy to the International Design Symposium held to mark
      Musashino Art University's 80th anniversary. I gave a new version of my
      ever-evolving talk about design and the green economy:
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