At Clean Air Partnership we have created a climate lens for use in municipal decision making. The climate lens asks, ‘how will a municipal decision affect climate (through creation of greenhouse gas emissions) and, ‘how could it be affected by climate (ex. extreme weather, flooding risk)?’
In building our understanding of how to respond to COVID, we recognized a great opportunity to apply a climate lens to our COVID Response and Recovery Plans. Knowing this could not be done in isolation, we brought together some smart minds to identify priority response actions to apply the lens to.
Access to green space was one of the actions for which the lens was applied. Nothing like losing something to make you appreciate it right? Urban green spaces deliver a multitude of benefits to individuals and communities, from improving community aesthetics, to reducing the urban heat island and flood risk, supporting local ecosystems and biodiversity, and promoting physical activity. Recent research has demonstrated mental health benefits, improved quality of life, enhanced resilience, and increased social cohesion when access to green space is increased.
In Stages 1 and 2 of the framework for reopening Ontario and tacking COVID, most indoor activities are not allowed. Access to green space is more important than ever. Given social distancing requirements, the quantity of green space is also key. What COVID brought to light is that there is inequitable access to green space. Unless we specifically address this issue, it will only get worse as our communities grow. This made us ask ourselves, can our COVID experience build a new approach to urban planning that brings open spaces, watersheds, forests and parks into the heart of how we think about and plan our communities?
Windsor, Ontario provides us with an example of how that can be put into action. In their 2015 Rediscover Our Parks Masterplan they looked at green space access across their community and found that green space wasn’t equally distributed, and that the older and often poorer parts of their community were most deficient.
Our work at Clean Air Partnership is action oriented. We continually ask ourselves: So what? What can we do about this issue? Windsor’s experience provides some answers to that question. All municipalities need to analyze green space access in their communities. If there is inequitable access, then it makes sense to prioritize improvements in areas that are under-served. This can be achieved through changes to land-use policy, identification of priority neighbourhoods, and the inclusion of green space in determining what constitutes a priority neighbourhood. These neighbourhoods require additional support and investment to rectify this inequity, accepting that access to green space is something that all our community members can and should have.
The below infographic summarizes some of the other actions items that have originated from the application of a climate lens to our COVID response and recovery. Stay tuned to upcoming blog posts where each of these action areas will be explored in more detail.
By Gabriella Kalapos, Executive Director, Clean Air Partnership