Calgary unsustainable? No, really?

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Over 40 students met in MacEwan Hall Thu., Jan. 26 to discuss the future of the city at Sustainable Calgary's Citizens' Agenda workshop.

The workshop, attended mostly by urban studies students, focused on how to make Calgary more sustainable within the next five years. Among the ideas presented were the reinvestment of government energy revenues into renewable energy, a cap on public transit increases, tax incentives for environmentally-friendly building practises and the reallocation of 65 per cent of city transportation spending to public transit and active transportation. Much of the discussion was related to Sustainable Calgary's 2004 "State of Our City" report, which gave Calgary a positive grade on only 11 out of 36 indicators.

"We're really struggling and if we keep going at the rate that we are right now, it's going to have detrimental causes to us, our children, our society; it's going to have long-term impeding effects," said project coordinator Maryam Nabavi. "Our sense of community, our natural environment, how we function as a city, the gaps between the rich and the poor and various other aspects we really don't see are going to be suffering and all the problems in the report seem to be increasing. The only way to change that is to have a paradigm shift and get people thinking in a different way so that the kind of reforms we're hoping for right now can happen."

According to the "State of Our City" report, Calgary is promising on several fronts, especially the attitudes of its citizens towards volunteer work, citing a study by the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy showing that Calgarians volunteer more than people in any other Canadian city. However, Nabavi's optimism is curbed by environmental practises showing Calgarians also use the most resources in the country per capita.

"One of the most harrowing things we've seen is that the land we use and the resources we use are greater than anywhere else in Canada or arguably the world," noted Nabavi. "If everyone in the world lived like Calgarians do, it would take eight planets to make the world sustainable. We're damaging the environment, but it's having social and economic effects on us, and we don't really see that."

The workshop was one of 25 consultations held by the group across the city. Later this spring, the group plans to compile the findings of the workshops into a report to be presented to city hall and the community in time for the April municipal elections.

"The trend's been that we haven't been moving toward sustainable practices, but what I think hasn't been acknowledged is that there's a very large counter-culture and it has a really large voice," said Nabavi. "People want to speak about these issues and they want to be heard."

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