Toronto, 2005. Photo from the Hindrew | flickr.com

Last month, I had the privilege of attending an annual reception for the Urban – Rural Biomonitoring Assessment Network, a conservation authority dedicated to preserving the natural state of ecosystems throughout the City of Hamilton. David Miller, the former mayor of Toronto from 2003-2010, made an appearance at this event to present a very engaging account of how goals for improving a city’s economy depend largely on our ability to adapt to a changing climate.

The backbone of Miller’s speech emphasized the interrelation between an environmental mindset and economic success. Since cities are categorized by intensive urbanization and abundant economic activity, it is no surprise that they induce the largest footprint of emissions into our environment. Energy to heat and cool buildings, energy generation, and transportation are the three overlying categories which cities address to examine environmental transformation.

Miller logically conveyed that it is the municipal level governments whom global leaders go to when making polices targeting our response to climate change. The mayor is responsible for dealing with the first-hand environmental consequences on the people that instill drastic pressures, compromising the safety of citizens or harm essential services needed by them. There's a direct relation between environmental impacts on an economy, and is a more pronounced issue in areas when it affects more people.

For example, if an extreme rainfall event occurs and streets are flooded, environmental damage is dramatically greater in cities than rural places. More people are directly affected by the physical event, and it is a much more serious issue to deal with the destruction to a city’s water infrastructure since it services more people. Miller recalled a few scenarios in the past five years where heavy precipitation events not only flooded streets, but combined sewage flow from residences with treated water that re-enters Lake Ontario.

Brown-outs of air over cities similarly occur when smog builds up above buildings, particularly on hot summer days with high volumes of traffic congestion in and out of the city. This inevitably impairs the quality of air we breathe.

These two cases are general processes Miller described for Toronto, but occur in urbanized areas worldwide.  When we think about the economic costs on the health of people and repairing the physical aspects of the city, the link between environmental awareness of changing climates and need for our local governments to maintain the integrity of the economy becomes much more visible.

In a future article, I’ll present optimistic solutions which David Miller has incorporated into city planning for Toronto, and how they benefit the people as well as our affect on the land.