Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Retrofitting for a greener Toronto

PROFILE OF A MAYOR. Toronto not only attracts tens of thousands of new migrants who come to the city every year seeking new opportunities. This multicultural global village also seems to have a way of attracting urban planners of all sorts to make it their home.
You could imagine the mayor of Toronto having lots of critical eyes watching his doings when it comes to urban development.
David Miller (right), the present mayor of Toronto, has fared well under these circumstances and earned the respect of urbanists both at home and around the world.
In December he acted spokesman for the mayors of the world, when they gathered in Danish capital Copenhagen to urge global leaders to act at the United Nations Climate Summit.
“Cities consume two thirds of all energy and contribute at least two thirds of all greenhouse gases. The battle of climate change will be won or lost in the major cities of the world”, said David Miller when he as chairman of the C40 group of major cities spoke at a Mayors Summit in Copenhagen.
“While nations talk, cities act. We do what we can, but we would like to do more. For us to be able to do that, our nations have to do more.”
David Miller, a lawyer by profession, was elected mayor of Toronto in November 2003. Three years later he was re-elected with nearly 60 percent of the popular vote. The now 51-year old mayor has announced that he will not seek a third term in this year’s municipal elections, to be held in late October.
“I was elected on a green platform, pro transit. We have begun expanding our rail transit network. There are more than one hundred high-rise building being built in the city, increasing density. We encourage people to live in the city, we encourage density. It is right to live in a vibrant city”, said Miller when I met him at the Mayors Summit in Copenhagen.
And what a vibrant city it has become. In just a couple decades Toronto has been transformed through migration to one of the most diverse cities of the world, with 50 percent of the 5 million inhabitants being foreign-born.
Mayor Miller is one of them, being born in San Francisco to an American father and an English mother.
Miller has been an advocate for public transit since he entered local politics in the early 90’s. The city now invests in new light rail transit, an important step to deal with the congestion that has followed the rapid growth of the metropolitan area.
When he initially ran for mayor he gained the support of Jane Jacobs, the American urban activist who is an icon for urbanists all over the world. Jacobs made Toronto her home from 1968 until her death in 2006.
Miller seems to be following Jacobs’ advice. The urban landscape of Toronto has been greatly improved, with the latest big project being the ongoing waterfront renewal.
But the David Miller’s perhaps most important project is something that is setting standards for many cities to follow. It is called the Mayor’s Tower Renewal and is a far-reaching project to do energy retrofits on thousands of old apartment high-rises from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.
This will lead to significant energy savings and cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases. The program saves money and it creates jobs.
“Retrofitting is the big thing for us now. I call it using the money twice. The work of retrofitting public and commercial buildings in Toronto creates 3,000 new jobs. It pays for itself through the cuts in costs that the retrofitting leads to”, Miller told his fellow mayors in Copenhagen.
Deep lake water cooling instead of traditional air-conditioning in downtown high-rises during the hot summer is another climate initiative in Toronto.
Sharing best practice ideas like these is one of the aims of C40, a group that has only been around for less than five years. C40 co-operates with former U.S. president Bill Clinton and his Clinton Climate Initiative to combat climate change with real action on the city level.
In Copenhagen the mayors delivered a communiqué to the U.N. Climate Summit called “Cities Act”, urging national leaders to do the same.
Unfortunately, that didn’t help as the Climate Summit ended in disappointment.
A number of the largest cities in the world, including Toronto, also signed an agreement in Copenhagen to commit joint support for electric vehicle infrastructure.
“This meeting will be of great importance”, said Miller, summing up the Mayors Summit.

This is the first in a series of portraits of world mayors that I met during their summit in Copenhagen in December.

Construction never ends in the expanding Toronto.

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