Citizen Action Monitor

Two Alberta profs pitch city sustainability, resilience

No 107 Posted by fw, January 22, 2011

“To be sustainable, cities must also be resilient. They must be able to adapt and change to new circumstances as they emerge. And the fact we cannot exactly predict the conditions that will confront us reinforces the need to remain nimble. But there is a danger, because resilience and sustainability are not the same. Systems that produce lousy results can also be resilient. . . . We do know that no system is sustainable without also being resilient. What matters are the values we instill, and the ethic we embed in the bricks and mortar of a sustainable city.” Geoff Ghitter & Noel Keough, In crisis rigid cities collapse but resilient cities bounce back. January 11, 2011,

University of Alberta professors Geoff Ghitter (Urban Geography) and Noel Keough (Environmental Design) are setting an example that I, for one, would like to see more academics emulate — they are actively involved in giving back to their local communities. In Geoff’s and Noel’s case, this means pitching urban sustainable and resilient development to the people of Calgary and beyond. And for Noel this also means rolling up his sleeves and “pitching in”.

On the “About Me” page of his Kid Kalgary’s City Blog, Geoff writes this about himself:

Geoff Ghitter

I’m Geoff Ghitter, a mild-mannered instructor in the Urban Studies Program at the University of Calgary.  I received a PhD in Urban Geography in the spring 2010 and in this blog I’m going to be writing about cities. . . . In this forum I address many different kinds of urban issues, but the overriding focus will be on urban sustainability as our global society moves forward into an uncertain, and perhaps unstable future. . . . Here I will post my thoughts about current urban issues in Calgary with a mind towards how other cities have coped with the same or similar problems. Follow my series on “Resilient Cities” — being written with my colleague Noel Keogh — being published in  FFWD [Fast Forward Weekly] every second week or so.

Although Noel Keough does not appear to have a blog, PLAN:NET Ltd., a consulting agency, of which Keough is a director, provides this Bio:

Noel Keough

Noel has 15 years experience working in community development both locally and internationally. His work has included local renewable energy assessment and design, sustainability education, community development, popular theatre, sustainability indicators design and technology assessment. Through his unique experience Noel has been successful in building bridges between community groups and planning and engineering professionals. Internationally, Noel has worked in Central America, Central and South East Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Locally, Noel has worked with community groups in Alberta, Newfoundland and British Columbia. Noel is also a co-founder, current coordinator and senior researcher with Sustainable Calgary Society.

Professor Keough is clearly a hands-on community leader.

Interested in making your city healthy, vibrant and sustainable? Visit Keough’s Sustainable Calgary Society website. (Click on above link).

If you are at all interested in how to make your city healthy, vibrant and sustainable, visit Sustainable Calgary. (Curiously, there does not appear to be much recent activity on the site, but don’t let that put you off. Go visit. You won’t be disappointed). Here are some teasers that may tempt you to stop by:

“What happens when you ask Calgarians how to make the city healthy, vibrant and sustainable? You get more than 1000 people working together discussing, debating and deciding how to build a city for everyone. The result is the Citizens’ Agenda – 12 Priority Policy & Action goals that if implemented over the next five years will create that vision.” More . .

“Citizens’ Agenda Phase II – A City Built for Everyone. Sustainable Calgary launched the Citizens’ Agenda project in 2005. One thousand citizens volunteered 5000 hours to the task of analyzing issues and indicators and brainstorming actions and policies to tackle the city’s most pressing issues. Ultimately these citizens selected Policy and Action Priorities that they judged would create a healthier, more caring, vibrant and sustainable Calgary over the next five year and published them in a report- A Citizen’s Agenda for a More Healthy, Caring and Vibrant Calgary, 2006.” (Click on the link to download this free report).

“Sustainability Indicator Research: In 1996 a group of Calgarians came together to discuss ways to improve the sustainability of our city. They were motivated in part by a dissatisfaction with the narrow set of economic indicators that drove public policy-making – economic growth rate, stock market indexes, inflation rates, currency valuations and so on. They decided that a first step in creating a more sustainable Calgary was to redefine how we measured progress. Sustainable Calgary Society embarked on a project to identify, research and report on a set of community sustainability indicators. In 2005 Sustainable Calgary Society published its third State of Our City Report documenting the status of 36 social, ecological and economic indicators of the long-term health and vitality of our city.” More . . .

Besides his work with Sustainable Calgary, Noel is an outspoken critic of the City’s plan to press ahead with major road development:

“Noel Keough, an assistant professor of sustainable design at the University of Calgary, believes the city should invest in public transit and rail — not roads — especially with higher gas prices looming. ‘Whether the road and truck method of moving goods is going to be sustainable in the next 20 to 30 years is a big question I don’t think has been asked. That kind of risk assessment, long-term thinking hasn’t been asked in terms of the ring road, and whether that investment is worth it,’ said the urban sustainability expert.” City presses ahead with SW road upgrades, CBC Calgary, July 13, 2009

This dynamic duo — Ghitter & Keough — first came to my attention a couple of weeks ago on the web pages of, an “independent Canadian source of credible online news.” That’s where I read the piece that was the source of the opening quote to this post. As noted above, their articles also appear on FFWD (Fast Forward Weekly).

In addition to the article cited at the top of this post, here are links to 5 of their other pieces published in FFWD:

On the topic of toilets: Public facilities and social sustainability. Published January 20, 2011. “Next month will mark the third anniversary of the installation of Calgary’s first 24-hour public toilet in Tomkins Park on 17th Avenue S.W. Since 2008, there have been approximately 120,000 flushes, which averages about 110 daily uses. And last November, two new 24-hour stainless steel toilets opened along the RiverWalk in East Village. Bravo!” More . . . (click on title)

Loving transit: If you build it (right) they will come. Published January 6, 2011. “In 1992, Anthony Downs, now a senior fellow at the prestigious Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., wrote an influential book titled Stuck in Traffic — Coping with peak-hour traffic congestion. In it Downs draws on the concept of ‘induced demand’ to explain why building new roads does not relieve traffic congestion. In simple terms, providing more of something can lead to increased consumption. With roads this has the counter-intuitive effect, in only a few years, of making congestion worse than it was before the new road was built.” More . . .

The Resiliency Factor: Tomorrow’s cities are today’s challenge. Published December 16, 2010. “Tomorrow our children will be living in the city we are building today. It is they, and their children, who will reap the benefits or contend with the woes of our city-building practices. Buildings, roads and pipes are long-lived and, once set, prohibitively expensive to replace or retrofit. This longevity ties future Calgarians to the legacy we bequeath them, for good or ill.” More . . .

Looking ahead to the past: A tale of three tram cities. Published November 25, 2010. “Prior to the Second World War, trams — also called streetcars — were the mainstay of public transportation systems in cities around the world. And for good reason: trams provided reliable, predictable, accessible, human-scaled transportation serving the needs of working folk and the wealthy alike. Savvy investors, entrepreneurs and property developers quickly realized the profit potential along tram lines and businesses that provided service and value to local communities were soon flourishing. This powerful mixture of social and economic energy fuelled the emergence of the streets that have become some of our best-loved places.” More . . .

Building a better city: Calgary needs resiliency to weather future storms. Published October 14, 2010. “When it comes to Calgary’s future, are you buying or just passing through? This doesn’t mean: Do you own a house? It means: Are you here for the long haul? It’s an important question. When planning a city there’s a huge difference in the psychology of long-term versus short-term thinking.” More . . .

And finally, this important 207-page report:

imagineCalgary Plan: for Long Range Urban Sustainability. June 2006.

“imagineCALGARY was a City led — community owned initiative. The City of Calgary provided project staff and resources to support over 150 active and committed stakeholders who were responsible for developing the plan. The plan includes a long range vision and goals which reflect the diversity of aspirations and interests of the community for the future. It also includes a series of targets which provide useful reference points for organizations and individuals to determine what action can be taken to reach the goals. imagineCALGARY took an innovative approach to developing the plan. The city was viewed as a whole system, of which all the parts are inter-related. People, buildings, commerce, roads, businesses, skills, government structures, incomes, plants and animals, history, churches, schools and countless other elements combine to make up our community. imagineCALGARY hosted a discussion about the whole community with the aim of making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”

(Co-incidentally, Noel Keough is listed as one of the participants in this planning project).

Let’s hope this report is not gathering dust on a City planner’s shelf.

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This entry was posted on January 22, 2011 by in resiliency, sustainability and tagged , , , , .
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