Posts Tagged ‘Citywatch’

Aug22

Citywatch: Drought 2012

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

2012 has been one of the worst drought years on record (Photo Credit: Earl Nottingham, Texas Parks and Wildlife)

I can’t figure out why Mark Twain is considered such a smarty pants for noticing that people always talk about the weather but never do anything about it.

If people talk about the weather – this summer’s drought, and its likely impact on runaway food prices and forest fires – that’s deep folk wisdom recognizing how completely nature determines our life prospects, no matter what level of air conditioning is available.

If people don’t do anything about the weather, it may be because they’re wise enough to know the most decisive things in our lives are beyond our personal control.

But if people don’t do anything because they think government has the problem in hand, then Mark Twain’s weather joke needs some extra helpings of ridicule.

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Jul25

Citywatch: Traffic Jam Blues Aching to be Solved by Main Street Food Stores

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Toronto has the worst traffic congestion in North America. (Photo credit: Synergy Merchant Services)

Going for a drive along a nearby street isn’t my usual idea of a good conversation starter or a way to get to know someone, but it was all for a good cause, so I gave it a try—and ended up seeing the internal workings of my main street for the first time.

My assignment was to drive home my idea of a new strategy for fighting traffic congestion in Toronto, a city which regularly wins every booby prize in the books for the worst traffic congestion in North America. I got to do this during an in-car interview with Tanner Zurkoski, who has to stay in his car all-month except for brief bathroom breaks.

An aspiring filmmaker, Tanner got a one-month gig with Evergreen, the city’s leading urban sustainability group, as a stunt man whose time in the car would dramatize how much life is taken out of us while we’re going nowhere fast in a traffic jam. The average daily work commute in Toronto and area takes 81 minutes. It takes over two months of salary for reasonably well-paid people to pay off the US$9000 it costs to own and run a car for a year in Toronto.

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Jul18

Citywatch: New City Moves Help Wipe Away Tears After Rio+20

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

C40 Cities argues that ending climate change starts in the city. (Image credit: C40 Cities)

Suppose they held a United Nations conference on sustainability and nobody came?

As much as leaders of global citizen groups have tried to rally world opinion around the June 20-22 Rio + 20 conference with a petition called The Future We Don’t Want — a cute slam at the official declaration called The Future We Want – it’s time to fess up that the most anyone could have hoped for was The Words We Want. And why get involved in a war of words anymore than a war with guns?

I know about the adrenalin roller coaster at UN meets, but it’s always calming to realize that little of what’s resolved at these meetings gets enacted because there’s no enforcement mechanism. So the evasive 46-page declaration wasn’t what I wanted, and the $513 billion in commitments wasn’t what’s the world needs, but I was protected from disappointment by  my low expectations. And I was heartened that a group at Rio grasped the true value of such conferences — a chance to meet and learn from others, and start thinking of more effective ways to get down to work.

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Jul04

Citywatch: Mental Health Report Shows Need for Screening Questions on Food

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

A new report, "Changing Directions, Changing Lives" calls for sweeping changes to Canada's mental health system. (Image credit: Mental Health Commission of Canada)

Crazy as it sounds, the Mental Health Commission of Canada – appointed in 2007 by Canada’s Conservatives and received respectfully when its report was released last week – has just tabled Canada’s first- ever mental health strategy. There’s a good chance that a prominent group’s rethink on  mental illness can also provoke some public discussions on how new food initiatives can nourish minds and spirits as well as bodies.

Long overdue, the report is almost worth the wait.  Changing Directions, Changing Lives is worthy of its title. Calling for sweeping changes – “the status quo is not an option,” it proclaims – commissioners propose over 100 changes that budget-crunchers estimate will cost some $4 billion a year. And be worth every penny in an era of knowledge economies when it’s insane to squander some $50 billion a year in brainpower lost to highly preventable forms of illness.

Relish the breakthroughs.

By repudiating the stigma that leads people to understand mental illness as abnormal, commissioners David Goldbloom, Michael Kirby and Louise Bradley normalize what’s standard for all other diseases – a focus on prevention, treatment and  recovery, not isolation, marginalization and shaming. No-one says get over your cancer, or let’s not waste money trying to find a cure or preventative, and the same should hold for mental disorders.

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May30

Citywatch: Japan’s Earthquake

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

The world is still reeling and shaking from afterthoughts of what happened in March, 2011 when Japan was hit by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, which exposed how vulnerable all basic institutions have become when Nature acts up—something bound to happen anywhere or anytime in this era of climate change and global transmission of hard-to-treat infectious diseases.

The aftermath of Japan's 2011 earthquake. (Photo credit: CNBC.com)

Lessons from a tsunami are a terrible thing to waste, so last week, the Food Policy Research Initiative based at University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health hosted a symposium of Japanese food and agricultural experts and Toronto public health leaders to survey what others can learn from Japan’s response to the crisis.

Crises can provoke multiple breakdowns in government institutions and practices, keynote speaker Yoko Niiyama of Kyoto University told the crowd, so crisis preparation and management cannot just be about damage control.

The violent earthquake and tsunami killed over 15,000 people and destroyed or damaged some 400,000 buildings in short order, said Niiyama, who has helped design government communication strategies. But the longer-lasting human aftershocks included everything from destruction of prime agricultural land from salted ocean water, to a nuclear horror show and release of radioactive radiation, to widespread mistrust of government information, especially as relates to the safety of the food supply.

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Apr11

Citywatch: Resource Revolution

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Did you hear the one about a physicist, a chemist, and an economist who were stranded on a desert island without any food, when all of a sudden a can of beans was washed ashore? The physicist identifies the pressure points in the can and proposes pounding it with a rock until there’s an opening. The chemist wants to put the can in a fire and wait for it to explode. No, no, no, says the economist, that’s not necessary: Let us assume a can opener.

Simple steps, such as composting, can help conserve resources and save money. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

That’s an old joke from the 1970s, conceived during the throes of the first worldwide energy crunch. Someone figured that the presumption of macro-economists—that market demand could work magic by making supply appear—should be exposed as a joke. Maybe it’s time to bring the joke back, now that the world is in the throes of a combined energy crunch and economic downturn. Though faith in markets remains high, governments aren’t counting on market forces to bring the fossil fuels on. Subsidize them and they will come, seems to be the presumption to the tune of US$409 billion in subsidies from 37 governments reviewed by the International Energy Agency.

It’s a costly fantasy, especially at a time when the same governments are imposing austerity measures on social and cultural programs.

Perhaps the fantasy persists because it actually seemed to hold true throughout the last century, a happy time when new and low-cost resources kept coming on stream, causing resource prices to drop in half, despite a 21-fold increase in world demand for the likes of water, food, oil, and steel. But that long 20th century is now over.

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Apr04

Citywatch: Food Industry Named World’s Worst

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Dangerously low levels of sustainability in the food industry may skyrocket to the top of the to-do and worry-about lists of business executives, government officials, and perhaps even environmentalists and shoppers.

KPMG ranks the food sector as the worst of all sectors in its new report. (Image credit: KPMG)

Late last month, KPMG, one of the top professional services companies in the world, released a report called Expect the Unexpected: Building business value in a changing world.

Who would have expected that such an authoritative organization would single out the food industry as both the worst environmental actor in the world and the least prepared to deal with risks inherent in what KPMG calls the ten global “megaforces” that will shape corporations and all living beings over the next generation?

I am not aware of one prominent critic of the food system who has dared to utter, or was well-resourced enough to confirm precisely, such a severe indictment of corporations that control one of the most critical essentials of life and determinants of health and well-being.

In its effort to help giant corporations navigate the world’s complex uncertainties, KPMG’s report identifies ten “sustainability megaforces” that surefooted companies will need to anticipate and respond to.

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Feb15

Citywatch: Seniors and Others

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Usually respected for its calm, cool and collected approach, the Canadian Urban Institute has been ringing the alarm for some time about the “giant demographic tsunami” about to roll over Canadian cities.

Universal design in cities can not only help seniors, but also the general public. (Photo credit: Canadian Urban Institute)

The scare tactic hasn’t worked yet in Toronto, where the mayor and his critics are locked in battle over yesterday’s programs and budgets, not tomorrow’s.

Mayor Ford, widely viewed as too stupid to know what’s going on, will win in the end if he diverts political attention from pro-active programs that prepare for the future, no matter how many skirmishes he loses in his bids to cut from the past.

Old hat as the issue may seem to some, the Canadian Urban Institute is trying to force that tiresome group, the baby boomers, into full frontal view once again—this time as the age group that has no place to go in a suburban metropolis made for people half their age and twice their physical resources and retirement income.

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Jan11

Citywatch: Revolting Food Trends of 2011-12

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Four uprisings of global significance surprised the world in 2011, and the spirit of all four will surprise those who manage the food system in 2012—which leads to my choice of year-end and year-beginning  indicators that pick up the colors of these uprisings in emerging habits related to eating.

North American sales of local food topped $7 billion in 2011 thanks to the establishment of numerous urban gardens. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Historically speaking, the  hot link between food or farm issues and social unrest is almost axiomatic. Long before 1789, when the pot was stirred for the French Revolution after the poor of Paris heard that the Queen dismissed their need for bread by saying “let them eat cake,” and for many decades since 1917, when Russian workers and peasants were inspired to revolution by the slogan “peace, land and bread,”  food and farming issues have caused massive and radical protests.

Those in charge of food policy have learned a thing or two from the Boston Tea Party, a 1773 protest against British taxes on tea that erupted into the American Revolution, and from Gandhi’s mass march across India in 1926 to protest British taxes on salt, which grew into the movement for Indian independence. Lesson learned: artificially cheap food became and remains an assumed foundation of food and tax policy in all countries.

Perhaps as a consequence of this, 2012 will be one of the first times in history when food protests follow, rather than precede, mass protests. But signs are there that food fights are coming, and will deepen the spirit rising up around the world.

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Jan04

Citywatch: Have a Gratitudinous New Year

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

One of the first lessons most of us learned at our mother’s knee about table manners. Hold back before gobbling the grub, and share a moment with everyone at the table to say “grace,” or some toast for all there is to be grateful for. At the end of the meal, at the very latest, polite people were taught to take a moment to sing the praises of the people who prepared the meal.

According to Roberts, food activists need to show a little gratitude in order to see real change in food policy. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Food organizers need to learn good food manners too, and recognize that universal human rituals around food, such as giving thanks, are an untapped opportunity to promote positive change in food systems.

After about 15 years organizing for various food causes and almost 50 years as a community worker of some kind, I am confident in saying that gratitude and thankfulness are the beginning and end of wisdom when it comes to leading the still-emerging food movement.

Thankfully, there are still a few new things to say about gratitude, notwithstanding that virtually every major world religion and philosophy, over thousands of years of human progress, setbacks, celebrations and suffering, has named gratitude top hit on the virtue parade.  It is “not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others,” Marcus Cicero, ancient Rome’s great philosopher and humanist, said over 2000 years ago.

The blossoming of food movements over the last 20 years has shown me the all-purpose value of gratitude as grounding for skill sets that support an effective, positive, engaged, outgoing, life-enhancing style of organizing.

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