Unapologetic KUDOS for Toronto

The World is Flat is the name of an online comedy TV show of very short webisodes about some funny people working for a fictional environment ministry. It’s in production now and will be released to the public in the coming months. It is primarily entertainment but it also promotes a greener planet.

I worked on it with a wonderful group of people and as I did so, I realized that like many cities, Toronto enjoys a wealth of talented people, capable of producing first-class entertainment. I also realized that unlike other cities, Toronto is uniquely positioned to lead the world in very positive directions in the twenty-first century. This may sound like a grandiose declaration but I assure you I have reached this conclusion based on what I perceive to be factual evidence, while wearing my cynical, skeptical journalist’s hat.

ONLY IN TORONTO

I had my first inkling of this belief a few years ago when I was writing a story about Toronto’s deep water cooling project. It’s a system that brings the cleanest possible water from the deepest depths of Lake Ontario into the city’s drinking water network, while also helping to air condition about 100 downtown office towers. The City pays  theoretically extra to pump from the best available feasible source. But it saves by partnering with the private sector Enwave Corporation, which helps defray the cost of warming this 4oC water enough for domestic use, by extracting its coolness for A/C, in an exemplary feat of modern engineering. Toronto is not the only place in the world where something like this is achieved, but its system is more than twice the size of its nearest rival (Hawaii) and easily the most advanced.

Installing Toronto’s Deep Water Cooling system 200 feet below the surface, several kilometres out, beyond the island.

Why is this important? Because as it was explained to me, the coincidence of the right geographic, technical, financial and political conditions to make this possible are rare indeed. My source laid particular emphasis on the human element. Where in most cities such an achievement would almost certainly be scuttled by bureaucratic or political squabbling during it’s very long development process, it somehow survived and has since thrived in Toronto (Evidence of success -major pension plans own stakes).

ONLY IN TORONTO

When green author and investor Tom Rand decided to build a hostel-hotel near Kensington Market to show off green building technology, he realized that a key goal would depend on a completely new city planning precedent. He wanted geothermal heating and cooling, which means drilling deep wells into the ground to extract warmth in winter and coolness in summer.

Except he couldn’t easily drill because he was renovating an existing building that covered the whole lot. The wells would best be drilled on city land in the alleyway. There were sewers, water lines, gas lines, and communication lines beneath the pavement; a horror show of permits and opportunities for someone to say “NO”. Planning departments in most big cities would have nixed this idea fast, but not in Toronto. Not only was it approved and built, but Toronto created a policy that will allow others to complete similar projects more smoothly in the future.

ONLY IN TORONTO

Coming back to the actors and crew of The World is Flat web TV comedy; this group produced 10 episodes with almost no budget. They agreed to come together and work very long hours with people they didn’t know for no pay on weekends. They borrowed and rented some equipment. Tonya Surman a the Centre for Social Innovation on Bathurst and Rob Angeloni at a small local ad agency (CVC Communications) let them film scenes in their offices for free. There were a lot of sacrifices made. Any one of the 20 or so people involved could have said “NO” or just given up in the middle of the project. But they didn’t. Because this is Toronto.

As one of the continent’s biggest cities, Toronto brings together a lot of talented and intelligent people, like other places do. But the people here are also uncommonly decent and caring. They agree to do things for a higher purpose. They are proud of their moral fibre and they should be. And they are uniquely positioned to lead the world into the best possible directions in the twenty-first century.

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