It’s no secret that Peterborough is home to some of the most respected, enthusiastic and talented people in the environmental field.
The city is home to revered environmental institutions such as the Ministry of Natural Resources, Trent University, GreenUP, Kawartha Land Trust, the Turtle Trauma Center, among others.
During the interviews I conducted as part of my thesis research in 2018, people repeatedly pointed to examples of environmental leadership from organizations in Peterborough. In fact, the United Nations has recognized Peterborough as a regional center of expertise for education for sustainable development. Why then can collaborating with the city on environmental issues sometimes be a challenge?
The City of Peterborough often lacks the resources to tackle our big problems. Two years ago, the city declared a climate emergency, and while progress has been made on the issue, it is still often weighed against other issues facing the municipality. A resource for tackling these issues is the often untapped knowledge and enthusiasm of the citizens of Peterborough. So what can the city do to take advantage of this underutilized resource?
My research recommended some steps municipalities could take to tap into their citizens to tackle environmental issues. Because of the way financial grants are often structured in environmental work, the municipality can sometimes multiply its initial investment in solving a problem by partnering with an outside group.
External groups are often able to mobilize “matching funds” in ways that the city cannot. Providing seed funding to address concrete challenges can be a great first step towards creating effective partnerships.
Fostering opportunities for potential allies to work and interact with city staff can also be a great way to encourage effective partnerships. I can be helpful for staff to clearly communicate the issues they face and for groups to have an open door to offer potential solutions.
It can be helpful to have a defined process for groups to come up with partnership offers. This can create an added benefit by providing equitable access to municipal resources for underrepresented groups. The City of Toronto goes one step further and has a staff member dedicated to managing and promoting city partnerships.
By adopting a service-oriented approach, the city can focus on how to build capacity to address challenges within the community instead of addressing issues on its own.
By providing resources and equitable access to community groups, and specifying the issues the city wants help with, partnerships can be created to act as a multiplier force. The enthusiasm to create a lasting and positive transformation in the face of climate change and the biodiversity crisis is palpable, it is imperative that the city invites as many people as possible to contribute to meeting the challenges of a generation.
Dylan Radcliffe is Past President of the Peterborough Field Naturalists, holds a Masters in Sustainability Studies and is passionate about our local natural environment.