U of T news
  • Follow U of T News

How can we build a sustainable Toronto? U of T public forum takes on the 'Natural City' with David Miller

Olivia Chow, Roger Keil and other cities experts to meet on March 2

(photo by Grant MacDonald via Flickr)

It’s a chance to chat with a former mayor, a world-renowned cities scholar, environmental leaders, a former city councillor, urban planners, academics – and members of the public – about what it means to live in a ‘natural city'.

Toronto and the Natural City: Facing Our Ecological Future is a free, public forum sponsored by U of T’s Centre for Ethics in conjunction with the School of the Environment.

“We’ve invited a range of speakers to spark discussion about the top environmental challenge facing Toronto, and how the ‘natural city’ perspective might help as we seek to build and live sustainably,” said organizer Stephen Bede Scharper, an associate professor at the School of the Environment and department of anthropology at University of Toronto Mississauga.

“We're looking to hear from anyone interested in how they can be a fully engaged environmentalist within the heart of Canada’s largest city.”

Alumnus David Miller (former mayor of Toronto and president and chief executive officer of World Wildlife Fund Canada) will moderate discussion with the audience following short reflections from speakers including former city councillor Olivia Chow, Ryerson urban planning professor Pamela Robinson, and celebrated cities expert and York environmental studies professor Roger Keil. (Read more about the event to be held from 4-6pm on Monday, March 2 at the George Ignatieff Theatre, Larkin Building)

“Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities,” said Scharper. “The social and ecological implications of this rapid urbanization are massive. For the public forum, we’re bringing urban thinkers and citizens together to discuss how we should envision our ravines as wildlife corridors, how we should live together in cities as biotic communities, how we can both formally and informally develop sustainable urban spaces.”

The discussion is inspired by a book Scharper co-authored with philosopher Ingrid Leman Stefanovic in 2012, called The Natural City: Re-envisioning the Built Environment (University of Toronto Press).

I see the concept of a natural city as inviting a paradigm shift,” Stefanovic told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning upon the book’s publication in 2012. “It's really meant to get us to rethink what it means to build cities.” (Listen to the interview on Metro Morning) 

Miller described the work as “a compelling vision of what urban life could be if we accept those links between ecological and human systems and build our cities in ways that work in harmony with the planet.”

It included essays by U of T scholars Frank Cunningham, Hilary Cunningham, Bryan Karney and Vincent Shen.

“The natural city is not simply a call to make infrastructural change, such as green buildings and alternative energy sources, as crucial as these are,” said Scharper. “It is also an invitation to re-imagine the place of the urbanized human, both within biotic communities, and indeed, within the entire cosmos.”

Brianna Goldberg is a writer for U of T News and the producer and host of The Cities Podcast for U of T News. (Listen to the podcast.)