Evidence of meeting #47 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was going.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Adam Bienenstock  Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds
Andrea Gabor  President, Canadian Institute of Planners
David Wise  Chair, Policy Advisory Committee, Canadian Institute of Planners
Jennifer Powley  Coordinator, Our HRM Alliance, Ecology Action Centre
Mark Butler  Policy Director, Ecology Action Centre

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

I call the meeting to order.

I want to welcome everyone to the 47th meeting of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development as we continue our study on urban conservation practices in Canada.

Go ahead, Ms. Duncan.

3:30 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to move a motion:

Given that (1) the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is an essential research platform for understanding the threats to Canada's water resources, assessing the risks of water pollutants and emerging threats, and developing and testing strategies for ecosystem-based management to improve water quality; (2) The ELA has operated a comprehensive meteorological station, which is a measurement site of Environment Canada's Canadian Air and Precipitation Monitoring Network; and, (3) the ELA falls under a number of Environment Canada programs, the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada should transfer the ELA to the Department of Environment.

I would ask that this be voted on in public.

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Go ahead, Ms. Rempel.

3:30 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

I move that the committee go in camera.

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

There's a dilatory motion that we go in camera. It is non-debatable. We'll have a recorded vote.

(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])

We will suspend.

Witnesses, I'm going to ask you to leave the room temporarily. We expect to be back shortly and into regular committee business. Please stand by.

The meeting is suspended.

[Proceedings continue in camera]

[Public proceedings resume]

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

I will call the meeting back to order, and again I thank the witnesses for being with us today.

We will hear from each witness group for up to 10 minutes, and then we will follow with some questions.

Mr. Bienenstock, founder of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, you have 10 minutes.

3:55 p.m.

Adam Bienenstock Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee.

I should start by telling you a bit about who I am and what I do. I am the fortunate guy who gets to go around to cities to actually physically dig up the asphalt and drop pockets of nature into our cities. I do that across North America and more and more internationally now.

I was asked to come in and speak about urban conservation. I thought, “What do they mean by urban conservation?” I'll tell you what it means from my perspective.

It means a bunch of signs. It means stay on the trail, sensitive area, no rock climbers, no biking, no camping, no trespassing, stay out, keep out. Generally speaking, for me, when I interact with urban conservation, that's what it means.

The question I have always had is, what are we conserving and who are we conserving it for? What's the end in all of this?

From my perspective, urban conservation has been wildly successful. The situation right now is that people aren't going out into nature anymore. They're staying away in droves. Two to three per cent a year fewer are going to our national parks. Visitors are staying away. The average age of a national park visitor is 52. The average age of a member of the Royal Botanical Gardens is 62. They are literally dying off. We are being enormously successful in keeping people out of our little pockets of urban nature.

I look at this and see that we're facing a crisis of becoming irrelevant. When I look around the room, I see a group of people in front here, and all of us. I'm preaching to the converted. We've probably camped. We've probably spent time outside. We've probably been in touch.

I'm going to ask a question. By a show of hands, how many of you were told when you were kids to come home when the street lights came on or when dinnertime rolled around? Basically, that's most of us beyond a certain age.

The average roam rate right now for an eight-year-old is 150 yards unsupervised. The average roam rate when I was growing up was somewhere between five and 10 kilometres unsupervised, so I had a sense of ownership. What happened was that I know the creeks up the escarpment. I know the trees. I know where the blue clay is, and the grey clay is, and the red clay is. That is my creek, so when I got older and the Borer Logie watershed commission asked for some people to help with the conservation of that creek, I went to conserve my creek because I own that creek. I learned how to own that creek by spending time there.

If we only have 150 yards where our kids can roam and we don't start to create these little urban pockets of nature where we engage people, if we don't shift the conversation from a conservation ethic to a stewardship and engagement ethic, then there's a whole generation that we will miss and that we are missing. We are enormously successful at missing all of them right now.

As a result, things like this happen. I went to do a guest lecture. I walked into the landscape architecture school, and one of the first questions I asked was, “So how many of you people, you future designers of our conservation plans for our cities, have camped overnight?” Thirty-eight out of 40 of them had never been camping, so my opinion, frankly, is that they should all fail. They should not be allowed to design the natural pockets in our cities. Without that stewardship and that engagement, how can we expect the next generation to even show up? We aren't being successful at that. Stewardship and engagement are the key.

If you shift the conversation to early childhood educators, to teachers, we teach them too. I had a conversation with them about the importance of getting out and getting in touch with nature—how dirt is good, and you should get it under your fingernails, and you should plant things and pull them out and explore them, because dirt's good. It's good for the immune system. You have to ingest your peck of dirt. It turns out our parents and our grandparents were probably right: you have to get your peck of dirt before you die.

One of them—and this is a bunch of very young, predominantly female, new teachers, the ones who are going to teach our kids about their experience with nature—put up her hand and asked, “At snack time, how much dirt should I be giving them?”

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

4 p.m.

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

Adam Bienenstock

There is a total disconnect with what this means. It is that level of a disconnect that we have reached. We're going to have to start giving up some of our urban conservation ethic in our cities and we're going to have to start turning it over.

The next step for us is to start tearing down some of the signs and to invite people in. I've been in conversations when I worked with Robert Bateman to look at creating the Bateman trail system throughout 18 kilometres of ravines in the city of Toronto. I was in a meeting when the person who's the head of the trail said, “Hold on, let me get this straight; you want more people to use our trail? They're going to wreck it.”

That's for the sake of conservation. They're saying, “Let's not connect people through our urban natural spaces, because they're going to wreck it. We're going to have to maintain it.”

I wish we had this problem. We don't have this problem right now. We need to get more of them in there and we need to teach them about stewardship.

There's one other little point, which is that when it comes to what ecological restoration actually is, the cities I work in are a full climatic zone different from what they used to be. That's just the way it is. Every one of the cities across this country along this border where 80% of us live is a different zone from what it used to be.

What's our urban conservation plan for ash trees, for elm trees, for birch trees along there? We don't have one, because they're dead, so it has to be a shifted set of priorities, and we are not going to be able to even have native trees as successful urban street trees at the rate we're going. The only way we're going to be successful is if we have people who decide, “I own this, and I'm going to conserve it. I'm going to spend the time. I'm going to volunteer.” We don't have enough money anymore to even look after this stuff.

We create these parks and we create these settings so that people have a place to engage. It's now the only choice we have to actually go after the place they engage. Remember that roam rate, that 150 yards? If we don't create the space when and where they play, they will not get there. It doesn't matter if you're on the edge of a world biosphere reserve like the one near where I live; the kids aren't there. They're at their schools, and the schools are paved, predominantly, from tip to tail.

As a result, it takes six to eight hours for a typical teacher right now to get their kids to go and spend one hour outside, because they have to sign a raft of papers to engage their kids with nature because they can't do it on their school ground. It's time that we started to think about the places where our kids spend time and engage them there.

There are three levers that our government can pull. It's funny that you talk about urban nature, because you're not really in our cities. The federal government doesn't have a huge amount of jurisdiction there, but you have legislation as a tool, you have taxes, and you have funding.

In terms of legislation, I would like to see some of the “no child left inside” legislation that's starting to go through the U.S. so that every kid right across the country spends two hours outside every day. That pushes the parents outside. That pushes the kids outside. That pushes the teachers outside. As a result, they will be more healthy. They will be more intelligent. Yes; in fact, their IQs go up if you do this. They will get an experiential education that won't cost any of you a dime, but you'll look good.

Second would be tax credits, because you have taxes as a lever. I'd like to see tax credits for people who are increasing levels of biodiversity in our urban spaces where people connect, meaning our playgrounds, our parks, our hospitals, and our school grounds.

So the second thing is a tax credit. What you'll find if you actually increase the amount of stuff that happens here, in terms of the built environment, is you will end up with a bigger, better GDP. We'll no longer be taking plastic and steel that's produced in China, designed in California, where we take on the risks. You'll actually be producing a local economy-based solution to this, and the money stays here.

Finally, we need to aggressively fund two things. One is outdoor schools that are making a difference. There are two right now that are great examples. One is the North Vancouver Outdoor School. In order to graduate from North Vancouver school district, you have to spend a week out in nature at this school, and it's a gem. The next one you actually own, as our national government, and that is the Palisades out in Jasper, which is a brilliant place where people come from around the world to learn about how to do it right.

The last one is public-private collaborations, and that's the stuff that I directly work on.

You cannot do this by yourselves, as government, anymore. The money is not there. You need to collaborate with people who are in the cities, because you don't have a jurisdiction and you don't have a mandate there. You need to properly fund the collaborations that are going to get more people to engage in nature. Otherwise, we're not going to have the future conservationists, and all of us who have this understanding that who we are as Canadians is tied to the land are going to miss that.

The last little thing I'll say is that sometime you need to Google “Canada” and hit “images”. You will find all of the pristine stuff that we talk about conserving. You will not find that if you Google any other country. We have a limited window to take advantage of the way that we perceive ourselves. We need to get to work.

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you so much.

Next is the Canadian Institute of Planners. We have the president, Andrea Gabor.

You have 10 minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Andrea Gabor President, Canadian Institute of Planners

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.

My name is Andrea Gabor, and I am the president of the Canadian Institute of Planners. I'm accompanied by David Wise, who is the chair of our planning advisory committee. Unfortunately, Steven Brasier, our executive director, is unable to join us today.

We're very pleased to have been invited to speak to your committee and we have prepared a brief presentation to respond to some of the questions you put forward to us. We have brought some examples of urban conservation that respond to some of the opportunities that Mr. Bienenstock has talked about in terms of making them active places.

I would like to take a minute to tell you about our organization. The Canadian Institute of Planners is the national voice of Canada's planning profession. We've been in place since 1919, and we've been dedicated to the advancement of responsible planning throughout Canada. We address matters around professional standards, planning practice, and public policy, both domestically and globally. We undertake research on climate change and sustainability.

We have about 7,000 members working at the local, regional, provincial, and national levels of government, or as private sector consultants, as David and I are. A lot of our work bears on the design, management, and regulation of sustainable community development.

When you first talked to us about urban conservation, we said to ourselves, “What do they mean, exactly?” David is going to interpret for you what we think it means.

4:05 p.m.

David Wise Chair, Policy Advisory Committee, Canadian Institute of Planners

The Canadian Institute of Planners has defined planning as the scientific, aesthetic, and orderly disposition of land, facilities, and services, with a view to securing the physical, economic, and social efficiency and the health and well-being of urban and rural communities. That's our definition in which we encompass our own particular professional practice, and that's the framework upon which we view the idea of what urban conservation might be.

When we look at urban conservation within the definition of a planning practice, we consider that part of the mandate of our planning profession is to understand, analyze, and inform the decision-making and good policy development of the usage of these urban land resources, be they environmental, cultural, economic and so on, to their best and most equitable effect.

If we were to define urban conservation in such way as to give our own definition of it from our own planning practice, we would say it speaks to the idea of conserving, protecting, enhancing, and in some cases creating special places of note and character within the urban setting, for the ongoing use, enjoyment, and utility of current and future generations, without compromising unnecessarily the nature of the place itself.

Conservation, in our view, does not imply preservation. Rather, conservation implies a stewardship and a regulation of a range of uses and potential activities so as to maximize that economic, environmental, and net social value. This involves balancing and at times reconciling competing interests, and finding opportunities to combine solutions that maximize that benefit of the public interest.

If I could wrap it all up in one final encompassment, we believe urban conservation is all about developing cultural and environmental landscapes that operate to the maximum benefit, and we believe urban conservation truly occupies a three-pillar approach to urban space. It requires a multidisciplinary perspective from a number of different groups.

4:10 p.m.

President, Canadian Institute of Planners

Andrea Gabor

We're going to now give you three examples of urban parks. The first is Rouge Park, which is a national urban park. It comprises over 40 square kilometres and spans the communities of Toronto and Pickering, at the middle, really, of our greater Toronto area. One of the most important things about Rouge Park is that it's accessible by transit. You don't need a car to get there. That's an important characteristic of a place that is accessible to the community.

One point I'd like to make is that as our urban areas become more and more intense and as we preach intensification and transit and all of that, we still need to have reachable urban areas where we, our children, and our grandchildren can experience nature without having to drive for two hours. Rouge Park is not two hours away; it's a bus stop away, or, for some people, maybe a couple of bus stops.

It's particularly interesting because it has a human history that goes back more than 12,000 years. I can't even imagine what that means, but we've got artifacts and archeology referring to the Paleoindian and the Archaic periods. Then you've got the European settlers who came in the 1650s. You've got natural heritage resources in the park. One was an Indian portage, which then became used by the European settlers. The other is Bead Hill, an archeological site with the remains of a 17th century Seneca village, a national historic site accessible along the trails within the park. That's an important aspect of all the things that you can bring together. This is a huge park, and we’re very lucky that this park has so many attributes.

It also has numerous significant plant and animal species and communities within its borders. Its natural beauty and biological diversity have attracted people to these lands, which are now protected in Rouge Park.

The cultural and natural heritage contained within the park is definitely a resource worth preserving. You can see on this map the different land ownerships encompassed within Rouge Park. To create it, lands and funds were given from the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, municipal governments, and other agencies.

In the throne speech of May 2011, the federal government announced its intention to create a national urban park in the Rouge Valley. This would become the first national urban park in the country and one of the largest in North America. This is truly a momentous achievement for all the partners in this Rouge Park and for the public and the visitors who visit it and have so many resources at their...I was going to say “their fingertips”; it's more at their footsteps.

The Evergreen Brick Works is another one where we have collaboration by our newly found friend. We hadn't met before today, and he said, “I know your partner. I did the first plan for the Brick Works”, and I said, “Well, that's funny, I'm talking about the Brick Works”.

This is a 40-acre natural heritage park—not really a totally natural heritage park—in midtown Toronto. It's at Bayview Avenue and Pottery Road. You couldn't get much more in the middle of Toronto than this. Originally, it was the site of a brick factory that created many of the bricks for the houses in Toronto. It's connected to the Don Valley ravine system and many Toronto neighbourhoods. You can see it's not very far from our huge downtown. It's about a 10-minute drive from the CN Tower. Accessible by transit, by bicycle, and on foot, this park is something that acts as an environmental community centre.

They started building this in 2002, and it's been open since 2010, led by the City of Toronto and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. Fundraising is an interesting question. They secured an initial $3 million in private funds from David and Robin Young, who are noted sponsors in Toronto.

That was pivotal to their achieving a provincial commitment of $10 million, and that was pivotal to the federal Infrastructure Canada giving them $20 million.

Am I over my time?

4:15 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

You have a minute.

4:15 p.m.

President, Canadian Institute of Planners

Andrea Gabor

I just want to say that this is an excellent example of heritage and sustainability—you can go two slides down—and there's also a new, modern LEED Platinum building that integrates the historic and the sustainability aspects.

4:15 p.m.

Chair, Policy Advisory Committee, Canadian Institute of Planners

David Wise

We'll just give you one final site and wrap it up quickly.

You can see that this is a local site on Crown Street in Vancouver. It's an example of microscale green infrastructure and ecological processes all coming together on a small neighbourhood scale. It's a very fascinating site. I urge you to look it up.

Finally, we have a series of four recommendations: best practice leadership, funding sources to inspire progress, reviewing standards for federal funding, and integration with the other federal initiatives that you have ongoing. You have a lot of very interesting programs that are ongoing. We feel there's a real opportunity to tie those things together in the name of urban conservation.

I'd be happy to speak more about that in the question and answer period.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

4:15 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you, again, Madam Gabor and Mr. Wise. We really appreciated that testimony.

Next, via video conference from Halifax, Nova Scotia, we will hear from the Ecology Action Centre, with Ms. Powley, coordinator, and Mr. Butler, policy director.

Mr. Butler will be making a statement on behalf of Ms. Powley. The statement was written by her.

You have five minutes.

4:15 p.m.

Jennifer Powley Coordinator, Our HRM Alliance, Ecology Action Centre

Thank you.

I'm Jen Powley. I'm a wheelchair user, and on Friday my wheelchair died. I'm in a new wheelchair, but I don't have the right support, so Mark agreed to speak for me.

4:15 p.m.

Mark Butler Policy Director, Ecology Action Centre

Jen is the brains of the operation, and I'm the voice. I am reading from her submission.

For the past two years, Jen has been coordinating the Our HRM Alliance through the Ecology Action Centre. The Ecology Action Centre is Nova Scotia’s oldest and most respected environmental action organization. The Our HRM Alliance is the Ecology Action Centre’s municipal campaign. Though the EAC has a provincial focus, the fact that HRM, or Halifax, makes up 40% of the province’s population means that it needs special attention. The Our HRM Alliance is a coalition of over 40 member groups, which includes health groups, business groups, and environmental groups from across the municipality—urban, suburban, and rural—who have all agreed to principles of sustainability and conservation.

Jen is trained as an urban planner, and through her training she was exposed to the regional municipal planning strategy for Halifax Regional Municipality. In theory, it’s to be the plan that guides all community decisions about where and how to develop. That includes where residences are built, where commercial and industrial activity are guided, and what areas should be preserved. In the years from the approval of the plan to the first five-year review that is currently under way, we have seen a lot of development that seemed to go against the principles outlined in the plan. We have sprawl, we have development on sensitive lands, we have beautiful wilderness areas being threatened by residential development, and we have a downtown that is losing key businesses to business parks on the fringes.

The regional plan is built on the principles of sustainability, and it is just not being adhered to.

When it comes to urban conservation, the focus should not be on the municipality or community as a whole, but must specifically target downtowns, uptowns, and the centre of the community. These are the areas that often were built 100 years ago and were essentially left to develop themselves while the municipalities and cities focused their attention on other areas, such as suburbs and industrial parks. In HRM, no investment was made in the downtown for the past 50 years. The downtown now desperately needs investment.

Society is making the shift back to urban cores. The attention of government must also shift. There was a move away from car-oriented suburban life back to urban lifestyles that involve living within walking distance of work and other amenities. As people age, they recognize the value of this kind of lifestyle. Younger people don’t want to spend their money or time on the highway. A U.S. study, “Exploring Changing Travel Trends” , found that the average number of vehicle miles travelled per person is decreasing.

According to a report by the Frontier Group entitled “Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less and What it Means for Transportation Policy”, more North American young people are choosing not to drive a private vehicle. This means they are taking transit, walking, and biking. They are not even bothering to get their driver's licence, because they know that a more active lifestyle is better for their health and easier on their pocketbook.

The ill effects of sitting in cars is well documented. An article entitled “Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars” concludes that each additional hour spent in a car per day is associated with a 6% increase in likelihood of obesity, while each additional kilometre walked per day is associated with a 4.8% decrease in obesity.

We know that having cities expand outward threatens agricultural and forestry lands. Once a field is paved over, it cannot be used again for growing the food that the citizens of the country need to survive. We know that the health of our watersheds, our lakes, and our streams is threatened by development and the ensuing effects of a substantial population living nearby.

To deal with this, Our HRM Alliance proposes a suite of seven solutions to help HRM get back on track. These same seven solutions would help any municipality. This is not the forum to go into the details of the solutions, but they are meant to be adopted as a suite. Choosing to implement one and not the others will not achieve the type of conservation that is needed as we navigate a world rife with the challenges of an aging population and climate change.

The seven solutions proposed by the municipality include greenbelting, investing in downtown cores, prioritizing transit and active transportation, adhering to residential growth targets, evaluating development charges, protecting water—and we have a lot of it here in HRM from our lakes and rivers to our coasts—and committing to measuring successes and deficiencies of identified actions.

The first solution, to use greenbelting, is a multi-faceted approach that centres on the use of an urban containment boundary to require that cities make the best possible use of existing infrastructure.

The greenbelting solution proposed by Our HRM Alliance consists of four separate but interlocking areas to cover the municipality as a whole, starting with perhaps the most protected areas and natural corridors, which are great places for overnight camping.

The second category is natural resources and agriculture. We don't have much agriculture in HRM, but we have a lot of forestry going on, so that's where forestry would take place, along with fishing and hunting.

The third category is rural communities and coastal management area, and the fourth is the regional centre and suburban growth centres.

It calls on the municipality to replace, repair, and maintain the sewer and water pipes that it already has in place, rather than building new ones. Within the municipality of HRM, there is enough serviced land to handle at least 30 years' worth of growth, even at the highest growth scenario, yet the municipality is approving sewer and water line extensions. The new federal standards will require massive upgrades to the existing pipes, so we ask why we should put in more infrastructure.

While obtaining federal assistance on new projects is great, most cities are facing the same problems as Halifax. They need to maintain existing infrastructure. A report compiled by the Canadian Urban Institute, entitled “The Value of Investing in Canadian Downtowns”, substantiates this point.

Having this concept recognized by the Government of Canada would move the issue of urban conservation ahead. According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada in 2011, over 81% of the nation’s population lived in urban areas. Having a department dedicated to the conservation of the urban areas they live in is crucial.

The urban containment boundary would ensure that agricultural and forestry lands are preserved for that purpose. Wetlands and watersheds would also be protected. At the same time, investment in transit within the urban containment boundary could happen. A federal vision for transit would support this.

The HRM Alliance's second solution calls for a tri-party investment in both the downtown core and in the downtown main streets of the 50 other municipal growth centres in HRM. Candidates in the municipal election have agreed that this type of investment, as long as it is led by the federal government, is crucial for the conservation of all the municipality's urbanized areas.

Finally, the idea of urban conservation must look at preserving green spaces within our urban areas. It must also look at maintaining the areas already built. It is by giving these already-built areas primacy that there will be a disincentive to add more pavement to the size of the city. It is possible for cities to grow and develop without vastly extending their footprints.

Things will need to be done differently as society's standards and expectations change, but with this change will come a more sustainable urban environment.

Thank you very much.

4:25 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you so much, Mr. Butler.

Many of us on the committee think back with fond memory of our visit, when you hosted a number of us and showed us the beautiful natural parts of Halifax, so thank you so much for that. It was a wonderful part of that trip.

We are going to begin the seven-minute round of questioning. Colleagues, I remind you of the scope.

To the Ecology Action Centre, thank you so much for having that on the back of your presentation. You've actually listed those seven scoping questions and then answered them. Thank you for that.

With that in mind, seven questions addressing the scope of the study are as follows:

1. What is urban conservation?

2. What could be the goals of connecting urban Canadians with conservation?

3. What are the best practices in Canada?

4. What urban conservation initiatives are currently at use?

5. What are the economic, health, biodiversity, and social benefits associated with urban conservation?

6. How do we define a protected space?

7. What role should the federal government play?

We will begin our seven minutes with Mr. Sopuck.

4:25 p.m.


Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Thanks to all our speakers for their wise words.

Mr. Bienenstock, you took me back to my childhood in Winnipeg. When I thought about roam rate, that's exactly how I lived. Even though I represent a remote rural constituency the size of Denmark now, I like to think that the creek close to where I lived in Winnipeg, which I adopted as my creek, gave me that lifelong love of nature and set me on the path that I'm on now.

I share your concern about children who have limited experience in nature. You're well aware of the phrase “nature deficit disorder”. Can you comment on what effect that has on a child as he or she grows older, if they've not had exposure to nature? Keep in mind that in our three million years of evolution, most of that was spent in nature. What happens to a child who suffers from nature deficit disorder?

4:25 p.m.

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

Adam Bienenstock

Nature deficit disorder is a phrase coined by Richard Louv, who wrote a book called Last Child in the Woods in 2005 that brought a lot of this stuff together. I've worked with Rich for the last five years as part of his strategic planning committee in the U.S.

I'll throw some stats out. Right now the average screen time for an 8- to 18-year-old in North America is 52.5 hours per week. That's average. That means that there are a lot of them who hit 70, and there are a few who hit 30. The Kaiser Family Foundation did this stat two years ago. They didn't believe the stat when they did it, so they tested again with thousands more people, and they ended up with a bigger number.

What happens? What happens is the difference between the kids who hit 30 hours a week as their average screen time versus the kids at 70. What's different between them? There was one specific question that they addressed—one thing, one statement—that they had that was different. It was that almost all of the ones in the 30 range—94% of them—could remember a moment before they were eight years old when they had an immersive, important, life-changing, memorable experience in nature with a grown-up. For the ones at 70, the numbers were around 40% to 45% of them.

There is something significant that happens. In some of the research, they talk about how it's akin to imprinting, just like a duckling imprints. We imprint on this stuff. Right now, we're working awfully hard as a society to make sure that they don't have that moment when they imprint on nature.

What does 40 hours a week mean in terms of health and well-being—40 hours a week of not being in front of a screen, but actually 40 hours more of engagement? It means they're not going to be obese. This is the first time in history when we, as the grown-ups around this room, are going to have a longer lifespan than our kids.

They are going to die faster, they are going to cost more, and that's the big change. That's the big payoff. It saves us loads of money. There can't be an easier intervention: go outside.

4:30 p.m.


Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

I really appreciated your distinction, too, between the conservation ethic and stewardship and engagement. Again, in the rural areas that I represent, the word “stewardship” is a much friendlier word when it comes to our interactions with the environment, as opposed to the word “environment” itself.

You talk about public-private collaborations, Mr. Bienenstock, in terms of urban conservation. Would you see a role for rural people who have the concept of stewardship in their bones to work with their urban counterparts to perhaps present real-life experiences?

4:30 p.m.

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

Adam Bienenstock

There is no question that those lines need to be crossed.

One of the interesting things to mention, of course, is that in that stat of 52.5 hours, there's only a three-hour difference for rural Canadians. It drops to 49 when we get outside of the cities. It is actually not a significant change. We are staying in and sitting in front of our screens more and more, but absolutely, the more people with the experience who bring that experience to others, the better it is. People-to-people interaction is what's going to make a difference, such as the idea of bringing trained park rangers from our national parks to the cities to do things there and to engage.

We design parks, specifically right now, that are reflections of the nearest national park, and we bring those and plonk them down in the middle of the city so that our national park rangers have a place where they can actually go and talk about the things that they are good at, that they are familiar with, so they can deliver a program and teach stewardship.

4:30 p.m.


Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

I have just one thing I'd like you to consider as well. I don't know if you do this or not, but rivers are very important in most of our cities, and you see that urban angling is a very popular activity. That may be a way to start engaging kids.