May 31, 2013
Jake Tobin Garrett
Novae Res Urbis
If you ask Toronto Environmental Alliance executive director Franz Hartmann if Toronto has become more environmentally friendly during the organization’s 25 years, he is quick to say yes. But he’s also quick to point out the challenges and work that still lie ahead in making sure the city is as green as it can be for all its residents.
Last night, TEA celebrated its 25th anniversary. In an interview with NRU, Hartmann, who has been involved with TEA since 1990 and executive director since 2007, highlighted the organization’s achievements and how it has been so successful.
In 1988, the city had sewage incineration, very little waste diversion, high pesticide use for cosmetic purposes and lots of contamination, Hartmann pointed out. But now a lot of those have been eliminated or reduced because of the work that TEA has done over the years.
Over that 25-year period, TEA has also grown enormously and worked to extend its reach into North York, Etobicoke and Scarborough from its base in downtown Toronto. TEA volunteers attend over 130 community meetings each year, Hartmann said, increasingly in the suburban areas of the city.
Now the organization better represents both the geographical and cultural diversity of the city in its membership. “We are transforming ourselves to represent the Toronto of today and we’ve been very successful,” Hartmann said.
The reception to the organization’s effort in getting outside of the downtown has been “remarkable.” The best example of this, he noted, was the organization’s campaign to get Transit City back on the table after Mayor Rob Ford announced it was dead in 2010.
TEA had volunteers from Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke knocking on doors and talking to their neighbours about what would be lost if the plans for the network of LRTs fell through.
“The people who were helping us on this were from the affected communities,” Hartmann said. “People were really engaged and they appreciated that we were out there talking to them.”
Council eventually voted, in February 2012, to bring many of the LRTs back to life.
Another key part of TEA’s success over the years has been what Hartmann called the organization’s fierce non-partisan approach. The organization works with a wide variety of councillors from all parts of the political spectrum and understands “that on a particular issue we get particular councillors and on another issue we may get another set of councillors and that’s okay. Our concern is the issue, not the politics of the councillor.”
Working with the city’s current mayor, however, has been difficult. While Hartmann said TEA had excellent working relationships with Mel Lastman and David Miller, he said the organization doesn’t have a relationship with Mayor Ford.
“But that’s not due to a lack of effort,” he added. “The mayor has made it quite clear these environmental issues are not a priority for him.”
That being said, TEA is looking to address upcoming challenges in the city. Hartmann said they will be focusing their efforts on making sure transit expansion and funding comes through, but also keeping pressure on the city to encourage more waste diversion.
Ensuring the city is resilient enough to weather coming changes due to climate change is another key area for TEA.
“We want to make sure the that the city is doing everything it can, not just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but to get the city’s infrastructure in shape. Climate change is happening,” he said. “And we need an infrastructure that’s ready for that.”