Downtown St. Catharines Advocates for Greener Main Streets on the Global Stage

Photo of Lindsay Taylor, Sustainability Director, at the Society for Ecological Restoration 2023 Conference in Darwin, Australia

In September 2023, I had the privilege of representing Downtown St. Catharines at the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) 2023 conference, held in Australia’s northern capital, Darwin. This global gathering brought together the world’s leading experts in ecological restoration and environmental conservation. The mission was clear: to present our urban street tree research and advocate for the pivotal role of Main Streets in sustainable development, revitalization, and restoration.

The topics explored in Darwin were diverse, much like Australia’s own tropical forests, discussing the importance of Indigenous contributions in restoration efforts, the need to increase the scope of restoration efforts for long-term investment in sensitive habitats (like mangroves and coral reefs), and ideas on how communities can become more invested in urban forest management.

A common concern at the conference was the overabundance of management, and a missing appreciation for the science that should be driving our cities forward. Management often operates under the rule of the bottom line: profit. And this same limitation is often seen with urban forest management. Until recently, we had no ability to scientifically prove the value of a tree, which limited the language we could use to describe the value of our forests.

But as the leaves change, so does our technology. We are now able to measure not only the monetary value of a tree, but we can also effectively track the numerous environmental and infrastructural qualities that our urban forests offer. These qualities are commonly referred to as ‘ecoservices’. In our report on the State, Value & Future of Urban Street Trees, we investigated the value and services that urban street trees provide to the Downtown Community. These included but are not limited to, pollution removal, to help reduce inner-city smog, water infiltration, which reduces precipitation loads that overburden our wastewater facilities, and carbon sequestration, that secures atmospheric carbon in living infrastructure.

Our natural world grows slowly, and science begs us to take our time by effectively integrating scientific data into our management strategies. These strategies can, in turn, lead to profit by applying research-based approaches to management to properly invest in, maintain, and appreciate our urban infrastructure. Our proposal includes a push toward a standardised inventorying methodology to help us persistently, and consistently track the growth and health of our urban forests, so we can manage our assets and compare successes across Ontario. This shift in management strategies is a part of a greater cultural renaissance that is evolving how we do business, for people, planet, and profit. 

One exciting development on the horizon is the introduction of the new CSA W218:23 standard. This standard promises to support municipalities as they transition to incorporate natural asset management, aligning with O. Reg. 588/17 Asset Management Planning for Municipal Infrastructure. It’s a significant step toward a more sustainable and ecologically conscious future.

Collaboration is the heart of progress, and I’m thrilled to share that my co-author, Sean Parkinson, and I will have the opportunity to work with a new colleague from South Africa. Together, we aim to support their tree inventorying process and delve into a tree equity study. This international collaboration highlights the growing interest in urban ecosystems, a trend that promises a brighter, greener future.

The SER 2023 conference was an enriching experience, reinforcing the importance of our work in promoting sustainable urban development, restoring & revitalising our Main Streets, and creating a more environmentally conscious world. We’re excited about the possibilities ahead and look forward to a future where the preservation of our natural assets takes centre stage in urban planning.

Lindsay Taylor, B.A. & CERPIT holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brock University in Labour Studies with a minor in Psychology along with two diplomas from Niagara College in Business General and Environmental Technician studies and a Graduate Certificate in Ecosystem Restoration. Taylor has been recognized with two major awards including the Niagara College President’s Award for Innovation in Student Learning and Success and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority with an Award of Merit. She is currently a Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner in Training through the Society for Ecological Restoration and an Associate Member of the Ontario Association of Engineering Technicians and Technologists. 

Sean Parkinson, B.Sc., studied environmental science and biology at McMaster University before completing a post-grad in Environmental Management and Assessment at Niagara College. Parkinson is a distinguished Urban Forestry researcher with over 10 years of experience in the environmental sciences. He specializes in tree biology and the crucial role of biodiversity in mitigating climate change impacts within urban communities.

More information about the tree report can be found at: 

Photo of St. Catharines courtesy of the City of St. Catharines