Ian Attridge on the Future of Peterborough

We are fast approaching the Peterborough municipal election, which occurs on October 22. An election is not just a changing of the guard in leadership, but is also an ideal time to start a conversation about the kind of city, and the kind of future, we want to build. There are many challenges facing this city right now, many ideas about directions the city could go, and many opportunities to build towards those future.

Recently, we have been speaking to local community organizers, thought-leaders, advocates, activists,and citizens about their visions for the Future of Peterborough. We will be publishing these interviews over the next weeks and months, and encouraging you, our readers and the citizens of Peterborough, to have your say. We start today with Ian Attridge.

Ian Attridge is a local lawyer, Trent university professor in environmental law, and community advocate. Through his work with Reimagine Peterborough and other organizations, he has become a regular fixture at City Council meetings and in the offices of City staff, arguing for better community engagement and evidence-based policy. He is also fanatically knowledgeable about City policies and practices, and has been an invaluable source for publications like this one.




What do you believe are the most important issues facing Peterborough right now?

I think growth management is one of those—how do we plan for the future of development in the city? Another one is, how do we translate the community’s interest in the environment and sustainability and resilience into policies, practices, and professionals who will really bring that to the fore in our city?

I think poverty issues are an important one for our community to address. And I’m thinking of poverty in a number of ways: certainly financial, but if we take a sustainability lens on that, we might also say, how are we impoverished culturally, economically, socially, and environmentally?

Then I think the public engagement side is a real challenge for our community. There’s been experiments in improving public engagement—starts and stops, successes and sometimes failures or frustrations in that process. I think there are examples of how we can do that better. Part of that is an interactive dialogue that allows us to try something, learn from other places, listen to multiple voices and perspectives in our community, and then grow that practice, supported by policies and people who are involved in that.


What are you seeing the community you’d like to see more of?

To pick up on some of those themes: development—I’m seeing some of the work of Ashburnham Realty and Paul Bennett. It’s strategic, it’s intensified, it seems to be at a human scale. I don’t know how affordable it is, but I think in some cases it is. It’s having dialogue with the artists living in those buildings. That seems to be heading in the right direction, as one example.

I’m excited by the growing cycling culture of Peterborough. I think that organizations like GreenUP and B!KE, but also the public is picking up on that practice, so that’s exciting. And I think it’s translating into business opportunities and an increase in the quality of life, and benefits to health and all of that.

Some of the Peterborough Pollinator stuff, and the connection with nature. The Harper Park initiative, others who are leading bird walks and things like that. There seem to be multiple ways for people to connect with nature. The community gardens are another piece—connecting with nature, and food, and the soil. We have the highest density of community gardens in Canada here in Peterborough, and that’s exciting.

Also some of the practitioners of public engagement. People like Cheryl Lyon, Ben Wolfe, Resonance Centre, Todd Barr—some of the folks that are bringing their expertise to the table and showing some new techniques, bringing those lessons from elsewhere and showing we can try them here. Let’s have a different kind of conversation, let’s bring more voices to the table. That’s exciting. I don’t think it’s fully translated into how our formal institutions work, but hopefully that will come.

What is your ideal vision for the future of Peterborough?

I think it’s adaptive, so that it’s a future where we understand the goals, where we have a sense of that as a community that we are generally aligned with those goals, but where we recognize that how we get there may have to change along the path, through conversations.

It is sustainable and resilient, so it’s really embracing multiple dimensions of our community, and it’s bringing together the social, the environmental, the economic, and the cultural. We have such a huge talent pool in all of those dimensions, and if we can tap into that expertise, and balance it out more, then that is the kind of community I foresee.

In particular I think we have tremendous expertise in our community on the environmental side, more than almost any other community in Canada, I would guess, but it tends to be the under-resourced side of sustainability. It tends to be done on a volunteer basis and mostly by NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. And yet, every sort of public planning exercise for the last 20 or 30 years that says, ‘What are your high priorities in this community?’, the environment is number one or two. It’s under-resourced, but it’s a high priority.

Another dimension is to find ways to bring together the multiple voices and cultures that we have in our community, and in particular our relationship to Indigenous people. Both the surrounding reserves and embracing the traditional territory of the Mississauga Anishinaabe, but also other Indigenous traditions from beyond. As part of my vision for the future, I see that we’ll be more connected with that, and we’ll honour traditional territories, protocols, and values, and practices much more robustly than we even contemplate today.


What do you believe we need to do to get there?

I guess several things. I see the City of Peterborough’s Official Plan, and the County of Peterborough’s Official Plan, as huge opportunities to bring forward a collective vision for the future that represents some of those things I was talking about earlier. But not only the content or goals, but also the process, the adaptability, the conversations in our community that allow us to continue debating and finding common ground for that future. I think the Official Plans are a major opportunity, and that’s to be completed by our community over the next year. That’s a huge one.

Another step is, enhancing the processes we use in our community to have those conversations. To do that in civic society, to do that through technology and online mechanisms, but it’s also in the processes that the government is using. I see that the goals and values reflected in the Official Plan, and then the processes to continue that conversation, is an important part.

Part of that process is something we lost 10 or 15 years ago, but we could re-establish. I’m thinking back to Vision 2020, which was an initiative that brought a lot of common ideas together. A lot of people were involved in crafting that. And one of the things they had identified is to have a sort of Citizens Council that would represent the different sectors of the community and bring them together.

That was raised, then the City and the County created what is now Peterborough Economic Development, and that was funded. But the other pillars of sustainability—cultural, social, and environmental—didn’t have that funding, and didn’t have that forum on an equivalent basis in our community. We over-emphasized the economic side, and didn’t have the balance to bring those dimensions into an ongoing conversations of leaders and representatives in town. I think we could look at that again, update it, and find a way to make it a more feasible model for our future.

Where the community has put effort into expressing their views and pulling together the expertise from different sectors, let’s really tap into that. I feel that too often we’ve convened people to bring their ideas and their energies to the table, but we haven’t fully capitalized on that. We may have taken a few ideas, but not fully continued the conversation with them. So there’s more work to be done there.

And then the other step is diversifying, and re-connecting, and learning, as a largely settler community, to the Indigenous traditions and values and ways that have been long adapted to this territory. It’ll need to be a blend between Indigenous and settler communities, but to keep that conversation genuine and in a pattern of respect and learning.



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Gabe Pollock

Gabe Pollock

Gabe Pollock is Editor-in-Chief of Electric City Magazine. He is a Peterborough-born freelance writer and editor who has covered Peterborough music and culture since 2012, first on Electric City Live and now in its magaziney successor.