Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: summit thinking

Urban stasis … what about rural?

Mural on the in-progress Roy Building on Barrington Street, downtown Halifax, featuring a quote by architect Daniel Liebskind.

Mural on the in-progress Roy Building on Barrington Street, downtown Halifax, featuring a quote by architect Daniel Liebskind.

Halifax is a mess. I’m not kidding. For those of us who have cars and kids in summer camps all over the place, instead of its usual peaceful summer self, Halifax is detour central. Downtown is under construction, with towers pushing out of heritage skins, and two of the five roads leading into the dreaded Armdale Rotary are closed for various reasons. This is relatively new. For years, nothing could be built downtown, it seemed, because of the need to protect views to the 18th century defensive citadel at the heart of the city. While the volume of work simultaneously underway is inconvenient, it is like a wildfire spreading after decades or centuries of fire suppression. This is Yellowstone, circa 1988.   Liebskind is right (see photo). The citadel is not what Halifax is about anymore.  It doesn’t meet new needs for urban densification, for instance. (It also bears mentioning, it never did meet needs; the Citadel was never attacked.)

But why stop at cities? Why is it that busses line up on cruise ship days to take thousands of visitors  to Peggy’s Cove? Peggy’s Cove is a simulacra of an 18th century coastal Nova Scotia fishing village, with its Peggy’s Point Lighthouse sitting atop massive granite outcrops arguably the most photographed place in the region. Rather than relying on fishing, this place and others like it now rely on tourism that commemorates a Golden Age idea of ‘Maritimicity’ (coined by eminent Canadian historian Ian McKay in 1988). We might need rural places for new things, like renewable energy, but if we’re not careful, the ‘tourism state’ will deny such alternate visions.

Energy Impacts Symposium

The cover slide of my Energy Impacts presentation, a synthesis of work on several fronts.

The cover slide of my Energy Impacts presentation, a synthesis of landscape work on several fronts.

The last two days I spent at the gigantic Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio (it has it’s own traffic radio station), in a gaggle of energy impacts social scientists. The Energy Impacts Symposium was a product of a US NSF Research Coordination grant co-held by Jeffrey Jacquet (OSU) and Julia Haggerty (MSU). The event brought together some great keynotes on energy issues, including Benjamin Sovacool on energy justice, Monica Ehrman on energy realism, and Janet Stephenson on long-term shifts in energy cultures. Despite the heavy and understandable focus on the US shale experience, given what Stephenson described as the American “state of siege” by that fuel, the commonwealth made a strong showing. In addition to Stephenson, from New Zealand (and Ehrman, a Canadian living in the US), there was a strong contingent of Australian, UK and Canadian academics across all stages. It was a great opportunity to catch up with friends like Tom Measham and expand networks in those of us working under Westminster settings, that (thankfully) results in very different outcomes in governance and on the ground.

The engagement with scholars across career levels was very strong thanks in part to a competitive ‘Symposium Fellow’ program. A number of ‘Fellows’ were Commonwealth: Bec Colvin (ANU, my alma mater), who gave a fantastic talk on social rifts as a result of wind energy consultation in King Island, Nichole Dusyk, working across hydro and pipelines in postdoctoral work at SFU, and Eryn Fitzgerald (UVic) who as a Masters student among PhD and postdocs won second on the poster award for her work on indigenous hydro in BC. Leah Stokes (originally Canadian, now UCSB) gave a great talk on the degree of public backlash from wind projects. This is not to slight the Americans, of course. I saw a great presentation by Weston Eaton (Penn State) on biomass crops, and Julia Haggerty on ‘social license to exit’, as well as super posters by scholars such as Kristin Smith (MSU), Chris Podeski (Bloomsburg U of Penn), Meryl Gardner (Delaware) and the talented Anne Junod (OSU). Such riches of relevant research solidifies for me the value of prioritizing the attendance of problem-based, rather than disciplinary, meetings.

I was honored to receive a travel award to attend this event on the strength of my submitted abstract, Toward a non-equilibrium model of change in cultural landscapes. I was also grateful that the funding gave me a hard deadline for doing this planned synthesis around landscape emerging from SSHRC-funded work on energy (hydro and dam removal, renewable transitions) and agricultural dykelands. This presentation will now be converted to a chapter for a collected volume being co-edited by the conference steering committee this fall.

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