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  • What’s the RUSH? Anne-Marie Daniel’s Resilient Urban Systems and Habitat Initiative


    Maleea Acker
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    A biomimicry professional, who looks to nature’s brilliance to guide design and solve problems, is leading the charge for social and ecosystem mapping of the CRD. 

     

    FIVE YEARS AGO, Anne-Marie Daniel woke up from a dream about the region’s languishing environmental health. “I thought, ‘we need to get the cards on the table, to know what we’re dealing with,’” she tells me from her home in North Saanich. The forest near her home was suffering from drought and an influx of invasive ivy. Climate change, even before this year’s heat wave and atmospheric river pummelled the BC coast, was already making itself known. “I wanted resilient mapping in record time. I wanted answers to opportunities and gaps, and to know it yesterday.” The urgency of the region’s increasing fragility—in the face of longer summers, decreasing natural areas and a complex tangle of politics—seemed to call for action. Now all her idea needs is funding.

     

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    Anne-Marie Daniel: “I wanted to focus on what nature needs.”

     

    Daniel approached her friend and colleague, architect Christine Lintott, and they began to talk, plan, “mess around trying to find the levers,” and eventually settled on the Resilience Urban Systems and Habitat (RUSH) Initiative. Since then, she’s been planning its 2022 launch off the side of her desk, collaborating with place-makers, academics, students, developers and government in the region to tackle some of its most wicked problems.

    One of the key gaps the RUSH initiative hopes to fill is that of a one-stop shop for social and ecosystem mapping, data sets, participatory modelling, citizen science, and community-based research. The CRD’s Natural Areas Atlas provides some ecosystem mapping, but not all; and it’s missing citizen science and place-making features, which allow residents to contribute their own sense of connection to land and an accounting of its important features. The UVic Mapping Collaboratory once filled that community mapping piece, but lack of steady funding has meant some of the site is no longer updated or accessible. Other projects in the region, like the Little Free Library map, are great tools but represent one of many individual sites that must be visited. 

    A mediator and conflict resolution specialist, Daniel is a founding member of The Roy Group, a leadership development firm. She is also one of only a small number of certified biomimicry professionals that uses nature’s brilliance to guide design and solve problems. Daniel has lived throughout the USA, Canada and in Scotland, where she ran a retreat centre for youth from difficult backgrounds on the Isle of Skye until 2005. When she and her family left, she was looking to recharge and to try a new chapter: “I wanted to focus on what nature needs.” The family landed in Saskatchewan and drove to the Island. “Very quickly, the land and the water took hold of my spirit and it felt so good. It’s such a place of innovation and talent,” Daniel says. 

    Daniel, who is an amazing listener and a lively pleasure to work with, is currently paired with six of my Community Mapping students, as well as students from Crystal Tremblay’s Community-Based Participatory Research class, both in the Geography department. This term, students created two videos: one on the importance of pollinators in the region, and one on the key supports that Mother Trees provide in forest ecosystems, whether large or small.

    “More trees have come down in North Saanich in the last six months than in the last six years,” says Daniel. With Saanich about to rejig its tree protection bylaw, it’s the perfect time to bring current research to bear on urban forests, which Daniel says operate like an electrical grid, connected by a microbiome. Fewer trees mean fewer connections, more droughts, and more flooding. The students spoke to local activists and academics in the region, including lawyer Mike Large, who drafted the City of Victoria’s boulevard gardening bylaw, Raincoast Conservation Foundation project coordinator Shauna Doll, and James Clowater, who has mapped Victoria’s significant trees.

    In Tremblay’s class students conducted outreach and research in the North Park neighbourhood, looking at last summer’s heat wave through the lens of tree cover and permeable surfaces. “Students are ground-truthing by going out to people in the community,” explains Daniel, by asking about their experience last summer, and what they’d like to see happen to support health during future heat events. Jessica Neal’s GIS students are currently completing spatial analysis of the neighbourhood based on this lens. 

    RUSH’s collaborators also include the Capital Regional District’s Community Health Network, the University of Victoria and its Geography department Map Shop, Island Health, Christine Lintott Architects, the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, Peninsula Streams Society, SeaChange Marine Conservation Society and NatuR&D, Daniel’s biomimicry design firm.

     

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    All of the students’ research will serve as background for a larger mapping and data set project set to start early next year. “The work now is like an evolutionary path,” says Daniel. The videos will live on the mapping platform as part of its engagement pieces, serving as an introduction to the project. Spring 2022 will see outreach to communities kick off with mapping events, field trips, online conversations, and opportunities for residents to define what is most important to them in the region.

    For student Griffin Stever, the work is an opportunity to question deeply ingrained ways of living on unceded territory. After conducting interviews for the videos, he writes, “How do we credit Indigenous ideology and learn from it without taking? As a settler how can I better treat the world using this knowledge?” 

    Indigenous voices are also key to Daniel’s vision for RUSH; First Nations can provide an understanding of how ecological systems worked before colonization, helping to guide restoration and connect more deeply to the land. “Reconciliation is at the heart of the RUSH initiative,” Daniels writes in a project briefing note, “Settlement across the region marginalizes local First Nations and their way of life.” Solutions lie in restoration of natural habitats, pollution control, and the search for a shared respect for nature.

    Daniel hopes to join forces to tackle larger problems and support community connections in the mapping and data platform she’s proposing. Residents will be able to plot their pollinator gardens on the ArcGIS map. She wants people to be able to see where parking lots could be converted to patios and parks, or where tree cover needs to be retained during densification projects. The year-long engagement in 2022 will help shape what will be mapped and how the platform will develop. 

     

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    RUSH will look for funding through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and other government bodies, but it’s also looking for support from investors. One key part of RUSH is to engage and galvanize local developers, bringing those with power and money onside through showing the efficacy of good choices. “In the face of good information, leaders [and developers] will make good decisions. They’ll know how to protect themselves and their communities.”

    In our conversation, our laughter has a note of tiredness; Daniel knows information doesn’t always bring good decisions; recent failures at COP 26 and BC’s flood disasters show this. But she believes data can leverage conversation and action. I hope she’s right. 

    Maleea Acker, PhD, completed her doctorate in Human Geography (Geopoetics) in September. She teaches at the University of Victoria; part of her dissertation will appear as the poetry book Hesitating Once to Feel Glory with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2022.

     

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