ACER Gets Peel Region Nod, for Community-Engaged Climate Action in Knightsbridge

For immediate release:
December 18, 2020
Written by Catherine Soplet

Project Crossroads can address trifecta of crises: climate change, racism and COVID-19

On December 10 Peel Regional Council heard encouraging ground truth from Brampton’s Knightsbridge residents, who have been hardest hit by COVID‑19.

A two-minute video of volunteers’ testimonials opened the presentation by ACER – Association for Canadian Educational Resources – to report on Project Crossroads community tree planting for climate change research.

Grade 11 student Vanessa logged volunteer hours ahead of her remote learning, despite blustery early morning weather. “I woke up early and so I thought, why not come out and help my community?” she said.

Planting events were adapted and tested to meet pandemic restrictions, as a contribution to the City of Brampton Sustainable Neighbourhoods Action Plan (SNAP). Bramalea SNAP collaborators also include Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and Peel Region – Healthy Communities Initiative. The collaboration was funded under lockdown in March 2020 by Arbor Day Foundation under the TD Green Space program.

The presentation coincided with UN Human Rights Day and the fifth anniversary of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

“Results speak for themselves,” said Alice Casselman, ACER’s Founder and President. “In less than nine months since COVID put Peel Region in lockdown, ACER held five community tree planting events with residents of Knightsbridge, in three distinct locations: public housing, a public park and on privately-owned property.”

A total of 71 volunteers included family bubbles and secondary students who logged 37 volunteer service hours. A new trial to plant 153 large trees and corresponding native pollinator/bird shrubs added biomass equal to 1840 x 1-gallon 18” trees.

ACER’s focus on climate change research data has a new application to calculate carbon sequestration as a tool to achieve GHG emission targets.

Peel Region Council gave a nod to ACER’s future forward result: In response to the delegation it said, “Residents’ tree growth data supports plans for future urban forest plantings and meets goals of the Peel Region Climate Change Master Plan for building community resilience with green infrastructure.

Tree equity, a deficit newly identified under the pandemic, was ACER’s lead consideration to prioritize tree sites.  In 2019, ACER stakeholders collaboration prioritized sites where tree canopy is low and coincident with some of the Region’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods, in order to strongly align with objectives in the Peel Climate Change Partnership’s Green/Natural Infrastructure Strategy

In 2020, Peel Health data showed prioritized sites were the same GIS areas most highly impacted by COVID caseload by postal code. These areas are in or beside environmentally degraded industrialized areas.

Relief from mental health distress was measurable, in ACER’s COVID-19 perception survey created specifically to capture participant mood, before and after planting experiences. To a person, participants reported an enhanced feeling of wellbeing, felt safe, and would join again in a future event.
McGill graduate Ayesha Talreja designed the survey. She was hired by ACER for Project Crossroads to initiate community outreach and development. “I see parallels between how ACER team’s sense of wellbeing improved working together to see the project come to fruition, and how residents enjoyed the same experience,” said Ayesha.
In adapting to pandemic protocols, new outdoor/ online/ remote treekeeper units were designed with digital resources and training videos posted on ACER’s website. 
Dubbed “Mulch, Measure and MOR”, ACER’s Program Coordinator Nimesha Basnayaka initiated connection of environment and sustainability coordinators in Peel and Toronto school boards with municipal One Million Trees programs.
“Whether students attend brick-and-mortar schools or study remotely, municipalities can easily extend the One Million Trees engagement,” said Nimesha. Free mulch delivery to public schools in exchange for data monitoring gives wider access to hands-on STEM curriculum in a safe, social activity.

Rainbow at Chelsea Gardens – October 7, 2020.

The delegation to Peel Regional Council sought support for one of several major proposals submitted for 2021 research projects. “2020 was a crossroads for difficult choices in extremely stormy times,” says Alice. “As we go into 2021, ACER sees Project Crossroads as a silver lining, and a hopeful direction as more people can join in climate action together.”

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