Art as Regenerative Sustainability

I’ve been learning more about regenerative sustainability recently from my colleague John Robinson, who has been a vocal advocate for it at the University of Toronto in recent years (and at UBC for many years before that).  This is built on the premise that it’s not enough to create communities that are ‘net zero’ in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions, but in fact are ‘net positive’ by actively contributing to a more sustainable world. John introduced me to this through the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability at UBC, (a building he helped design; it sends rain water used to flush toilets in the building back into the sewer cleaner than it arrived). So I’ve been looking for examples of ‘regenerative art-making’, and realized that we have two excellent examples of this in permanent installations of this in Toronto.  Noel Harding’s ‘Elevated Wetlands’ (1999), recognized by many Torontonians for its prominent position along the DVP, was an early example of this. Using solar pumps, native plants and a recycled plastic substrate, Noel integrated science and art to model how an art installation can contribute to the cleansing of the Don River (known as one of Canada’s most polluted rivers.) Jill Anholt picked up on this two decades later in her design for Sherbourne Common, a small park on Toronto’s waterfront.  With a similar purpose in mind, Anholt’s design uses UV light, native plantings and a mesh screening system to cleanse storm-water run off before it goes into lake Ontario. Both artworks create inspiring, purposeful spaces that model regenerative sustainability in creative ways – we need more like these around the word!

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