Urban ecology and governance at the regional scale: A case study analysis of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
Urban-based conservation organizations are facing increased pressure to respond to new sustainability concerns beyond traditional ecological stewardship. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has been the region’s quasi-public watershed steward since its creation in 1957. The TRCA now finds itself in a much different environment than it did in the 1950’s, as new climate change related issues arise, including more frequent and severe flooding and storm events, and income inequality and social justice concerns continue to grow. In response to this changing context, the TRCA now seeks to extend its influence to encompass new urban sustainability challenges while at the same timehonoring its legislated responsibilities.
Our qualitative research, conducted in partnership with the TRCA, explores how a conservation authority might respond to future sustainability concerns while still effectively fulfilling a necessary mandate to mitigate flood risks and protect local biodiversity. Specifically, we catalogue and analyze public and private stakeholder expectations for TRCA’s current and future mandate. This research provides insight into TRCA’s efforts to evolve its activities and expertise in order to address social and ecological barriers to regional sustainability. We conducted semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders who are influential actors affecting the region’s watersheds (municipal government, ENGOs, land developers, etc.)
Results demonstrate that stakeholders generally perceive TRCA as a legitimate and efficacious watershed ecology steward. Regardless of stakeholder interaction with TRCA, almost unanimously the authority’s activities were described as essential because of its watershed protection activities. This was true even when the interests of the stakeholder were perceived to be in direct opposition with TRCA.. There was less support for the idea of TRCA addressing issues beyond their mandate of watershed protection. The perceived value of TRCA was generally reflective of how the stakeholder interacted with them: a stakeholder representing a progressive ENGO might praise the forward thinking of TRCA with respect to addressing sustainability issues, while those who interacted with TRCA on a more regulatory basis, such as municipal planners, saw value mostly in their core expertise and knowledge of watershed systems.
The findings contribute to broader research on future roles for traditionally conservation-focused organizations and how an understanding of stakeholder perception might help inform futurecollaborative sustainability initiatives. Findings also demonstrate a perception of thevalue of CA’s, despite a diversity of stakeholder respondent interests. This perception of CA’s as regional sustainability governance actors is an important and relatively underexplored avenue of research.