Greenbelt. A\J

I SPENT MOST OF MY ADOLESCENCE within (sluggish) commuting range of Toronto. Before ever letting the words, “When I was a kid, none of this stuff was here,” escape my lips, I hadn’t really grasped that the Big Smoke’s overflow was swallowing nature with sprawl. I also didn’t yet know that entrenching greenspace would create a survival corridor, an elixir for the heart, lungs and health of our communities, and a barrier against the massive economic and ecological debts that accompany suburbia. 

I’ve since wrapped my head around the talents and capabilities of Ontario’s Greenbelt (and others like it). My palate has been schooled many times by the region’s abundant winemakers and brewmasters. During great escapes from the city, I’ve gawked at Bruce Trail escarpment gems, gnarly old growth forest and red foxes, snapping turtles and wild turkeys. I’ve feasted on the bounty of fabulous small farms that thrive within spitting distance of the Golden Horseshoe’s concrete. I’ve sipped, chugged and soaked up tap water, climbed trees for kicks and found space to breathe easier. 

By sequestering and storing CO2 and providing clean water, air and other essential benefits, greenbelts feed the wellbeing and wealth of the people, animals and plants that occupy them. Increasingly, their value as a land management tool is diversifying; they can be as applicable to combatting desertification in the Sahara as they are to shielding the coastal ecosystems that surround Victoria on Vancouver Island. 

They also contribute to environmentalists staking stronger claims to natural capital. Last year, two enormous mining quarry proposals near Toronto were denied by effective campaigns to put nature ahead of unsustainable business, and agricultural land and headwaters preservation ahead of fattening a few corporate citizens’ pockets. Obviously there are many struggles still to come, and this issue of A\J looks at how greenbelts are galvanizing and servicing the communities trying to build them. 

Urban sustainability sage Ray Tomalty takes stock of how and why property developers, politicians and citizens have been grappling over a Montreal Greenbelt for nearly 25 years. Ellen Jakubowski profiles some amazing natural features, embattled landscapes and exotic benefactors along the European Green Belt, which is transforming the old Iron Curtain boundary into “a lifeline across Europe.” Wanjira Maathai explains how her famous mother’s Green Belt Movement has empowered Kenyans and helped alleviate poverty by planting 51 million peace trees. 

For good measure, we also present the revelatory perspectives of naturalist photographer David Liittschwager, whose new project captures biodiversity by the cubic foot, and photojournalist Nicolas Villaume, who chronicles how Manus Islanders in Papua New Guinea are coping with slow-motion devastation.

Whether you live on the front lines of climate change or in the core, the country or the fringe, we hope this issue makes you reflect on the links between the built environment and greenspace around you. We’d love to hear from you about what’s changed since you were a kid, and what you’d like to see in the near future.  

Conserve after reading, 


Eric is the founder and executive director of Night\Shift, downtown Kitchener's nocturnal adventure festival, and he helped craft the rebranding of A\J as its editor-in-chief (2012-2014). He has a dusty Bachelor of History from uWaterloo and has worked as a journalist in Canada since 2000, holding editing positions with up! Magazine (WestJet Airlines’ in-flight publication), AdbustersReader’s Digest and other publications, and contributing as a writer to Canadian GeographicMaisonneuveCanada’s HistorySwerveSaturday Night and others. He also used to curate a blog about great Canadian record cover art at


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