SFU Adaptation to Climate Change Team sees arts help restore streams

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      Deborah Harford and Carmen Rosen share a common interest in a creek in their East Vancouver neighbourhood. Not too long ago, Harford moved in next door to Rosen in Renfrew-Collingwood, where Still Creek flows below Renfrew Ravine.

      This year, she joined the board of the Still Moon Arts Society, which Rosen founded in 2004. It’s a grassroots organization that inspires people through artistic activities to take care of the creek that meanders through Vancouver and Burnaby, and ultimately feeds into the mighty Fraser River.

      As Harford relates, getting involved with the group has added a lot of fun to what she does professionally.

      Harford is executive director of the SFU–based Adaptation to Climate Change Team, a think tank that develops strategies for all levels of government to deal with the effects of climate change.

      According to her, the initiative started by Rosen with the Still Moon Arts Society is a good example of how people at the community level can help prepare for the negative impacts of climate change.

      “One of the reasons people switch off so much about climate change is that it seems too big—it’s outside their sphere of influence,” Harford told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Engaging with people who are honouring nature through art-based interactions—I think probably we need a lot more of that.”

      A signature event put on by the Still Moon Arts Society is the annual Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival, in which thousands march to the ravine with lanterns of various shapes and sizes.

      Community involvement in Still Creek has supported efforts by the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, and the Metro Vancouver regional government, to restore portions of the stream channelled in underground pipes. The process of “daylighting” re-creates the natural floodplains of streams and relieves pressure in culverts during heavy rainstorms, which are a consequence of climate change, thereby lessening the impact of flooding.

      The City of Vancouver’s Still Creek Rehabilitation and Enhancement Study notes that “urban streams and creeks often play a significant role in stormwater management by conveying runoff from roads, buildings and properties towards larger water bodies, thereby minimizing the chances of flooding and associated property damage.”

      Restoring streams provides habitat for wildlife, as well as recreational space for the community.

      Rosen and her family moved to Renfrew-Collingwood in late 1999, and she immediately dedicated herself to the revival and celebration of Renfrew Ravine and Still Creek.

      At that time, the area was a dumping ground for garbage, but Rosen recognized that it could become a “really beautiful place” again.

      “I thought, ‘Well, I can come to ravine cleanups and clean up garbage, but maybe there is something I can do as an artist that changes people’s attitudes, so they don’t want to throw garbage in to begin with, that they have a different relationship to Renfrew Ravine,’ ” Rosen said by phone.

      For the last three Novembers, starting in 2012, chum salmon have been seen spawning in the Vancouver portion of Still Creek after an absence of 80 years, a phenomenon that was immensely gratifying to Rosen. She’s hoping they’ll come again next month.