Each week, my weekly schedule of meeting takes me to Sault Ontario’s Civic Centre. Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario was very clever to put their civic offices and in an office building right on the St. Marys River – the river upon which the city was created. In walking up to the building, one can not only see the river, but also hear the sounds of the river (wildlife and human), smell the river (I mean that in a good way), and even feel the microclimate of the river. I generally try to take all those sensations in, even if it’s while I’m hurrying to make my meeting. This week, the bright sunshine of a clear, cool morning and the atmosphere of the river practically forced me to notice. I hope that everyone else coming and going to the Civic Centre, or other riverfront destinations, does, too. It’d be even nicer to see people actually stopping and remarking on the wonderful resource we live on.
A nearby venue lends itself to that more intentional appreciation. Several years ago, Sault Ontario created a riverfront walk that runs about ½ mile from behind the Station Mall (also on the river) down past the Civic Centre. The river walk has really helped build awareness of the river. From what I understand, before that the area was industrial land; not a place people would want to spend time. Now people do spend time there, and in so doing have come to appreciate the river more. We have no hard data to show it, but those of us working on restoring and protecting the river ecosystem have noticed a real uptick in concern about the river since the river walk was built. It’s used extensively all times of the day. It seems that as more people get on the river, they begin to build a stake in the river. They begin to say ‘hey, that’s my river, don’t abuse it!’ In the jargon of this discussion series, the river walk has helped build a stronger sense of place and thus stronger stewardship of the place. Congratulations, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.