Monday, 7 November 2016

Toomas Karmo: Theology-of-Civics and DDO (Oak Ridges Moraine Aquifer Cap)

Quality assessment: 

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3'5 is "mediocre pass", 4.5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: Kmo had time to do a reasonably complete and (within the framework of the version 1.0.1, 1.0.2, .. process) reasonably polished job. 

Revision history:

  • UTC=20161108T0101Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded a base version, rather hastily. He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.0.1, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, ... .

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some late points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears.]

0. Who Should be Reading this Essay, and How

Today I am trying to benefit two disparate readerships. On the one hand are people interested in a general way in the interface between civics and theology. On the other hand are people (notably those in government) involved with Ontario's David Dunlap Observatory and Park heritage-conservation file. 

The first readership will want to focus on my first section, headed "General Theology of Civics" - perhaps without altogether neglecting the second section. 

The second readership, on the other hand, will want to focus on my second section, perhaps without altogether neglecting the first. 

1. General Theology of Civics

One of the thirty, or even twenty or fifteen, most instructive books I have read is a 1984 work by USA- and Toronto-based urbanologist Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), entitled Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life

Specially haunting is this author's account of cities as carriers of civilization. She develops her theme by citing, among other cities, Venice. Here is what she writes in her Chapter 9, headed "Bypassed Places": 

After the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, Europe escaped /.../ interminable stagnation /.../, owing to the formation of European medieval cities. But it was probably touch and go. A new city, to form, needs one or more older cities with which to begin its initial trade /.../.  Luckily for Europe, there was a scruffy little settlement on the mud flats and marshes at the head of the Adriatic which discovered, during the very depths of the Dark Ages, when the rest of Europe was still decaying and deteriorating, that there was a city market for salt, then timber, in Constantinople.  But Venice, the pioneer city of the European economy, did not remain a mere supply depot. By diversifying its own production, starting on the base of that trade in salt and timber, it proceeded to develop and, thereby, to provide a Venetian city market for depot settlements of the north and west - which then built up city production of their own, each in its turn. As the cities of Europe, passing on the spark of creative economic life from one to another, multiplied, they also drew into their trade the subsistence life about them and transformed it.

In, so to speak, the other pan of Ms Jacobs's careful judicial scales is a warning regarding cities which do not advance the cause of civilization, but are instead complicit in its decline (by, says Ms Jacobs, fostering bureaucracy, militarization, and the enfeeblement of urban hinterlands). Here is what she writes in her final chapter, headed "Drift": 

Historically, in nations where city economies are dying and where, as well, cities are drained in service to transactions of decline, one city remains vivacious longest: the capital city. This is because capital cities thrive on transactions of decline. When a city's principal function is being a capital - like the city of Washington in the United States or Ottawa in Canada - it is obvious that the more transfer payments, subsidies, grants, military contracts and promotion of international advanced-backward trade, the greater the work and prosperity in the capital city. /.../


/.../ although a capital city would seem, typically, to be the last place in its nation whose economy requires rejuvenation and correction, appearancres are deceptive. Behind its busyness at ruling, a capital city of a nation or an empire, vivacious  to the last, at length reveals itself as being a surprisingly inert, backward and pitiable place.


Scripture itself attests to the importance of the civic. We find not only New Testament references to "the Kingdom", but also (in New and Old Testaments alike) to "the City". It is a theme compellingly echoed in late antiquity by Saint Augustine of Hippo, who took The City of God as a title for his magnum opus.  

One of the twenty, or even ten, most instructive Web initiatives I have found is in a broad sense in theology - the technically very simple, in terms of HTML coding the very rudimentary, site (along with one or more closely linked server spaces in the same general HTML format and under the same authorship or same administration). The guiding mind at and its affiliated space or spaces is the Firenze (Toscana) Catholic urban hermit Julia Bolton Holloway. One should, perhaps, canonically write "Sister Julia". I for my part, however, like to call her, informally and without reference to HM the Queen's Honours lists, "Dame Julia". 

Dame Julia was some years ago a professor in the USA - a mediaevalist trained in, among other places, Berkeley, and in some way linked to, among other USA institutions, Princeton. As a 1960s Berkeley graduate student, she had been a  protégée of my own personal 1970s hero-and-comforter, the UK mediaevalist Sir Richard Southern. Dame Julia is one of the principal contemporary authorities on the anchoress-and-mystic, and (rather easy-to-read) Middle English author, Dame Julian of Norwich (1342 - circa 1416; here, too, the "Dame" does not signal formal state Honours). 

While much in Dame Julia's theological writings calls for analysis and comment and praise (I would praise her as I have recently praised geometer Moise, ideally once again to a length of many essay installments), today I make my focus tight. Today I choose to highlight just one thing, namely her engagement with the theology of civics. 

Dame Julia serves as a bridge between those of us living in Anglosaxonia, on whatever continent, and the specific, startlingly rich, civic culture of Firenze. Dame Julia's own eremetical island, with its workshop and library, and with its outreach to Toscana's socially marginalized Roma ("Gypsy") population, seems to me - admittedly, I have to observe from afar, being too poor and too busy to manage travel - a significant Firenze cultural resource. We read from how Dame Julia was herself able to confer with municipal activist Fioretta Mazzei (1923-1998), toward the end of signora or signorina Mazzei's long career. 

Through Mazzei, Dame Julia was able to form also some intellectual and spiritual bond with past figures in the municipal life of Firenze - very notably with that city's saintly two-time mayor Giorgio La Pira (1905-1977; some details are given at (I have so far only glanced at this), as well as at 

I would urge all my readers, especially those in the Government of Ontario and on the Council and Staff of the Town of Richmond Hill, to ponder Dame Julia's, Fioretta Mazzei's, and Giorgio La Pira's examples.  My readers will agree with me that civic life is a serious calling, and that we must therefore take seriously such matters as the safety of the Oak Ridges Moraine Aquifer cap within Richmond Hill's envisaged malign "Observatory Hill" subdivision, now being inappropriately carved out of the David Dunlap Observatory and Park national-heritage lands. 

2.  Specific Developments in the DDO&P Conservation File (ORM Aquifer Cap)

On 2016-08-22 or 2016-08-23, I posted under the title "Open Letter re DDO&P Breach-of-Aquifer Question (Town et al)". I accompanied my text with a photo of alarming pools of water on that bulldozed moonscape which is currently the envisaged subdivision. 

There as so far been no response from Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, beyond an e-mail promising that there would be a response. But on 2016-10-06 (as can be seen from the franking of the envelope), the Ministry of Municipal Affairs entrusted the following papermail letter to Canada Post, over the hand-penned black-ink signature of the Minister for Municipal Affairs: 

Dear Mr. Karmo: 

Thank you for your recent email regarding potential

impacts on groundwater related to

development on the David Dunlap Observatory lands in Richmond Hill.

As development is a local matter, and the Town
is the local approval authority, I
encourage you to continue working with staff
in the Town of Richmond Hill to address
your concerns.

Staff in the Town of Richmond Hill's Planning
Department can be reached by phone at:
905-771-8910, or by e-mail:

As the protection of water and water resources falls
under the purview of the Ministry of
the Environemnt and Climate Change, I am
sharing your concerns with my colleague,
the Honourable Glen Murray, Minister of the Environment
and Climate Change, by
forwarding a copy of this letter.

Once again, thank you for bringing your concerns
to my attention. Please accept my
best wishes.



Bill Mauro

c: the Honourable Glen Murray, Minster of the Environment and Climate Change

For a long time, there was no response from the Town, beyond two kindly e-mail assurances from the office of Clerks that I would in due course be given a response. But at long last, within some seconds of UTC=20161024T185519Z, I received an e-mail from a Town engineer. I reproduce his (welcome) communication herewith: 

Further to the inquiry outlined in your email dated August 23, 2016, the
following response is provided.

The inquiry outlined in your email was forwarded to Corsica Development for
their investigation through their consulting team including their civil,
geotechnical and hydrogeological consultants.  A response has recently been
received and based on as-built survey information their consultants have
confirmed that the constructed temporary sediment control ponds and
permanent stormwater management pond have been excavated in conformity to
the approved plans. Their consultants have confirmed that the excavation
depths for these ponds have been designed and constructed above the safe
excavation depths for the aquifer. The geotechnical/hydrogeological
consultant has been on site during construction activity and has seen no
evidence that the aquifer has been breached at any time. The temporary
sediment control ponds and the permanent stormwater management pond are
designed to have permanent pools of water from rainfall events.

Jeff Walters P.Eng.

Manager of Stormwater and Subdivisions

Development Engineering Division, Planning and Regulatory Services Department

Direct Line 905-747-6380

Fax 905-771-2405

To this e-mail I sent the following reply - directed not only to Mr Jeff Walters but additionally to Clerks: 

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20161025T175124Z

Dear  Mr Walters,

Thank your for your information (copied, below).

I will take it, unless you advise otherwise, that the normal commonsense rule for government communications to the inquiring public applies here - namely, that the material is not copyright, and that I am therefore free to make any responsible and reasonable public use of it (for instance, forwarding it to people interested in conservation, or posting it to my blog).

I hope the town will be continuing to monitor the DDO hydrology situation closely. My last inspection from the street, last week, showed nothing unusual beyond the presence of what I think is pumping equipment. But in one of my summer inspections, I was struck by the presence of much water in an excavation, at the end of a long dry spell, just before we had rain.

again thanking your team,

Dr Toomas Karmo

My reply was constructed so as to be largely free of significant content. But I did put into it one thing of definite significance, namely a signal that unless I received compelling argumentation to the contrary, I proposed to publish what the Town had sent me. Since I have (as correct civics would indeed require) received no countervailing argumentation from the Town, and since I have now waited for about a fortnight, I have today, herewith, published. 


What are the key points arising from Mr Jeff Walters's communication? One key point is his delay in communicating with me, despite the Clerks' twofold promise of a timely communication. I conjecture here, subject to correction by the Town or the developer, that it is the developer who is at fault. 

There is just one other key point. One might perhaps have imagined the Town to have embarked on its own inspection of the site. Mr Jeff Walters, for instance, had only to get into a car and drive along 7th Avenue and up Bayview. Since he is formally a P.Eng., he can at least determine professionally whether there are prima facie grounds for a follow-up inspection, perhaps by some Town in-house or outsourced specialist in hydrogeology. And yet in appraising the state of the (at-risk?) Oak Ridges Moraine Aquifer cap, the Town seems, for all that Mr Walters states in his e-mail to me, to be relying on the developer's own assurances. 

This is a developer who already in 2009 pleaded guilty in a municipal court to a tree-felling offence at DDO&P. Should the developer now be allowed to have the final say on hydrogeology?

3. My Requests to Ontario's Ministry of the Environment

As I have remarked in quoting welcome papermail, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has been duly alerted by the Honourable Mr Mauro to the aquifer problem. I would now respectfully ask the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change to indicate to me whether it considers the Town's response to me, through the Town's staffer Mr Jeff Walters, to be sufficient, or whether, on the contrary, it proposes to make its own investigation of the hydrogeology. The Town's response, I reiterate, accepts the developer's hydrogeology assurances, without reporting any independent investigation on the Town's part.

This forthcoming response from the Ministry, as a provincial authority senior to the Town, will define and delimit the sphere of accountability in case something bad happens on the DDO lands. What if the aquifer cap is breached - for instance, as the developer's team continues with the operation of sinking manhole shafts that I photographed from the street in 2016 October? I am not praying for an accident in which the cap gets breached, as those manholes go down. But I do implore Heaven to stop the development in some way or other. Indeed one of the way in which I implore Heaven is in today's very act of writing - mindful as I have today been of the Firenze civic activists, and perhaps (for all I know) the eventual formal saints Mazzei and La Pira.

So: Suppose we do get a breach of the aquifer cap, through some ill-advised manoeuvre with all that heavy equipment, whether on the part of the DeGasperis-founded company "ConDrain" or on the part of the other, perhaps less experienced, company now brought onto the site? What if some mistake gets made by those workers, disembarking morning upon morning from that fleet of perhaps twenty cars, all parking on the Bayview edge of that increasingly surreal moonscape? What then? Will the blame rest solely on the developer? Or is the sphere of a wider radius, with blame resting on Town-with-developer (since the Town seems - I reiterate - on the strength of its engineer's 2016-10-24 e-mail to me to have so far performed no independent site inspection)? Or will the blame rest on Province-with-developer? Or even on Province-with-Town-with-developer?

These are, I admit, abrasive questions. Yet the DDO&P conservation case - perhaps Canada's weightiest heritage-conservation case in the past decade - obliges us, as voters, to speak up.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are moderated. For comment-moderation rules, see initial posting on this blog (2016-04-14).