Sustainability is Key for Karen Cilevitz

Published: August 21st 2010
in News » Local

Ward 5 candidate Karen Cilevitz

Conserving our green spaces and cultural heritage is of the utmost importance to ward 5 RIchmond Hill candidate Karen Cilevitz. In achieving this, she says, a sustainable community, as well as a sustainable environment, can be attained.


How did Cilevitz get to this point, you wonder? For one thing, she has always been extremely passionate about both human rights and the environment. Her political journey, however, began three years ago, when she chaired (and continues to chair) an organization called The David Dunlap Observatory Defenders.


The Dunlap Observatory is in the heart of Richmond Hill. “It’s almost 190 acres of pristine green space, with this world class research observatory in the centre,” Cilevitz explains. “But since it’s been sold by the University of Toronto, it’s not being used as a research facility anymore. The university put out a lot of misinformation about it, that it was obsolete, no longer being used, but that was completely untrue.”


“What the university did to that sight is an absolute travesty by selling it,” she continues. “They literally threw their own history under the bus. It brought the community up in arms because in order to gain ownership of the space in the first place, they had to sue the Dunlap heirs [a process that took four years]. Practically the next day [after gaining ownership], they put it up for sale.”


It was then bought by Corsica Development, whose plan, as the name suggests, is to develop the sight. “We’ve been fighting for three years [together with two other organizations] to save this property from development,” says Cilevitz.  “We succeeded in putting the brakes on any immediate development, but there is now a site plan on it, which will most likely go to a municipal board hearing.”


Chairing this committee is how Cilevitz came to run for council. “Because of all the work that I’m involved in with the observatory, one of my major platforms is protection of the environment, and self-sustaining communities,” she explains. “If you have a self-sustaining community, you have a viable town that can move forward into the future.”


One way to accomplish this, suggests Cilevitz, is to get people out of their cars by creating better transit, and proper designated bicycle lanes.


“A new movement I’ve become involved with is called Transition Towns,” she says, “whereby within your own town you farm, live, learn, work and play. All within your community. Communal gardens and farms, for example, are something I project to do with the land near the Dunlap Observatory, if we get it back into public hands.”


There’s currently a provincial law in place called the Places to Grow act, and all municipalities in Ontario must conform to it. It means that certain corridors must eventually be developed, and the part of Yonge St. that runs through ward 5 happens to be one of them.


“It’s called an intensification corridor,” explains Cilevitz, “where you put up condos on pieces of land that already have existing employment or offices. But the problem with this is that you can’t take away employment lands and put up residential lands, because then you can’t have a sustainable community.”


“My platform includes how to manage this. There’s very little to do to change what’s in place, so it’s all about how it’s managed.”


And managing the situation includes getting people out of their cars, and onto either buses or bicycles. This is why Cilevitz suggests dedicated bike and bus lanes, to help get rid of the traffic backlog.


Related articles: (ward 5, toronto, election, Karen Cilevitz, Richmond Hill, Yonge Street, observatory)

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