I have always been passionate about finding ways in which we can live, develop and grow as a society in balance with nature. I saw the rapid suburban growth and the degradation of our natural systems for progress and knew there had to be a better way to do things - I just wasn’t sure how to make it happen.
I started my career as an environmental planner with Conservation Authorities in Ontario, believing that development review was where I would have the greatest opportunity to find a balance between nature and development. The work these folks do on the ground is so important, but time and again I saw how the policies in place were not strong enough and the financial decisions that people needed to make often left environmental protection as a “nice to have” simply because the sustainable choice was just too expensive. So I set my sights on learning why this was and how it could be changed.
After a lot of very frustrating self-learning, I eventually came across a new interdisciplinary Masters program being offered at the University of Ottawa that focused on how to address the sustainability problems we are facing today. The Master of Environmental Sustainability program honestly gave me exactly what I was looking for – foundational knowledge in economics, law, and policy to add to my existing science and planning background. I now have a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of policy and law making, where to look for biases and uncertainties, and how to critically analyze whatever is put in front of me and look for ways to make it better. I learned where my strengths and interests truly lie – apparently I really like analyzing legislation and writing policy briefs…didn’t see that one coming!
To top it all off, the MSc program led to me finding an exciting position (Senior Research Associate for Sustainable Communities) with the team at Sustainable Prosperity. I now work in a field that I love and will be able to contribute to the goal of finding ways to make our cities a better place to live for everyone. One of the first projects I will be working on will study how municipalities can incentivize green infrastructure for stormwater management – a tool that will help municipalities with their overwhelming infrastructure debts while providing many co-benefits such as more green spaces in urban areas, wildlife habitat and corridors, flood protection, and water quality management.
Tune in to our Sustainable Communities webpage and follow me on twitter at @SaraONeillatSP to keep up to date on our latest research and find out about other interesting work taking place in communities across Canada!
- Sara Jane O'Neil is a Senior Research Associate for Sustainable Communities, and a recent uOttawa MSc graduate