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Dynamics across multi-level planning systems and non-governmental participation groups: A case study of Greater Toronto’s Don River Valley
This research utilizes a socio-institutionalist approach, adapted for ecologically complex systems, to develop a framework for evaluating: how and to what extent have the characteristics of multi-level planning regimes and non-governmental initiatives operating within the Don River Valley (DRV) and watershed, reflected and transformed one another? The framework developed utilizes the visual metaphor of a river system, exploring the literature, contexts and contemporary characteristics of three ‘tributaries’: regional planning structures, the Don watershed as an independent agent, and non-governmental advocacy groups. Then, changes across the tributaries are examined during collaborative episodes, within the main body of the ‘river,’ where the tributaries merge. By adding these key characteristics to a consideration of the form and impacts of collaborative episodes, the question, examining the reflections and transformations of regional planning structures and non-governmental groups as a result of their collaboration, is addressed. key findings are presented: firstly, non-governmental participant groups deeply internalize the fragmented, asymmetrical regional structures which frame governance of the Don watershed. Groups which are able to participate on strategic levels, must be integrated into official governance structures, becoming vulnerable to the constraints inherent in both governmental protocols, and non-governmental organizing. Secondly, environmental ‘stewardship’ has been actively appropriated by all planning jurisdictions operating within the watershed, taken from its original usage within the context of non-governmental protection of the Don, a tactic for filling gaps in planning and governance abilities. By making public stewardship an articulated policy item, planning jurisdictions ignore the necessity of strategic coordination of stewardship initiatives towards wider, ecologically-minded goals. Finally, active restoration projects initiated by non-governmental groups have been recognized and incorporated into official planning policy, not through appropriation, but intentional inclusion and recognition of strengths and abilities. Non-governmental partners are actively sought by staff to lead site-based restoration projects, creating genuine partnerships.

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