Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Jae Mather - Vancouver; a city of the present not just the future!

Resilience, adaptability & self-sufficiency; appear to be the buzzwords of the day. These concepts are rising to the surface of people’s minds, both individually and ever more so within companies, organisations and governments. It would seem that we may be upon the cusp of some transformation in consciousness and maybe even governance.

We've never been in a better position to access information and therefore to transition to a place where we start to fundamentally understand that 'what we do to others, we ultimately do to ourselves'. Things like the changing climate, global macro trends, commodity price volatility and the global agreements that came out of COP 21 in Paris are all pointing in the same direction. Things are changing and they are changing at an accelerating pace that unavoidably turns our eyes towards the absolute need for new ways of running the economy, society and the environment.

To many people cities represent the pinnacle of the evolution of our respective civilisations. They are big, loud, opportunity generating, ever growing and often deeply exciting places. They are where most people are (53% of the world populations now lives in cities) and where a large percentage of the rest want to be ( They are where the majority of the jobs are at, where most of the best education is and where art and culture consolidates.

Cycling in Vancouver
Recently my family and I moved back to my home city of Vancouver after 18 years in Europe. One of the reasons why was because of the leadership that is being shown in Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan which was created in response to these circumstances and they appear to be one of the best examples of transforming the consciousness through sustainable leadership.

The city consistently rates, as one of the best places in the world to live and what is interesting is that the leadership and staff of the city recognize that for Vancouver to stay in such a position, there is a need to continually innovate and adapt. The choice has been made to keep sustainability sitting at the very heart of that plan.  Sustainable strategy is the cities strategy and not just a bit of green on the side. Resilience and adaptability are returning to the top of the list as highly desirable and in some cases essential elements of urban management and design.
Vancouver district heating system

Key targets of the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan:

Goal 1. Green Economy
  • Double the number of green jobs over 2010 levels
  • Double the number of companies that are actively engaged in greening their operations over 2011 levels
Goal 2. Climate Leadership
  • Reduce community-based greenhouse gas emissions by 33% from 2007 levels
Goal 3. Green Buildings
  • Require all buildings constructed from 2020 onwards to be carbon neutral in operations
  • Reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in existing buildings by 20% over 2007 levels
Goal 4. Green Transportation
  • Make the majority (over 50%) of trips by foot, bicycle and public transport
  • Reduce average distance driven per resident by 20% from 2007 levels
Goal 5. Zero Waste
  • Reduce solid waste going to the landfill or incinerator by 50% from 2008 levels
Goal 6. Access to Nature
  • All Vancouver residents live within a 5 min walk of a park, greenway or other green space
  • Plant 150,000 new trees
Goal 7. Lighter Footprint
  • Reduce Vancouver’s ecological footprint by 33% over 2006 levels
Goal 8. Clean Water
  • Meet or beat the strongest of British Columbian, Canadian and appropriate international drinking water quality standards and guidelines
  • Reduce per capita water consumption by 33% from 2006 levels
Goal 9. Clean Air
  • Always meet or beat the most stringent air quality guidelines from Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and the world health organisation
Goal 10. Local Food
  • Increase citywide and neighbourhood food assets by a minimum of 50% over 2010 levels

What also interests me is how cities will adapt and prosper from some of the main technological disruptions that are one the way.

Driverless Cars 
How will the value of property in urban centres change as people are able to travel at very high speeds while working, sleeping & playing from much further away at much lower cost?

3D printing 
How will the high street change when people are able to make their own high quality things at home and the financial model switches from owning products to licensing designs?

Virtual Reality 
When people do not need to commute to work in anywhere near the volumes that they do today because of home based VR systems allowing them to be anywhere, how will this change the needs of public transport?

Jae Mather BA, PGradDip, CEnv., FRSA, FIEMA is the Director of Sustainability at the Carbon Free Group and North American Ambassador for the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) @jaemather

City images courtesy of Vancouver City Council

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