VANCOUVER, B.C. (MarketWatch) — This verdant city already looks green to the casual observer, with trees and parks and well-tended (and well-watered) lawns seemingly everywhere and lots of small cars.
But Vancouver’s mayor wants it to grow even greener — Gregor Robertson announced ambitious plans this week to make Vancouver “the world’s greenest city” by 2020. So look out, Copenhagen — he might just pull it off.
The mayor’s ambitious “Greenest City Action Plan,” three years in the making, doesn’t talk about what all this will cost, but Canadians are already used to being taxed more than Americans, even if they grumble about it a lot. Vancouver also has sky-high housing prices — cited in one recent report as the third most expensive in the English-speaking world (after Sydney and Hong Kong).
““No pain, no gain” could well be the slogan as Vancouver moves forward with its ambitious plans. They’ve already, not surprisingly, run into headwinds. This won’t be cheap.
American global-warming deniers would scoff at what the youthful Robertson is trying to do for this city. Many Americans would probably be surprised at how ambitious the mayor’s stated goal is toward making Canada’s third-largest city “carbon-neutral”:
This week, another step toward this green goal takes place — the proposed installation of water meters on all new housing construction in Vancouver. The City Council will vote on this, and I’m pretty sure it will pass.
So, with all the water in and around this rainy city, why worry about water consumption in new homes?
In his report to the City Council Thursday, City Engineer Peter Judd says the actions are necessary if the city is to achieve its goal of reducing water consumption by 33 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020.
He wants other water-conservation and education measures, too. As abundant as water is, Judd says Vancouver residents are still profligate in their use. They use an average of 320 liters (338 quarts) per person per day, which he says is the fourth-highest rate among Canada’s 20 largest cities.
The city also says it plans to make changes over the next nine years that will radically alter how businesses, homeowners, government and its partners deal with the environment, from requiring as of 2020 that all new buildings be carbon neutral, to building the infrastructure for the refuelling of electric cars, to doubling the number of green jobs in the city. The city’s “Greenest City Action Plan” has indeed set out an aggressive agenda.
Something I’ve mentioned before bears repeating here for perspective: Canada is a far more liberal/progressive country politically than the U.S. A Conservative, like Prime Minister Stephen Harper, would probably feel comfortable in the U.S. Senate’s Democratic caucus. The Canadian $10 bill, to cite one specific example, carries a picture on the back of a female Canadian U.N. peacekeeper. Politically, British Columbia is a long way from its neighbor, right-wing Idaho.
Robertson is installing of dedicated bike lanes on major Vancouver streets has invoked the wrath of motorists, who say there aren’t enough bikers using them. “Build them, and they will come,” counter Robertson’s supporters.
Cycling note: My grown son, an avid cyclist, is living in Vancouver this summer, and I was amazed at how much of the spread-out city he was able to cover in just one morning this week on his bike thanks to these dedicated lanes: He started at the University of British Columbia campus (way out on the city’s west end), biked across a bridge and through the downtown financial district (taking photos of the blackened street where two police cars were burned in last month’s hockey riot), then out to Stanley Park, and finally, back out to UBC — all in about three hours.
Robertson’s administration has taken other “baby” steps toward this goal besides the separated bike lanes downtown — like allowing backyard chickens (Hey, why not? Quit squawking) and setting minimum efficiency standards for all new building construction.
As specific city “green” projects are submitted, the City Council will vote on them, says Robertson’s staff.
Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnston says the city is ready to proceed in 10 key areas, including greening the economy, reducing greenhouse gases and improving public transportation and also changing how the city is built and operated.
Johnston: “Vancouver residents enjoy incomparable access to green spaces, including the world’s most spectacular urban forest.”
In his presentation to city council this week, he called Vancouver’s plan one of the most ambitious environmental stewardship programs in the world.
As for improving public transit, Vancouver’s is already impressive and abundant — the city’s elevated Sky Train now stretches far out of the city, including a new line out to the airport built for the 2010 Olympics. A new $2 billion Sky Train line is being discussed.
Another potential project could involve recovering demolition waste. Johnston said a pilot project earlier this year using at-risk youth to take apart houses slated for demolition showed 93 per cent of materials could be recycled. At present in Vancouver, an average of 800 homes face demolition annually, with little being recovered.
These would presumably be among the 10,000 “green jobs” the report says could be created by 2020.
This city already looks pretty green — snow-capped mountains hover over downtown. Many of the city’s taxis are Priuses, and the cars on Vancouver’s streets are noticeably smaller than those you see in American cities.
Of course, having gas cost around $5 U.S. per gallon — some of the fuel taxes go for public transit — has a way of making people drive smaller cars with a smaller carbon footprint. The Honda Civic has been Canada’s best-selling car 13 straight years.
By Bill Mann, MarketWatch