Envision the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan
I wanted a sense of what our Greenest City Plan’s ten targets might look, smell, sound, feel and taste like when they come to fruition. So when I sat down with Greenest City Planner Lindsay Cole to ask questions about the Draft 2020 Greenest City Plan just passed by Council, I asked if we could spend some time imagining what it might look like on the ground. Amanda Mitchell, a Greenest City Planning Analyst, joined Lindsay and me. In the dim light of their shared office (scaffolding covered the windows, the lights were off) we imagined……
Time: 2020. Place: Mount Pleasant.
The business streets look mostly the same, but there’s a different atmosphere, literally, because the air is cleaner. The broad sidewalks accommodate tables spilling out from restaurants in the summer. A street car runs down Main. Bicyclists still prefer bikeways over the main roads, but there are more of them on the main roads because there is more room and less exhaust to breathe. Apparently, the less people drive, the less they want to drive, because people are increasingly choosing active and public transportation over getting in their cars. Nearly a quarter of the cars are electric and car share lots provide a convenient solution for trips with big loads. Ski and recreation buses make regular morning and evening trips so it's easy to get to and from the mountains.
Some people bike commute to the Green Enterprise Zone at False Creek Flats to work at one of the digital entertainment companies. Others use the woodworkers coop to build fine furniture made from reclaimed wood sold by a social enterprise start up that deconstructs houses. Another new business is a commercial kitchen that small scale food producers can rent for value added products. Mama Pleasant’s Piquant Peppers have an avid city wide following and there’s no need to buy applesauce, pickles, chutney, jam or salsa manufactured in California because local food artisans produce it in the neighbourhood. Stores provide reusable food containers with a deposit paid, like milk bottles.
The street recycling bins are larger than the garbage bins. The signage uses both pictures and words, making it abundantly clear what goes where. A street collector has put out his own bin out labeled “reusable containers.” People who have paid the deposit for their multi-use coffee cup or reusable food containers, but don’t appreciate having to return them, are a good source of income for the collectors. Cargo bikes are a common site as collectors deliver items like clothing scraps from community depots for reuse.
The residential streets also look much the same. It’s hard to tell which heritage homes have been retrofitted, there is so little alteration to the exterior. On close inspection, one notices that almost all the houses have rain barrels at downspouts. Many have dark shiny panels on the roof of solar water heaters. The City paid the upfront cost for the heaters which the home owners pay back as part of their property tax assessment. You can’t see the electric car charging outlets in some garages or the electric heat pumps that keep homes warm with almost no climate emissions. Nor would you guess that houses are metered in real time and there’s a friendly Smart Meter competition going on for lowest electricity use. Utility bills are way down, especially if you include money not spent on gasoline, which has doubled in cost. Garbage pickup is once a month, recycling every two weeks.
The biggest visible changes are in the laneways. Four of them look like miniature residential streets with several very small houses tucked in where garages used to stand. A few street ends contain mini-parks, following the City’s determination that Mount Pleasant needed more green spaces.
Six laneways have shaken off their asphalt for lawns, gardens and walking paths. The four most underdeveloped have shingled sheds in the middle with paths radiating out to garden plots. The sheds contains push mowers, a charging station for leaf blowers (batteries are lighter now, thank goodness) and the kind of garden tools you only need sometimes, like a digging bar and a post hole digger. In two of the four laneways, residents aren’t allowed to use the compost tools. It didn’t take long for a work share system for turning compost to break down with smelly consequences. Now residents pay two dollars into a lock box every time they dump food waste. The money is used to hire an urban agricultural worker who is solely responsible turning and rebuilding the compost twice a month. She balances the food waste with coffee grounds from local shops and other commercial waste. The end product goes to the gardeners, with an extra wheelbarrow load going to the winner of the smart meter competition.
The City Needs You
What Lindsay Cole most wants people to know about the plan: please read it (I suggest heading to straight to Appendix 4, Action Plan Summaries) and comment on it (from this link you can click on one of the ten goals and sign in to comment from that page). The City needs to know if it has captured public input to date and if the proposed actions are on the right track. There’s a website for comments, there will be community based workshops, do-it-yourself conversation kits if you want to convene a meeting of your own, social media discussions and list serves. The City welcomes a quick thumbs up or down as well as people nerding out on a specific action plan. The actions are suggestions subject to residents’ support or rejection.
The biggest reason for input is that residents and businesses are essential to meeting the targets. The City can model, inform, regulate and provide incentives, but reaching the targets will be a shared action. The Plan will succeed if residents support the actions and are willing to help carry them forward as individuals and in their businesses.
The Most Ambitious Aspect of the Plan: All of It
Meeting any one target won’t make Vancouver the world’s greenest city in 2020. Other cities have similar targets and are on their way to meeting them. It’s the cross connections of ALL the targets that makes Vancouver’s plan uniquely ambitious. Tackling all of it at once requires creativity and results in efficient actions that progress toward more than one target at a time.
The Draft Action Plan is based on the Greenest City Action Team’s report entitled Vancouver 2020: A Bright Green Future. Council instructed staff to create an implementation plan for the report’s recommended actions. The City sought resident input by way of web forums and meetings. Novel engagement tools included a picturesque potluck in the community garden at Davie and Burrard and an ideas slam in which the top four ideas from the on line forum were pitched to a panel amidst an interplay of art and music.
Public input went to external advisory committees, which brought together experts in related fields for the purpose of shaping the action plans. City staff looked to the committees to determine if targets were achievable and if the actions were both credible and suited to the targets. The committees created the skeletons of the action plans. The collaboration and dialogue continued for most of a year. The result is the draft action plan passed by Council on January 20, 2011.
Revised Targets at a Glance
The City revised some of its targets from Vancouver 2020: A Bright Green Future.
Double the number of green jobs in the City by 2020 over 2010 levels.
The original goal was 20,000 jobs while the new one is 12,000 (the number of green jobs in the city today). The baseline wasn’t available at the time of the Bright Green Future report and 12,000 is considered more a realistic yet still ambitious goal, constituting 25% of all new jobs.
Increase the number of green workplaces.
This is a proposed additional target. The proposed action of Green Enterprise Zones will help enable it.
Reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions to 33% below 2007 levels, by 2020.
The revision adds the phrase “community wide” to clarify that the City isn’t talking about just government, it’s talking about Vancouver as a whole.
Require all buildings constructed from 2020 onward to be carbon neutral in operations.
The revision specifies “in operations” to exclude construction.
When I asked Lindsay about the construction industry’s reaction to this goal, she stated that the City looked for a broad representation of the construction industry for that external advisory committee in particular. While there was vigorous debate about what a carbon neutral building is (there are few models), no one spoke out against the idea.
Make the majority of trips (over 50%) on foot, bicycle, and public transit.
Proposed additional target: Reduce distance driven per resident 20% from 2007 levels.
The additional target speaks to length of trips as well as number of trips. Both targets assume continuing population growth.
Reduce total solid waste going to landfill or incinerator by 50% from 2008 levels.
This target was increased to match Metro’s goal of 80% diversion by 2020. The original target worked out to 73% diversion.
Ensure that every Vancouver resident lives within a five minute walk of a park beach, greenway or other natural space by 2020.
Plant 150,000 additional trees in the city between 2010 and 2020.
These targets weren’t revised. The City has a map that shows which neighbourhoods have relatively little green space per capita (such as Mount Pleasant and East Van) and those blocks that aren’t in five minute walking distance to a park. The City will seek to fill the gaps with spaces that avoid land acquisition, such as closing off some street ends and laneways to cars and greening them up.
Reduce Vancouver’s per capita ecological footprint by 33% over 2006 levels.
This is the original target. It’s based on the idea that it would take 4 planet earths to sustain the current population if everyone lived as we do. The other greenest city goals can achieve a quarter of what is needed here. The remainder relies on residents, businesses and other organizations changing consumption choices and habits.
Meet or beat the strongest of British Columbian, Canadian and international drinking water quality standards and guidelines.
Reduce per capita water consumption by 33% over 2006 levels.
Revision of the first target made it more stringent. The second target is an adaptation to climate uncertainty. With current conditions, consumption and infrastructure, the reservoir would fill our needs until 2080. But climate impacts could include longer dry periods and other effects.
Meet or beat the strongest of British Columbian, Canadian and international air quality standards and guidelines.
Revised to substitute “international air quality standards and guidelines” for “World Health Organization air quality guidelines.”
Increase city and neighbourhood food assets by a minimum of 50%.
The original target was to reduce the carbon footprint of food by 50%. The staff and advisory committee decided it was almost impossible to measure the carbon of food from disparate sources. If met, the revised target will result in lower emissions while promoting other values such as access to local food, employment opportunities and food security.
The Difference Between Brainstorming with Friends and Trying to Imagine the Draft Plan’s 2020
Envisioning what Mount Pleasant could look like in 2020 felt a bit like one of those great late night brainstorm session with friends. But there are fundamental differences. For one, the City actually has the authority and resources to create and support real change. It’s potential tools include zoning bylaws, the building code, an energy code, its own utilities, the ability to collaborate with other utilities, business permits and licenses, data collection, education, monitoring, incentives, rebates, financing, land, buildings, its motor fleet and its operations.
Second, Lindsay and Amanda weren't my casually brainstorming friends. I had never met them before and they’re educated planners who have been gathering, researching and collating information on feasible targets for the better part of a year. And their fine efforts are only a small portion of the time and expertise that stands behind the draft plan.
Third, the passage of time has clarified that green visions of the future aren’t just nicer or important for abstract reasons like “walking lightly ” or “respecting nature.” They’re important because the earth is radically changing right now and if we want social stability for our children, ourselves and the world, we have to change energy sources and improve efficiency as quickly as possible. The Greenest City Action Plan lays out ways to do that. That is both exciting and a real relief.