Greenest City 2020 town hall meeting with Andrea Reimer: Identifying the city's worst enemies

Profanity, urbanity, and cost-of-living insanity. Vancouver's ambitious sustainability goals face tenacious enemies: Affordability, development, and apathy.

Town Hall meeting with Andrea Reimer: Wine casks, candles, and PowerPoint.

Real talk

When it comes to getting involved in our city, “three out of every 100 people are assholes.” City Councilor Andrea Reimer said it, but we’ve all thought it. The Town Hall meeting for the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan featured a refreshing dose of profanity from presenters and audience alike. We gotta talk honestly. If you can't sit in a room without feeling safe enough to drop the odd s-word or f-bomb, getting clear of the party line, then what will you really be able to say?

Reimer hosted a town hall at the sort of place a town hall should be hosted: a Railtown wine bar.

Vancouver Urban Winery

Rather than an antiseptic classroom, the meeting space at Vancouver Urban Winery felt more like the set of 10,000 Maniacs’ MTV Unplugged performance

Natalie Merchant: 10,000 Maniacs

In this intimate space, we discussed how community is the linchpin of sustainability. It wasn't an evening of statistics, but about sharing our experiences in a city that often feels distant and beyond our control.

Joining Reimer were Wes Regan, Executive Director of Hastings Crossing BIA; and Trish Kelly, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and the city’s fiercest pierogi advocate.

Regan would point out the external and internal obstacles to civic engagement; while Kelly would hammer home the idea that sharing food is the best way to bring people together, an idea demonstrated at the Late Nite Art/Changemakers event a week earlier. (However, no food was provided for this particular Town Hall: what’s up with that?)

Many attendees lived far from the downtown core, if even in Vancouver at all; and faced challenging journeys to get here. Great distances; unsafe bike rides; complicated transit connections; or the SeaBus, which gleefully throws a monkey-wrench into carless journeys to the North Shore.

Know your enemy

The looming spectre over these proceedings was Vancouver’s insane cost of living. The sky-high prices of this city has actually fueled the epidemic of social isolation in Vancouver, as we feel like visitors in a Disneyland for the rich. The Vancouver Foundation's 2012 Connection and Engagement Study(pdf) placed the cost of living in the top five complaints related to social isolation.

So most of us rent (including Reimer), and therefore cannot directly control the building materials used in our dwellings, or whether or not compost is collected. Getting landlords to fix the shower is hard enough, never mind proactively greening a building or instituting a compost program.

One attendee took matters into her own hands: “I guerrilla-composted in a park by my house, until a neighbour complained.” The fear of rats trumps the benefits of composting in Vancouver, it would seem: this is because composting systems don’t enjoy the effective PR that rats do.

All together now

When talking about the city, it's “not the big C, but the little c,” said Reimer, in that the people who make up the city can best bootstrap localized green initiatives the quickest.

But, she later asked, "How do you get people to give a shit?" It has to be safe to ask that question in that way.

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