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Envision the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan

Photo by [email protected] from Vancouver Observer Flickr pool

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.  

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