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Making Vancouver sustainable: Greenest City meets Village Vancouver

Village Vancouver members at Main Street Car Free Day 2010. Ross Moster (centre) and Anna Chase, Main street village convener, on his left. Photo credit: Shelby Tay and Village Vancouver

On March 5, 2009, Mayor Robertson announced Vancouver would become the Greenest City in the world by 2020. With his announcement, backyard chickens were legalized and Vancouver City Hall converted a large swath of its lawn into a community garden.

At the time, responses to peak oil, climate change and food security were surfacing in the public consciousness. Within days of our Mayor’s announcement, Michelle Obama broke ground at the White House lawn.

Over these past two years, she and her staff have turned it into a wildly successful garden producing over a 1,000 pounds of produce annually, including a helicopter-proof honey bee colony. The National Gardening Association credits the effort with inspiring a 19% jump in US home food garden starts.

In the same time frame, a strong, new citizen-led movement sprouted in Vancouver. Village Vancouver was in a gestational stage as early as 2007 but really went public within a few months after the Greenest City announcement.

Here's a check-up on Greenest City through the eyes of Village Vancouver and a look at the workings of these two Vancouver-based sustainability movements.

Ross Moster, founder and full-time volunteer of Village Vancouver, managed an organic food co-op in Venice Beach, Calif. for 20 years before settling here.

“Village Vancouver is about connecting people in community and creating community self-reliance in response to issues like climate change, peak oil and economic insecurity – and have fun while doing it,” explains Moster.

VV’s village members engage together in garden-sharing, tool-swapping, seed-saving and, yummiest of all, enjoying food together over potluck dinners.

Asked how Vancouver's Greenest City goal helps Village Vancouver's work, Moster explains that it helps build awareness of the need to respond to issues such as peak oil, climate change and food security.

“Greenest City is about culture shift,” Moster says. “In a general sense, Greenest City is very helpful.” 

Moster goes on to point out the crucial role that citizens play in the City’s green aspirations. Referring directly to Greenest City Goal 7 - Lighter Footprint, Moster says, “They’re looking at a 33% reduction in Vancouver’s per person ecological footprint by 2020.”

He notes that according to the Greenest City website, a 10% reduction comes from implementing all 10 of the Greenest City goals. He quotes the Lighter Footprint platform, “To achieve the remaining 23-25% reduction will require significant action from the rest of the community, particularly in the areas of food and consumables.”

Moster says that while the Greenest City has been a help, the city’s direct resources don’t get the movement very far. “They’re saying a lot of this has to come from neighborhood and grassroots level.”

It’s clear that Village Vancouver, a citizen-led movement, and all of Vancouverites, are vital to the success of the Greenest City by 2020 goal.

Moster acknowledges that while the City’s 33% reduction target is ambitious, it’s not enough. “We need more,” he says. “I think we need to achieve a 90% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. It doesn’t mean we have the current capacity to do it yet, but we need to be thinking in those terms to make a significant difference.”

He explains that Village Vancouver has a "grassroots, bottom-up approach" to work towards this goal.

"We’re about engaging people and building just, sustainable and resilient community in Vancouver and surrounding areas,” he says. “We don’t have any budget. We run on people power. We don’t have a set blueprint for doing things...There’s a lot of stuff you’ll never see on the website because people are just going out and doing it.”

Recognition of their success came last year when VV was named the Vancouver hub for Transition Town.

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