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Making Vancouver sustainable: Greenest City meets Village Vancouver

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Transition Town is a grassroots network started in the U.K. in 2006 to foster self-organizing community around transition to sustainable living and reduced ecological footprint. Three years ago, the Transition Town movement began to send shoots all over the world and these have taken root, with communities in Canada, Australia, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, USA, and Wales — so far.

Randy Chatterjee, one of Village Vancouver’s 12 directors, can detail what's going on in different villages in Vancouver. “Cedar Cottage village has an amazing seed collective. Hastings has its own food network, with many urban farmers collectively looking at food security.”

“Main Street village had a [massive] potluck at Heritage Hall with 280 people and five local bands. We brought all the plates and a turkey by foot and by bike.” This included a bike donated to VV by the Cargo Bike Co-op. “After dinner everyone took their own plate and there was only a couple of pocketfuls of waste. The rest we composted.”

Chatterjee hopes that VV’s work can help communities in surrounding areas take action toward sustainability.

“By organizing in Vancouver, we act as a role model to Burnaby and other nearby communities,” he says. “Hopefully by organizing on a higher level we can inspire and makes easier the actions on a local level. We’re coming at it from many levels."

“To me, Village Vancouver is a solution to the three threats – peak oil, climate change and global debt. We’re outside of government because government is based on those three problems continuing to exist. To make sizeable change takes more than one person. Individuals really can make a difference on a community level.”

Says Moster, “You don’t have to wait for government to approve it — you just go out and do it. And we’re here to help.”

When asked about Greenest City milestones over the past two years, Moster replies, “It’s difficult to answer, as a lot of what Greenest City is about is goals. They’ve targeted some lofty and significant goals.”

The organizations’ websites reflect this difference in approach., the Vancouver Greenest City site, prominently displays its 10 goals with virtual comments by website members and lots of cartoon illustrations. By contrast, displays a beehive of real people communing around food, action, learning and even development of local currency.

Whether one of the two movements is poised to have the most impact on shifting our culture towards sustainability and social justice, or if the two movements will find synergies which allow both to have a profound and long-lasting impact is a mystery only the future will reveal.

Both Moster and Chatterjee cite backyard chickens and transit as important achievements by Greenest City. “The improved bike paths were a major political risk by the City, with a very positive, on the street effect,” quips Chatterjee.

There’s a different view when it comes to Vancouver’s expansion of yard waste composting to include kitchen scraps. The City sees this as a major step forward, while the two from Village Vancouver are both concerned about the trucking of refuse to composting facilities in Delta, which, they say, adds to CO2 emissions instead of promoting neighborhood based composting.

Chaterjee tells VO that in Europe, where he’s lived, people situate large, secure (from rats) drum composters in neighborhoods — often behind restaurants and/or in back lanes by apartment buildings. The culture is different there, he explains, with citizens taking ownership and pride in the work and rewards of composting: a dark, rich compost soil grows healthy, bountiful crops of food and flowers. He says people also take more responsibility for recycling than they do here – willingly walking to a nearby corner where individuals take care of sorting recyclables into many more categories than we do in Vancouver. 

What do Moster and Chatterjee see as next steps for Village Vancouver and for Greenest City?

Chatterjee calls for the City to “look at our eco-footprint and take measurements to assess progress. They need to walk the talk. Every new house sends their roof water into the sewer. This sucks the water table down lower than it should be. Rain water should go into the soil.”

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