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Land Awards celebrate sustainability and innovation

Keynote speaker Ed Begley Jr.

Over 250 people gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver to celebrate achievements of the recipients of the 2012 Land Awards on Friday. The awards were given out in four areas; non-profit sector, private sector, public sector and land champion.

The Land Awards are held each year by the Real Estate Foundation of BC, which provides grants to local and community organisations that showcase leadership, innovation and collaboration in sustainable land use in British Columbia. The foundation has allocated over $62 million in grants since it was launched in 1988 and this was their third annual awards gala.

All of the shortlisted projects were very impressive, ranging from affordable housing innovations and sustainable housing projects to climate change mapping tools and a First Nations healing lodge.

The winner of the non-profit award was Vancouver’s own SOLEfood Farm. SOLEfood uses flexible lease structures to put movable urban farms in brownfield or unused urban areas in Vancouver.

The farm that you can see in False Creek from the skytrain near Rogers Arena is one of their projects. SOLEfood hires people from the Downtown Eastside who would otherwise face high barriers to give them employment and the ability to work with farms in wooden boxes, which avoids issues such as contaminated soil and paved land.

When accepting the award, founder Michael Ableman said that he thought that he wanted to change the world when he was younger, and now he just wants to grow the best tomatoes and help people along the way.

The private sector award went to an innovative community market in New Westminster: the River Market by Take Root Properties. The owners revitalised the old public market at the New Westminster Quay and made their project an important focal point for local residents as well as local food.

The River Market has sustainability built into their processes with zero waste challenges and a re-investment program where 1 per cent of the money spent at the market is invested in local community projects. One of my favourite projects featured in the video was the community picnic, where residents could bring food to share at a big table and connect with their neighbours.

The public sector award went to the Ty-histanis Neighbourhood Development by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations group. The Tla-o-qui-aht were given 84 hectares of land by Parks Canada in 2006 as the population had outgrown their original reserve area on Vancouver Island. Wanting to make sure the development met not only the needs of their community but was also done in a sustainable manner, they managed to keep 70 per cent of the forest habitat intact while still expanding their community.

The community implemented water and energy saving concepts and ensured the development was done through a collaborative approach that included all members.

This year’s land champion was Richard Hankin, who, over a 25-year-career with the Greater Vancouver Regional District, developed the regional park system that Metro Vancouver has today. Hankin said that he had his dream job for most of his life, and that the regional park system came about because of the quality of the parks in the greater Vancouver region that people were willing to invest in.

He noted that the Real Estate Foundation had often provided critical funding to allow projects to go ahead, and that he had loved working with so many motivated, creative and skilled people. With a legacy of an entire regional park system, Hankin was a deserving land champion indeed.

The key-note speaker for the evening was the actor and environmental advocate Ed Begley Jr. who gave us a very entertaining history of his environmentalism that came about because of two factors: one, the smog in Los Angeles and two, because he was cheap.

He spoke about the campaign to reduce smog in Los Angeles in the 1960s, where people claimed it was too expensive to be done. But the innovations that reduced the smog created new jobs, and also helped grow the city's economy. 

He told stories about how he personally did the things he could afford that were good for the environment, and found they were good for his pocket book too.

He didn’t purchase solar panels in the 1970s when he couldn’t afford them at their high prices, but he did purchase a share in a wind turbine in the 1980s, as an investment, which is still paying him dividends and has made him not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative for years.

Ed’s advice for those who claim that environmentalism is too expensive?

“If you’re starting now, I don’t expect you to run out and buy solar panels or a fancy electric car, but what can you do today? Can you take public transportation if it’s available near you? Can you plant a little vegetable garden in your backyard?”

And if you don’t have a backyard, he advised, get a part of a community garden.

What if here’s no community garden?

“Start one!” 

The evening was well spent recognising and honouring some of the best sustainable land projects in the province.

Kelly Lerigny the chair of the Real Estate Foundation Board put it best, speaking to the finalists to the Land Awards:

“Your commitment to making BC a better place to live is truly inspirational.”

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