Vancouver is a world class city, vibrant, diverse and thriving. The city, known by some as “Hollywood North” for its prominence as a movie set, is the third most livable place in the world. Increasingly it’s less and less affordable to average Canadians as offshore capital is driving up housing demand. Recent press has pinned blame on Chinese money seeking a safe haven.
The city proper covers some 44 sq. miles, surrounded by water. With no more additional space to build, future infill and retrofit development will focus on greater densification. It’s the only North American city without a freeway going through it.
Mike Harcart, three-term Mayor of Vancouver and past Premier of British Columbia, told the audience that “getting cities right is absolutely essential.” In the coming decades, six billion of our coming nine billion in population will live in cities, mostly in developing countries. Canada is urbanizing, he said, today 95% of the population lives in 120 cities.
While green infrastructure may not be as commonly discussed as it could be in a city that’s announced they wish to be the world’s greenest city by 2020, sustainability and an environmental consciousness permeate much of the official public discourse from city leaders and the agencies that carry out policies.
The city boasts 2.75 acres of park for every 1,000 residents, says Bill Hardy. Vancouver’s more than 220 parks constitute 11% of Vancouver’s land mass. Like most cities Vancouver mandates green space as part of development, but also like most mandated programs there is no money included to maintain it. While they’ve even got Bird-Friendly Guidelines as part of their green city toolkit, unfortunately, plants are not always equated with green infrastructure that includes alternative energy sources, recycling and reuse, and local food to name a few popular elements. Mike explained that Vancouver produces 4.6 tons of carbon per capita compared to 15 tons on average across North America. Green city goals include getting to 50%+ plus public transportation utilization; zero waste; all residents living within 1/3 mi. of nature (a park, trail, garden, or stream). While politicians and the public unanimously see a solar farm as “green,” they do not necessarily view a street covered with tree canopy as equally green.
Vancouver is seeing climatic shifts: From changes in snow patterns in the mountains outside the city to high temperatures and summer drought that, last year for the first time, caused the city to regulate outdoor watering. A large enough population of long-time established plants have died that some in the nursery industry are beginning to talk about shifts in plant hardiness. There’s a new attitude that maybe it’s time to take a look at new species. As in the United States, native plants are getting more play than in the past, not only in Vancouver, but other parts of Canada too.
NewTerrain April 5, 2016.