Green Cities Essence – A Journey Through Vancouver’s “Greenness” Vision

In 1950, about 29% of the worldwide population was living in the cities. Today, the urban population has reached 50% and is expected to grow to 70% by 2050 up to 6 billion people vs 3.6 billion in 2011. These trends lead cities to reflect on their urban development and their impact on the environment. In recent years, some cities have been getting aware of the negative impact of an ever-growing urbanization and have been implementing scheme consistent with climate change; these are recognized as Green Cities or Sustainable Cities or Environmentally Friendly Cities. 

The most urbanized regions are located in Canada, USA and Latin America with 80% of residents, Europe with 70% of residents; then comes Africa and Asia with 40% of residents, facing a current exodus from the countryside to urban areas. The urban population accounts for 60-80% of the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. By essence, urban strategies have been evolving in recent years to cope with social, economic and environmental issues linked to the densification of the urban inhabitants. Building, transports and industry are the key components of cities and suburbs; respectively, they account for 25, 22 and 22% of worldwide GHG emissions as per energy. This framework can differ according to the economic wealth and the configuration of each city. The denser a population is, the higher ecological footprint per capita. This trend is mainly obvious in developed countries due to the natural growth of cities and the rural exodus searching for job opportunities, despite policies tending to maintain and enhance rural economies. But, currently, India and China are blatant examples of the urbanization trend. From the social point of view, the fast growth in some cities allied with insufficient resources and their poor management, has been jeopardizing fresh water and electricity supply, waste management, transport and other infrastructures, impacting more on the most disadvantaged citizens. Today, it is globally assessed that the earth and its population is facing scarcity of resources and thus can’t go on evolving the same way at least in advanced economies.

The success of the green city process is highly due to an efficient governance allied with companies’ commitment in providing solutions and building trust with citizens. Some cities worldwide have already jumped ahead and are recognized as green in Western Europe, USA and Canada. In 2013, according to Meriah Jamieson, the four cities challenging the leading position of the world greenest city were San Francisco, Copenhagen, Bogota and Reykjavik, the outcome being a significant decrease in resources consumption and a drastic raise of awareness. In 2015, according to Hayley Birch, “Singapore, San Francisco, Curitiba, Copenhagen and Vancouver seem the most obvious candidates for the planet’s greenest title […] but as better data emerges, others may begin setting new benchmarks”.

A Focus on the city of Vancouver

The city of Vancouver, Canada, is on its way to become the greenest city of the world by 2020. In 2011, Vancouver launched a huge economic development program based on the Green Industry and named “Greenest City 2020”. The aim consists not only in insuring a better quality of life for residents but also create beacon of excellence, attracting investments and generating growth. The young and cosmopolitan population has been committing for a while in environmental protection. Vancouver has been playing a key role in the nascent green awareness: this is where was born Greenpeace in 1971. The ecological issue is part of local culture. Vancouverites have already invested a lot in renewable energies. Moreover, waste management is given serious consideration by inhabitants. Young start-up release apps to better organize waste sorting. Since 2011, Vancouver has initiated ambitious tax incentive programs to support companies positioning on eco-technologies. This is also the first city in North America to apply the carbon tax. The Economic Commission of the town has implemented a support program for start-ups to help them to accurate their business plan or provide them with legal advices. This policy has already shown results: 25% of Canadian companies dedicated to eco-technologies are based in Vancouver accounting for 20 000 green jobs (+20% since 2011). In this fast-growing city, the building industry represents a strategic market, in the leading edge of green building with the Canadian record of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings; the most demanding certification in that field. Pioneer in Green Economy, Vancouver has planned that all the new constructions to be carbon neutral by 2020.

Initiated by the Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, as soon as he was elected in 2009, the Greenest City Project drawing up gathered a wide range of various stakeholders belonging to the following categories: academia and Research Institutes, not-for-profit associations, non-for-profit federations, private companies, local councils, foundations, community organizations, innovative and social hubs, think tanks and do tanks, certification bodies, consulting firms, awards and ranking bodies, capital ventures and investment banks, crown organizations, Ministries, public organizations, real estate and unions – i.e. Local Government, Businesses and Communities.

Vancouver has been ranked number 5 by Mercer Quality of Living (2017) and the 2nd most resilient city in the world (Resilient Cities, A Grosvenor Research Report, 2014). The Greenest City Action Plan is based on 10 major goals which are: green economy, climate leadership, green buildings, green transportation, zero waste, access to nature, lighter footprint, clean water, clean air and local food. (Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, 2012).

How does the process concretely work? What is the contribution of stakeholders in the designing and implementation of these goals? What is the progress in the project? The response will be in my next article by the end of October 2017, after my trip in Vancouver this summer. During two months, I will have the opportunity to make face-to-face interviews with a great deal of stakeholders understanding the challenges for the realization of the green city and confronting the data I will collect with the theoretical framework.

To be continued….

Written by Cathy MASSON


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