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Will Vancouver be the world’s greenest city in 2020?
In 2012 the city of Vancouver, Canada announced their ambitious action plan to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. Being born and raised in Vancouver, I grew up recycling and eating granola, and have seen the progress the city has made introducing bike lanes, water meters and new policies to conserve resources.
Vancouver, you have serious competition
There are “green” cities all over the world. While there is no universally accepted definition for what makes a city green, most ranking systems include environmental impact per person, renewable energy generation, percentage of people using public transport, green spaces and recycling programs. None of these take into consideration the most important element, the people who live there.
On a recent trip to Portland I was blown away by how much more “green” it is than Vancouver (sorry Vancouver). In Portland, sustainability is embedded in everyone and everything in the city. It got me to thinking, how did Portland become an entire city of people who are so passionate about the environment?
How did Portland become a leading sustainable city ?
Was it a small movement that caught on? Did like minded people from all over move there? How can a city like Vancouver or any other city in the world create the same kind of collective consciousness in their citizens?
While looking for the answer, I found an interesting interview with Portland’s Sustainability Chief discussing how Portland became a leader in sustainability. Here are a few insights:
- Good urban planning is necessary
- Being located in an area of natural beauty helps, people often feel more of a connection to their surroundings
- It’s not just about saving the planet, going green drives revenue for a city, there is money to be made in sustainable manufacturing and services
Oregon has a history of being home to a vibrant activist community for more than 40 years, and was one of the first states in the US to require refundable deposits on cans and bottles. Cities become green through small grassroots movements that become viral, combined with best practices of city government.
Best practices of green cities
Becoming a green city is more complicated than just good urban planning and stricter codes. Here are some best practices from the world’s most sustainable cities.
- Ambitious, well defined goals, and regular reporting of progress
- Electricity generation using renewable resources
- Strict building codes favouring green technology
- Investment in public transportation
- Efforts and policies to cut waste, reduce water consumption
- Increased density
- Encourage knowledge-based, creative economies
- Access to affordable, healthy food
- City government who leads by example
- Encourage grass roots efforts to engage citizens
A little competition is a good thing
We still have a long way to go to make our cities green, but the competition of cities vying for first place is a good thing. While San Francisco, Copenhagen, Bogotá, Reykjavik and Vancouver battle it out for the title of world’s greenest city, the result is decreased consumption of resources and increased awareness.
Tell me, what do you think is the most important element needed to transform a city into a green one?