9 Kudos

An Environmentally Sustainable City

As a goal, environmental sustainability is a most worthy cause. Yet virtually every development initiative the City has taken to support densification in the past 10 years has harmed the environment.

If the City’s goal is to reduce the harmful environmental footprint emanating from our boundaries, then each additional City resident arriving here as a result of densification compromises that objective. What claim can be made that by enlarging the damaging environmental footprint City residents make upon this planet on a daily basis, we are somehow improving environmental sustainability ?

This argument was propelled forward by Patrick Condon and Richard Wozny when they recently waded in on the subject of the consequences of densification; http://www.vancouverobserver.com/news/even-real-estate-consultants-hate-condo-towers-eco-density-discussion-grandview . The Article opines:

“In Vancouver, the potential ecological benefits of higher density has become a key justification for many new condo developments. However, the unintended consequences of increased density have the potential to dramatically scale up an urban region’s ecological footprint. […] Are Downtown Vancouver and Manhattan the template for a sustainable future? Or are higher towers doing little more than letting us live closer to an atmosphere filled with increasing amounts of CO2?”

You can pursue implementation of programs and transitional technologies which might honestly create an incremental reduction of the environmental damage created by each City resident on a per capita basis, but through the dramatic enlargement of the City’s population base, you eclipse any benefits you might have achieved as a collective. By eclipsing these benefits you accelerate the rate of environmental degradation, and negatively impact local, regional, national and global environmental sustainability objectives. All the work and effort to improve the local community, at significant cost, in the end achieves nothing for the planet, and harms the local City environment in which we all live..

The 10th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2014 (http://www.demographia.com/dhi.pdf) also examined environmental sustainability at which point it opined:


Much of the current justification for urban containment policy rests on an expectation of its potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, urban containment policy is not an effective strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Its strategies provide minimal reductions, at best, and at costs much greater than other alternatives. Spending more than necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is inherently anti-economic and would lead to lower standards of living and greater poverty. This was emphasized by the European Conference of Ministers of Transport:

“It is important to achieve the required emission reductions at the lowest overall cost to avoid damaging welfare and economic growth.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that sufficient greenhouse gas emission reductions can be achieved for a range of from $20 to $50 per tonne. Urban containment strategies cost much more. Figures of $1,000 per tonne have been estimated for mass transit approaches, while house price increases could escalate the cost to many times that. A US report by McKinsey and the Conference Board concluded that substantial and cost effective GHG emission reductions were possible, “while maintaining comparable levels of consumer utility,” which was defined as “no change in thermostat settings or appliance use, no downsizing of vehicles, home or commercial space and traveling the same mileage.” In other words, there is no need to interfere with people’s lives or preferences.

The Role of Cities

Throughout history, people have moved to cities for better lives, responding to the much greater and more focused economic opportunities they provided. In 1800 there was only one urban area with more than 1,000,000 residents (Beijing) and the world’s urban population was on the order of 10 percent. By 1900 there were 16 urban areas with more than 1,000,000 residents. Now there are approximately 475 urban areas with more than 1,000,000 population, and the world is more than one-half urban. The largest urban area, Tokyo-Yokohama, is six times as large as 1900 London, which was the largest at that time. Cities, in combination with the technological and transport advances of the last two centuries have facilitated unparalleled affluence in many nations and have replaced universal poverty with far better lives virtually everywhere. Cities have grown because of the economic aspirations that they are able to turn into reality.

Former World Bank principal urban planner Alain Bertaud (2004) noted that: Large labor markets are the only raison d’être of large cities.

Most governments place the highest priority on achieving a higher standard of living and less poverty. Yet, these principal objectives are subverted by urban containment policy, which places the urban form how people travel over the betterment of people. Urban planning should be refocused on more fundamental purposes.”

Perhaps more practical solutions such as those being pursued by the City of Edmonton would form a better investment of North Vancouver City’s time and scarce resources (http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/city_organization/edmonton-waste management-centre-of-excellence-members.aspx).

The corporate structure for the Edmonton Centre of Excellence is also quite interesting. What is most interesting about the Edmonton model is the integrated thinking which goes into its idea’s and operations. One can only assume that an OCP process in Edmonton would include financial modeling and transportation planning, and not simply focus all it’s energies on densification for the purpose of selling City owned air-draft at the highest price for a short-term buck, creating a long-term liability.

Specific ideas’ which have supported environmental change in the City of Edmonton include:

City Of Edmonton:

Get the complete Green Home Guide, or check out the sections that interest you:

One example of an Edmonton City initiative which I believe would have a profoundly positive effect on North Vancouver City residents is  a financing strategy used to incentivize Edmontonians to pursue environmental sustainability goals through Greening projects. One creative example is:

“Financing Strategies
Summary and Rationale

Many green building opportunities are economically viable in theory, but are impeded by one or more real-life financial barriers. By lending support to green building financing programs, the City can help overcome market barriers to green building and home retrofits. Green financing strategies would support several of the programs of this Green Building Plan. The key Plan programs that would benefit from financial strategies are the Green Lease Program, Building Energy Labeling programs, the Green Renovation Programs, and the Operations and Recommissioning program.

How the Program Works

Financing can be done in a number of different ways, but the basic premise for the green financing programs is that it offers easy or more attractive financing for green buildings or upgrades.

Examples of green financing include:
›› Reduced lending rates or insurance premiums
›› Repayments made via utility bills
›› Financing integrated with energy assessments and retrofit providers”

Imagine for a moment a North Vancouver City variation to the Edmontonian theme, wherein it is possible for City residents to access lower loan and mortgage rates if they build, renovate, buy or invest in a “Green Building” or home. This initiative does not compel the City to loan the City’s own capital monies, but rather allows the City to negotiate with lenders on behalf of borrowers as if a buying group funding vehicle. The program incentivizes homeowners and builders to build greener more sustainable structures, in trade for access to lower cost capital. It is designed in such a way that it does not cost the government money, but rewards the consumer for going green through capital cost savings. A win for the homeowner, a win for the environment, and a win for the planet. It is exactly programs like this one which will do more for less with no cost to the City which the “European Conference of Ministers of Transport” were making ideological reference to when they opined:

“It is important to achieve the required emissions reductions at the lowest overall cost to avoid damaging welfare and economic growth.”

IT IS MY POSITION THAT the City should develop a program designed to identify the optimum energy efficient appliances, and housing designs, all of which would help to lower the environmental footprint of each City resident. Accordingly;

  1. I will support development of a preferred list of appliances and other product types, of all nature, at a variety of price points, to ensure that in each consumer group price range there exists an optimum group of products from which City residents can choose; and
  2. I will support an initiative where the City negotiates with lenders, the development of a “green-fund borrowing group” which will provide City resident access to capital at discounted rates for home renovation loans, household mortgages and approved green appliance in relation to “Greening” objectives and programs as developed by the City; and
  3. I will support an initiative where construction loans for certified, approved and qualified “Green Home Builders” will provide access to green-fund capital borrowing group monies based on those funds being used to build residential structures in accordance with the City’s “Greening” objectives and programs; and
  4. I will support an initiative where the City pursues access to green-fund capital through negotiations with both the Federal and Provincial governments, and the Municipal Finance Authority, with an eye to developing a program that works for the benefit of the City’s residents, but does not employ municipal taxpayer monies, resulting in a zero burden upon already scarce City resources.

When I find myself in a position to effect these changes, the policies and principals setout above will guide my decision-making in respect of environmental sustainability.

What do you think?

What do you think about my position on An Environmentally Sustainable City?

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