CITY BRIEFS: “Greenest City” Guru Lindsay Cole Dishes On Life In Vancouver’s Future…

by Scott Daniel | Lindsay Cole is the Greenest City Planner with the City of Vancouver and a former Director with Sustainability Solutions Group. Lindsay put together a blueprint to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020. City Council adopted the Greenest City Action Plan on July 14th.

Let’s say I borrow Uncle Rico’s time machine and fast forward to 2020.  Assuming the Greenest City Plan is executed to a tee, what’s the first thing I’ll notice, and the most obvious change I’ll see? Will women in vests, carrying briefcases, really be harvesting fruit in the middle of the road?

I hope that the time machine uses renewable energy! I think that we will see many, many subtle changes across the city that together add up to a greener, healthier, more livable and economically resilient place.  You will probably meet more people working in the green economy, including green building designers and builders, cargo bike delivery riders, urban farmers, internationally renowned consultants in the areas of sustainability strategy, carbon finance, ethical investing, and policy and program development. And of course binners that will continue to pull more and more useful goods out of the trash for reuse, recycling and resale.

We’ll see more district renewable energy systems throughout the city, like the Neighbourhood Energy Utility at the foot of the Cambie Street bridge, to provide heating for buildings. Green buildings will become the norm, with more and more effort being put into reducing energy demand. Transit capacity will increase and will become faster, more reliable and more comfortable for users. More people – from kids to seniors – will choose to walk or ride to their destinations, and their destinations will become closer to home through land use planning that enables mixed use communities.

Interesting green spaces will pop up through the city, particularly in places that don’t have many parks. These will take the form of mini-parks in underutilized streets spaces and community gardens, in addition to more traditional parks. Viva Vancouver is a great example of some temporary street repurposing that we’ll likely see more of. The city’s forest cover will slowly expand as the newly planted trees grow, providing shade, food, beauty, and clean air.

There will be many things that happen that people can’t see as well. Our infrastructure and buildings will become more prepared for a changed climate and the impacts that will bring to our community like sea level rise, summer droughts, and stronger storm events. The City still has some combined sewer systems which will be eliminated, meaning that the quality of our surrounding ocean water will be improved. Drinking water quality will be improved as well through Metro Vancouver’s new water filtration plant.

The greenest city will also be a creative city that embraces all of our diversity. People in the arts, media, and cultural sectors will find interesting ways to stimulate thought and action on greening the city. This is already happening – Poet Laureate Brad Cran has written a piece inspired by the Greenest City, and organizations like EatART, Projecting Change Film Festival, Love Vancouver, and the Design Nerds are creating provocative and interesting installations and events. Cultural organizations and festivals, like Latincouver, Green Club, Rangi Change Roots and the Vaisakhi Parade celebrate our city’s culture while working to green the city at the same time. And of course I keep waiting for those personal jet packs…


What’s your favourite neighbourhood in Vancouver and why?

I’m still pretty new here, so this is a hard one. I think I’d pick Trout Lake/Cedar Cottage. Close to the drive for all its great people and food, yet close to the park for playing in with my kid and feasting at the farmers market.

It seems reasonable to expect the suburbs to continue sprawling out from Vancouver as a less expensive, less dense, less green counterpoint to the urban core. Does it undermine the “greenest city” goal if the rest of Metro Vancouver doesn’t follow suit? Will a Green Vancouver end up just being window dressing?

Though there are many things that the City can do to achieve our targets (this leadership is critical), many partners will be required to make this happen as the City’s jurisdictional authority is limited. Metro is definitely a key partner, particularly on air and water quality issues, solid waste, and transportation and land use planning. Other key partners include the provincial government, particularly related to achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets as well as Translink, the Vancouver School Board, Vancouver Coastal Health and the federal government. Leadership from businesses, non-profits and social enterprises is already happening across the city, and will result in us finding creative ways to achieve these targets while building community and new business opportunities.

Is there a recent/upcoming development or construction project you’re especially excited about, in terms of showcasing Vancouver’s greensition and/or greenvolution?

The recently approved Cambie Corridor Plan will be an important land use change that will happen in Vancouver over the next decades. It’s a transit oriented plan – meaning that new development is planned along major transportation corridors to help people get around the City more sustainably. Along with this comes nodes of mixed use developments, so that people can walk, ride or take transit to their daily destinations – like school, work, the grocery store, and places to play. It is hoped and expected that housing developed along this corridor will provide new, more affordable options for people in the city through providing a mix of different housing types. And with the City’s ongoing work on encouraging green building design, construction and operations, this corridor should be built using best practices in energy efficient, healthy, and durable construction.

The other projects that I’m really excited about are all of the new BC Housing projects that are underway in the city, some of which are now occupied. A few years ago the City and the Province committed to build 12 new affordable housing projects across the city, all of which are targeting a LEED gold construction standard. This is a great example of a significant effort to provide high quality and healthy housing for people that need it most, while building projects that will cost less to operate and be more affordable for the long term as well.

What’s it gonna take to beat San Francisco to be the greenest city in North America?

Yes, there has been much discussion on this topic here at the City! You could answer this by debating the methodology used, digging into the numbers, and saying that if we work particularly hard on our solid waste programs then we could surpass San Francisco. Another approach would be to ditch the rankings and focus more on talking about the innovation and success that each city is achieving and try and share more of that.  In Vancouver we’ve tried to be really transparent about our work – our targets and why we chose them, our current level of performance, and the methodology used to measure that – in the hopes that this helps other cities along their own paths. Really, the point is that all cities around the world try to become the greenest, that’s when we’ll really be able to say we’ve succeeded!

2020 rolls around and Vancouver is named Greenest City in the World.  What do you do? a) Share champagne, cigars, and evil laughs with other Greenestocrats. b) Riot downtown with everyone else. c) Smugness, and then some. d) Other (explain).

D. Keep on keepin’ on. I expect there will still be a few things that need doing!

There are 8 comments

  1. If that is what Vancouver is supposed to look like I don’t want any part of it. I want decay, hovels, squats, messy urban gardens, vines and dirt and roots.

  2. sean, i want both: i want the efficiency and elegance of sustainable urban design – along with the kind of community lifestyle that goes along with it (e.g. life on two wheels, lunchtime fruit harvests, etc) – and i want the creative chaos of squalor and non-conformity as nature is allowed to wend its way throughout the built environment…

    i think they call this place east van.

  3. sean, i want both: i want the efficiency and elegance of sustainable urban design – along with the kind of community lifestyle that goes along with it (e.g. life on two wheels, lunchtime fruit harvests, etc) – and i want the creative chaos of squalor and non-conformity as nature is allowed to wend its way throughout the built environment…

    i think they call this place east van.