Top 5 Green Urban Initiatives

Man oh man, I told myself I wouldn’t leave the office today without posting to the Greening the Inner-City Blog but it has been busy at BOB! So without further delay I will recount some awesome green initiatives in five North-American cities that I think should inspire anyone this Earth Day. And because people love searching for top tens and top fives and bests and worsts on the internet I’ll even present them as the top 5, as the title clearly states (though there are many other fascinating and awesome programs in several other cities too that could easily make the list). And because I’m in a massive hurry to get home I’m going to copy and paste a lot of the wording right from their own websites, thanks!

5) Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) (Bronx, New York) is a community organization    dedicated to Environmental Justice solutions through innovative, economically sustainable projects that are informed by community needs. One of the many awesome programs bridging sustainable community economic development, urban renewal and workforce development is the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training Academy (BEST) which trains residents in bioremediation, wetland restoration, horticulture, water and soil quality testing and numerous other green job skills. The BEST Academy links environmental clean-up and restoration in the community to the career development and economic needs of local people.

4) Chicago Climate Action Plan. (Chicago) Chicago Mayor Richard Daley got inspired on a trip to Germany a few years back, which is hard not to do if you find sustainability and green technology particularly exciting. After coming home he decided to one up those Germans by making Chicago a global leader in environmentally sustainable urban planning. The CCAP includes best practices for ensuring Chicago is full of:

Other initiatives are also being developed such as a global building energy monitoring system which would enable the City to control the temperature at more than 500 city-owned facilities, reducing energy costs by as much as 30-40 percent, and a green collar workforce development program aimed at empowering Chicagoans with the skill sets needed for building retrofits, renewable energy and other green economic activities.

3) Growing Power. (Milwaukee/Chicago)                                                             Will Allen, CEO of growing power, has helped to raise the profile of urban agriculture to great heights and his work has inspired cities around North America (including Vancouver) to join the urban farming revolution. Growing Power transforms communities by supporting people from diverse backgrounds and the environments in which they live through the development of Community Food Systems.  His urban farming initiatives, which recently won him a MacArthur Genius Grant, have spread innovative approaches to urban agriculture, aquaculture and even beekeeping, from Milwaukee to Chicago. Empower communities and increasing food security.

2) The Portland Metro EcoDistricts Initiative (Portland Oregon)

Integrating Environmental Performance and District Scale Development and spearheaded by the Portland Sustainability Institute, the EcoDistricts Initative is a large-scale and diverse public private partnership currently underway which includes the City of Portland, Portland Development Commission, Metro, Portland State University and Oregon University System, Oregon BEST, Real estate, design, and construction industry leaders and leading urban environmental organizations who have collaborated on a framework for the development of 5 pilot projects throughout the city.

The objective of the program is to test, accelerate and eventually codify the next generation of best practices in green development and civic infrastructure that can be scaled to create neighborhoods with the lowest environmental impact and highest economic and social resiliency in the United States.

EcoDISTRICTS is a strategy to build “triple bottom line” neighborhoods with the lowest possible environmental impact and highest long‐term economic and community returns.

So basically, just when you thought Portland couldn’t get any more awesome they go and put this thing together.

1) Greenest City Action Team and Vancouver 2020 a Bright Green Future (Vancouver BC).

Surprised? Well I can say with confidence that I don’t give top placement to our Mayor’s vision and the team behind it simply out of hometown pride. The objective is clear, to be the world’s leader in sustainability and the healthiest, cleantech-savvy, robust, gorgeous, green economy powerhouse on the planet. Hard not to give top placement to an initiative like that!  Here are some of the hard targets from the GCAT recommendations and Bright Green Future 10 year plan.

Secure Vancouver’s international reputation as a mecca of green enterprise

2020 Target: Create 20,000 new green jobs

Eliminate Vancouver’s dependence on fossil fuels

2020 Target: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 33 per cent from 2007 levels

Lead the world in green building design and construction

2020 Targets: All new construction carbon neutral; improve efficiency of existing buildings by 20 per cent

Make walking, cycling, and public transit preferred transportation options

2020 Target: Make the majority of trips (over 50 per cent) on foot, bicycle, and public transit

Create zero waste

2020 Target: Reduce solid waste per capita going to landfill or incinerator by 40 per cent

Provide incomparable access to green spaces, including the world’s most spectacular urban forest

2020 Targets: Every person lives within a five-minute walk of a park, beach, greenway, or other natural space; plant 150,000 additional trees in the city

Achieve a one-planet ecological footprint

2020 Target: Reduce per capita ecological footprint by 33 per cent

Enjoy the best drinking water of any major city in the world

2020 Target: Always meet or beat the strongest of B.C., Canada, and World Health Organization drinking water standards; reduce per capita water consumption by 33 per cent

Breathe the cleanest air of any major city in the world

2020 Target: Always meet or beat World Health Organization air quality guidelines, which are stronger than Canadian guidelines

Become a global leader in urban food systems

2020 Targets: Reduce the carbon footprint of our food by 33 per cent

So happy earth day everyone! There’s lots to be excited about, now get involved in the greening of your inner-city and surrouding urban spaces.

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Thoughts on the urban deconstruction industry and restoration economy in Vancouver

Over the recent years many thinkers and planners have foreseen the likely transformations of our urban and suburban communities as costs related to resources, building materials and other logistics force us to think on our feet and adjust. I recall one author even wrote a book titled “The End of Suburbia”. Actually it was a documentary now that I come to think of it. As potential challenges such as peak oil, loss of arable land, energy and water scarcity and other logistical (and social) hurdles continue to present themselves on our horizon, authors like James Howard Kunstler, Jeremy Rifkin,  and numerous scholars agree that we may need to rethink our systems and our approaches and reassess much of our infrastructure and planning as we look ahead. Vancouver has been recognized as one of the more progressive and community focused cities in North America but even we may see some major physical transformations should these challenges come to a headwaters in the next 50 years. Though I do write with the focus of BOB in mind, I’m also a geographer, so I’m inspired to look at these issues very much from the perspective of a geographer.

In the case of Vancouver our physical geography and some astute urban planning has already helped to create a clean density that we’re celebrated and noted for now, and if we continue to go dense out of necessity or desire we will likely need to maximize urban spaces. Enter the deconstruction industry and the restoration economy.

A great little video on Treehugger.com about a social enterprise in Bristol UK was sent to me from Brian here at Building Opportunities with Business (who got it from Toby Barazzuol at Eclipse Awards). The Bristol Recycling Project collects donations of unused lumber, and either finds a way to put it back into the market or reconstitutes them into products like shelving and furniture. This is a service that has developed in relationship with the deconstruction industry and the restoration economy. The restoration economy is an idea put forth by author Storm Cunningham in a 2002 book entitled (you guessed it) The Restoration Economy. Along with William McDonough’s book Cradle to Cradle, it was considered a landmark environmental book at the beginning of this decade. In short, or rather to summarize but a brief aspect of it, think of it like this. Instead of blowing up a building into a million fragments and trucking them off to the landfill, we can slowly deconstruct it and utilize as much of the materials as possible in other developments. It’s like my father-in-law (an incredibly accomplished engineer who has worked on numerous high profile projects around the world) always says, “The most sustainable building is the one already built”. Well, the logic of the restorative economy says the next best thing may be recycling all those materials as best as possible into a new format. Plus it creates jobs and stimulates the economy.

Reclaimed wood has been utilized by social enterprises and businesses in BC and specifically in the inner-city Tradeworks Training Society uses reclaimed wood for many of their products. But much of this reclaimed wood is from Pine Beetle infested lumber considered below market standard due to its blueish tint. Conversely, much of the wood used by the Bristol Wood Recycling Project comes from buildings that have been recently deconstructed or found lumber, and as other cities around the world begin to rethink their urban design many structures may need to come down in order for more efficient designs to go up. Buildings will also need improvements, retrofits and other maintenance, like our beautiful heritage buildings here in Vancouver. There’s little doubt that a large market potential for the restorative industry exists in Vancouver. As recent improvements along the Hastings Corridor (a result of the Great Beginnings and Hastings Renaissance Program) attest, we Vancouverites value the historical architecture of the inner-city. Many of these old buildings need a little love and elbow grease as time does take its toll, but they shine up real good.

But where is Vancouver’s inner-city in regards to a similar project like the one in Bristol? Well, it has been discussed, and there are still people in the community who believe a similar deconstruction social enterprise might be successful here. We do have a proud history as an enterprising lumber town after all.

Is it a matter of timing though?

As construction of high density buildings becomes more expensive, eating into the bottom line of those projects, and as space becomes less available in our city perhaps reclaimed materials from deconstruction will present an affordable and accessible option for developers? And that in turn may likely create more demand for deconstruction and restorative work, more space to develop, and perhaps contribute to more affordable housing prices? Someone would probably have to write a thesis as opposed to a blog post to really answer some of those questions. But this is a place for ideas and conversation after all.

It’s some food for thought as we look to the future of this city and our inner-city’s urban design. By looking at the Bristol Wood Recycling Project and other similar enterprises we can perhaps better imagine the choices that may present themselves to us down the road.

-Wes-