Why Vancouver’s inner-city crystalizes the green paradigm shift

It’s often these days that we find the word problem replaced by the words challenge or opportunity. Sometimes this is appropriate and useful, but Van Jones in his book The Green Collar Economy, clearly demonstrates why the word problem should not be dropped from our lexicon. His book seems to be increasingly more relevant to Vancouver’s inner-city.

The increasing divide between rich and poor is more than a challenge or opportunity, it is a problem. Perhaps for those on the more comfortable side of the equation it’s a challenge or opportunity, but for the growing bottom percentage? Access to clean potable water in developing nations is more than a challenge, and for those struggling to find it it’s a problem far more than an opportunity. The myriad environmental, social and economic disruptions we’ve created from years of exponential production and consumption are more than just an opportunity or challenge, collectively they have become a problem of global scale.

The reason why it’s important to acknowledge that there are problems is because it creates the urgency to recognize problem solvers. Without problems how can we even have problem solvers? Challenges and opportunities are indicative of competitive language, the kind born out of free market ideologies. They denote opportunism, and that’s fine. We need opportunists to capitalize on the wealth of opportunities in the fast emerging green economy, but to Jones it goes deeper than this.  In the Green Collar Economy the challenges and opportunities that will help to create equitable wealth come from solving these environmental and social problems. It’s more than opportunities within an emerging economy, it’s about the health of human society and the living planet we depend on. Because of this, the people who are most in need of problem solving  naturally become crucial problem solvers themselves:

“We cannot afford that kind of moral shortfall. To solve our global problems, we need to engage and unleash the genius of all people, at all levels of society. Some of the minds that can solve our toughest problems are undoubtedly trapped behind prison bars, stuck behind desks in schools without decent books, or isolated in rural communities. A green economy that is designed to pull them in—as skilled laborers, innovators, inventors, and owners—will be more dynamic, more robust, and better able to save the Earth.”

Van’s book and his theories on job creation and environmentalism ring particularly true right here in Vancouver, which is simultaneously facing the challenges of rejuvenating the ‘poorest postal code in Canada‘ and  becoming the greenest city in the world.

One of the crucial points Van makes is that this Green economy should not just be embodied by the health conscientious crowd who drive hybrids, eat organic specialty foods or buy fair trade coffee.  It’s a paradigm shift where members of society at all levels have an important role to play as laborers, planners, community leaders, investors and innovators. This perceived eco-elitism can be replaced with what he terms eco-populism, whereby those who would otherwise view being green as expensive and detached from their lives can find green options more accessible. I would say the same for those who view the green economy predominantly as emerging technologies, renewable energy and other higher-order activities. This is also part of it yes, but let’s not let the large venture capital numbers eclipse the large transformative power of communities in action.

Environmentalism here in Vancouver has demonstrated elitism as it has everywhere. Looking at it as technologies and capital investment is only a fraction of this paradigm shift. Focusing on eco-chic products, organic free range specialty foods, and other consumer goods is also only a fraction, and some argue it is the more shallow fraction at that. A rethink of how we interact within and create society, including a fundamental rethink of the shapes, sizes and flow of cities is another fraction. The deconstruction and reconstruction of urban space, repurposing of materials, waste diversion, on-site energy creation, increasing of urban agriculture and a complete re-adjustment from the old industrial paradigm to a far more equitable and community-centric paradigm will take more than Soy Lattes and Hybrid cars, no slight to either. And it will take more than investment in higher order R&D as important as this is. This change is already happening here in Vancouver, along with groundbreaking technological R&D and delicious organic fair trade Lattes we’ve become renowned for.

Referring back to the list of recipients from BOB’s Consultant Fees Program we can see Jones’ paradigm shift taking form here in Vancouver’s inner-city. Two visions, one of a rejuvenated inner-city that historically has struggled with many social and environmental challenges, and one of Vancouver becoming the Greenest city in the world seem to be coalescing; where an experience of community economic development in which grassroots innovation and sweat equity are translating into problem solving is unfolding. This kind of problem solving creates opportunities and builds community capacity through and for an increasingly engaged population. If we can continue to do this here and continue to do this collectively, in other cities and towns around the planet, then we’ve created the global shift that Jones envisions. Like that old saying, “death by a thousand cuts”, the old paradigm is cast away from our disparate but collective movement. But how can we recognize and actualize a movement that is inclusive and simultaneously comprehensive? Societal relationships are complex and tense; particularly the relationships between those with seemingly little power and those with seemingly unimaginable power. Jones proposes that we recognize collective ideals that are clear and simple, yet able to bridge the complexities between diverse stakeholders, and appeal broadly.

Movements need principles. History teaches us that it is impossible to guide a complex series of deep changes without grounding efforts in unchanging ideals. Strategies can be complex, but goals and ideas should be clear. Bearing this in mind Jones puts forth 3 principles:

1. Equal Protection for All.

2. Equal Opportunity for All.

3. Reverence for All Creation.

These principles can appeal to free market enthusiasts eager for opportunistic reward, to problem solvers in inner-cities or rural areas, and to those who feel strong about either the social aspects of environmentalism or the ecological.

The challenges we face moving forward will require bottom-up as well as top-down solutions. The middle ground in this continuum is where the policy makers mix with the problem solvers and where the innovators mix with the investors. Here in Vancouver the inner-city/DTES is one of those places, and I hope that these principles will continue to become the pillars that support that middle ground here and elsewhere.

I recommend Van Jones’ Green Collar Economy to anyone interested in Vancouver’s development on the whole, and in its inner-city in particular.

Gaining Ground Summit 2.0 Eco-Logical

BOB and members of the Green Inner-City Cluster are excited to participate once again in the Gaining Ground Summit taking place this October 4th to 7th here in Vancouver. The summit will explore the green economy, sustainability, building capacity, emerging theories of governance and industry collaboration, greentech/cleantech and other fascinating issues.

This year’s speakers include Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, Deputy City Manager for the City of Vancouver, Sadhu Johnston (who has contributed to leading sustainability policies in Chicago, Portland and now here) and Carol Sanford, an acclaimed speaker considered a leader of leaders. Her consulting clients include Fortune 500 businesses and emerging ventures such as Seventh Generation.

The Keynote speaker will be Jared Blumenfeld, currently the Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9.

About Jared Blumenfeld:

Jared Blumenfeld is the Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9—which includes California, much of the U.S. Southwest and Hawaii. With a background in international environmental law and an active career with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Jared was appointed in 2002 by San Francisco to build and lead its Department of Environment.

Under his leadership, San Francisco initiated landmark policy and laws, starting with precautionary principles and reaching into every area of urban practice. He believes that international and other broad-based frameworks are well-intentioned but produce limited on-the-ground results. During his tenure, San Francisco convened World Environment Day that brought 80 of the world’s largest cities together to define urban
sustainability and map strategies.

EPA Region 9 includes 47 million people, 4 of the 10 largest cities in the U.S., and 24 of the hundred largest.

Blumenfeld comes to Gaining Ground on Tuesday, October 4th to speak about the adoption of new technologies, measuring what’s happening, and the sweet spot where policy and stakeholder engagement merge. He will also lead a policy salon during the afternoon workshop portion of the program.

To register and for more information please visit: www.gaininggroundsummit.com

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.