July 15, 2011 : A Growing Vancouver Can Never Be A Green One

A Growing Vancouver Can Never Be A Green One

This week, the City of Vancouver announced details of its plan to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020. It will achieve that goal, it says, by focusing on 10 key points.

The big problem is that the city ignores other key points such as continued growth in its population which will negate any gains it might achieve. It is hard to believe that it has never occurred to the city or any of Metro Vancouver’s municipalities that ignoring unending population growth could be catastrophic. Is it possible anyone could be so unaware? So critics should feel no qualms about describing the green ambitions of Vancouver and its suburbs as mere green-washing fraud and outright hypocrisy.

Aside from natural creations such as erupting volcanoes, all cities are the greatest polluters on this planet. Almost without exception, the largest of those cities are at the top of that list of the greatest polluters.

So to say that the City of Vancouver wants to become the world’s greenest city is really equal to saying Vancouver wants to become the best of the worst. To pretend that Vancouver or any other city can have a small to negligible ecological footprint is a great delusion. Large numbers of people and ecologically-friendly conditions are completely incompatible.

Remember that the large numbers in  cities rely on the extraction of resources from areas far distant from their own locations. These cities and all the institutions they develop within their borders are the most highly vulnerable of all human communities.

It would make sense for those in such locations to do all they can to reduce their vulnerability, not to increase it by increasing their size. Yet an increase in size is what Vancouver and its suburbs are planning—as are most of the worst polluting cities on the planet.

The goal of becoming green is noble, but unless it includes population stabilization and then population reduction, the plan will fail.

In a number of future bulletins, we will examine Vancouver’s green ambitions. This week, we will look at one of the points made in this week’s announcement.

That point states that the City plans to increase by 50% the number of local food sources, including markets, garden plots and orchards.

Alarm bells should be sounding at this claim.

Why? Over the next 20 years, it is projected that another million people will live in the Metro Vancouver area. It took over 120 years for Metro Vancouver to reach a population of over 1+ million, but it has taken just the last 20+ years for the Metro Vancouver area to exceed 2+ million. Almost all of the past increase of 1 million was caused by immigration. Immigration will be almost the sole cause of the next 1 million increase to 2031. In other words, immigration is not a tangential green issue. It is “the” green issue.

It is projected that by 2031, the City of Vancouver’s population will increase in size by 100,000+. The other 900,000 will be taken by Metro suburbs such as Langley Township, Surrey, Maple Ridge and Richmond.

The big problem is that these suburbs are the locations of most of Metro Vancouver’s agricultural land. If this land becomes used for housing, the food supply of the City of Vancouver and its suburbs will be undermined. Former B.C. Premier Campbell did much to set the stage for this massive problem. As a result of his stealthy actions to help developers, British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve was decentralized and its ability to protect farmland was substantially weakened. As a result, all of the Metro Vancouver municipalities with farmland are under increasing pressure to convert farmland to housing for the 1+ million immigrants projected to arrive. Pollution from an additional 1 million people will further degrade the entire area, including its farmland.

Those who live outside the Metro Vancouver—Fraser Valley area may not realize that this area has the longest growing season and some of the best soil in Canada. These qualities should mean that the area should be treated like a precious jewel. But many of the politicians are so infatuated with immigration and ethnic diversity that they see no conflict between the survival of the area’s farmland and its biological diversity and the inflow of so many people.

To put the matter into perspective, think of this comparison :

Metro-Vancouver has an area of 1111 square miles.  P.E.I., Canada’s smallest but most densely populated province, has an area of 2184 square miles and a population of about 145,000. So Metro Vancouver has one half of P.E.I.’s area but 17 times its population. If the 1 million population increase occurs, Metro Vancouver will have over 21 times the current P.E.I. population by 2031. Those who live or who have visited P.E.I. should find it easy to understand  that Metro Vancouver is already a very congested area. A population increase will create even more crowding.

The City of Vancouver has a tiny amount of agricultural land and is almost completely dependent on outside sources of food. In another effort to show that it could decrease its dependency, it introduced a bylaw to allow homeowners to keep chickens in their backyards. This is well-intentioned, but it shows the city’s pre-occupation with trivialities.  In a much more significant but negative direction, in 2009, the City of Vancouver re-zoned most of the city so that a second house could be put at the back of each lot . That second dwelling could potentially fill most backyards.

The point is that single family housing lots have the potential to be a source of food production. But if second dwellings are built where food gardens could be, potential food production is lost. So far, about 300 permits have been issued for these second dwellings. The number is small, but anyone who lives near one has seen that the second dwellings cast shadows not only on what remains of its own backyard, but also on neighbouring backyards. This has made many back yard gardens dark and unable to provide the light that plants need. New monster houses which are being built are also casting shadows.

Mayor Gregor Robertson is very aware that the 1 million immigrants projected to arrive over the next 20 years are not an inevitability. They will arrive as the result of a foolish, corrupt, federal high immigration policy. Mayor Robertson’s predecessors, Premier Gordon Campbell, Premier Mike Harcourt, Senator Larry Campbell and Sam Sullivan did not have the foresight or the courage to question the perpetual growth immigration policy. In fact, Harcourt has just recommended that Vancouver abolish single-family housing. Mayor Robertson and his Council could reverse 20 years of this weak, compliant behaviour by saying “Enough is enough”.

After that, they could influence the views of other Mayors and Councils in Metro Vancouver to say the same thing.

Mayor Robertson could go even further. He is currently the Chair of the Big City Mayors’ Caucus which consists of the mayors of  the 22 largest cities in Canada and which comprises 40 % of Canada’s 34 million population. With his council’s help, he could exert an influence over all 22 of those mayors to get them to stand up to the federal government and also say “Enough is enough !!”

Their message should be simple : What will destroy the environment of Metro Vancouver will do the same thing all across Canada.

The road to green progress is clear : Mayor Robertson and his council should  do the real thing, not a fake copy of it. They should summon up the courage to influence their colleagues in Metro Vancouver and across Canada.

This would be a truly green action, one that they could announce with true pride to the rest of Canada and the world.


Photos of Laneway Houses : http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/lanewayhousing/photogallery/index.htm
Note that none of these show the viewer the full lot, particularly the small space between the main house at the front of the lot and the second house at the back of the lot. Such a view would show that only a small piece of land remains between the 2 dwellings.


Monitoring Report : http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/lanewayhousing/monitoring.htm
This explains what has happened since the introduction of laneway housing.