Vancouver's green ambitions

Mayor Gregor Robertson talks about Vancouver’s ambition to be the world’s greenest city by 2020, from creative farming, to supporting electric vehicles and providing affordable homes for all.

Vancouver skyline
Vancouver's skyline © City of Vancouver

Tell us about the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan

Gregor Robertson (GR): In July 2011, Vancouver City Council adopted the targets and actions in the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. Over 35,000 people were consulted in developing the plan which highlights actions and strategies to make Vancouver the Greenest City in the world by 2020. We are focused on three overarching areas: carbon, waste and ecosystems.

To support green ideas generated and implemented by the community, the City has teamed up with the Vancouver Foundation to create the $2 million Greenest City Fund.

What is key to achieving the Greenest City 2020 Plan goals?

GR: It is about having a strong and effective partnership with all key organisations in Vancouver that have a role to play in greening the city. This includes other levels of government, non-profit organisations, businesses, social enterprises and the residents of Vancouver. One example of such partnerships is an innovative programme called City Studio that engages post-secondary students and faculty to apply their learning towards developing actions that help the city meet its Greenest City goals.

Another example is the use of electric vehicles (EV). In February 2012, Vancouver launched an $800,000 electric vehicle charging infrastructure trial and will have installed 67 electric vehicle charging stations throughout the city by the end of 2013. The pilot is a partnership between the City, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia, and BC Hydro to test the feasibility of establishing the EV charging infrastructure.

How have you enhanced your food security?

GR: We have increased the number of farmers markets in Vancouver which has helped to strengthen urban food security. Farmers markets are extremely popular and now operate year-round in Vancouver. Since 2009, we have enabled the creation of 1,000 new community garden plots across the city, which builds up the community spirit by growing food together. Edible garden projects and teaching our children about where their food comes from is increasingly integrated into the curricula of our schools.

We have also supported innovative urban agriculture initiatives, such as SoleFood, a pioneering social enterprise that trains and employs inner-city residents to transform vacant urban land into street farms growing artisan quality fruits and vegetables.

In November 2012, we celebrated the opening of the first rooftop vertical farm in Vancouver, and the harvesting of its first commercial crop of leafy local greens. The vertical farm, operated by a Vancouver-based company, is in a greenhouse on top of a parkade in downtown Vancouver and will produce approximately 150,000 pounds (68,000kg) of leafy green vegetables and herbs a year, free of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides and without the need for genetically modified seeds . The produce will be distributed to local Vancouver grocers and restaurants.

How is Vancouver ensuring that affordable housing is available to all citizens, new and native?

GR: Housing affordability is one of Vancouver’s most urgent challenges, and we are committed to working together to build homes our city desperately needs: affordable units for seniors who need to downsize, for young families who want to live where they work, and for students starting out on their own.

The City Council is accelerating work on creating a new municipal affordable housing authority and is reviewing regulations to enhance building upgrades and protections for renters, We are also proceeding with a new affordable housing interim re-zoning bylaw, enabling up to 20 projects such as new row homes, townhouses, and duplexes to be considered near major transit arterials, provided they are 100% rental or sold at 20% below market.

Vancouver needs 1,500 new rental units every year just to meet demand, which is why we need a whole host of diverse new affordable housing options to ensure that life in Vancouver is a realistic prospect for seniors, young families, students, and future generations.

What are your biggest challenges? How can Vancouver continue to be one of the world’s most liveable cities?

GR: Ending street homelessness and addressing housing affordability remain two of our biggest challenges. Ensuring our most vulnerable citizens – those without a home – have safe, secure housing and the supports they need to survive and thrive, is critical. We also need to make sure that people have the ability to access affordable housing so that students, young families and seniors can live, work and age with dignity in our city. Vancouver is a city with deep First Nations roots that go back thousands of years and a rich history of immigrant pioneers in more recent times. We are also still a relatively young city, incorporated 126 years ago.

We continue to attract newcomers from around the world, particularly Asia. The top three source countries for new immigrants of our region are China, India and the Philippines. How well we integrate newcomers into the labour market and into our communities will be a large part of how we continue to remain vibrant and liveable for decades to come. Achieving social sustainability as an integral part of our Greenest City goals and continue to build a caring, inclusive and equitable city. O

This article was first published in January 2013. All images contained within this page are used with license and shall not be copied, modified, or reproduced.

Gregor Robertson 

Gregor Robertson

Gregor Robertson was elected Mayor of Vancouver in November 2008. In November 2011, Gregor Robertson was elected to a second term as Mayor of Vancouver. He was re-elected to continue building upon the accomplishments of his first three years in office—working to end street homelessness, addressing housing affordability, improving public transit, and making Vancouver the greenest city in the world.

Mayor Robertson is also a national advocate for urban issues as Chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors’ Caucus, focusing on public infrastructure, housing and transit. Mayor Robertson spearheaded the creation of the city’s first comprehensive Economic Action Strategy, and is committed to growing a sustainable and thriving economy in Vancouver focused on high-growth sectors like digital media, clean technology and renewable energy.