Walkable Cities: Can We Be Happier Than We Are?

walk

There has been a recent study that says that walkable cities do not make people happier. According to that study, this is because in the most walkable North American big cities such as Boston and New York City, there is a huge wage gap relative to cost of living for many of those city’s residents.

You can see where this is going already. With so many people working multiple jobs and trying to feed children, doing so at wages that are not in keeping with their financial constraints, the issue of how many walking paths, green spaces, or bike lanes in a given neighbourhood isn’t likely to make much of a dent on the happiness front in relation to those harsher realities.

My response to that, of course, is just this: duh.

Continue reading “Walkable Cities: Can We Be Happier Than We Are?”

What does a ‘sustainable’ future look like for New West? [Update on Envision 2032]

Lots of great ideas came out of Envision 2032's Sustainability Fair in November. Photo: Julia Dykstra
Lots of great ideas came out of Envision 2032’s Sustainability Fair in November. Photo: Julia Dykstra

The City of New Westminster is creating its first sustainability plan, dubbed Envision 2032. The year 2032 is one generation from now – a length of time that is easy for people to imagine when making decisions that affect the future. When completed, Envision 2032 will be a sustainability “lens,” used to review plans, policies, projects and practices.

A Sustainability Fair was held at the Inn at the Quay in November as part of the Envision 2032 process. Those who could not attend the workshop were able to provide input via an online survey as well as view  presentations and video clips from the event on the Envision 2032 website.

The feedback from the initial community outreach was analyzed by the City’s sustainability team to identify key themes and an initial set of “Descriptions of Success” has now been created for discussion purposes that are intended to reflect the consensus for these themes in each policy area. Once reviewed by the community and feedback is addressed, updated Descriptions of Success will be provided to City Council for consideration. When they are approved, the Descriptions of Success will form the foundation of Envision 2032, describing the sustainable future that we will all be working towards. You can provide feedback on the Descriptions of Success online via an online survey (note: survey closes on March 15).

Participation in November’s community outreach events was strong. With over 90 people at the Friday evening “Let’s Talk Sustainability” event and 80 people at the Saturday morning sustainability visioning workshop, Sustainability Fair events were well attended in spite of the gloomy weather outside. A further 90 people provided input online as well.

The audience for “Let’s Talk Sustainability” included Council members and representatives of the City’s social, cultural, business and environmental communities, along with a healthy contingent of interested individuals. Participants were treated to innovative video shorts on sustainability and an eclectic mix of speakers providing insights on different aspects of sustainability, including:

  • Lori Baxter, former manager of the 2010 Legacies Now arts program for the Vancouver Olympics and executive director of the Greater Vancouver Alliance for Arts and Culture, stressed the importance of arts, culture and heritage in creating vibrant communities.
  • Judith Cullington, City of Colwood Councillor, explained how the “Solar Colwood” initiative was implemented using a community outreach and engagement process involving multiple community partners.
  • Jerry Dobrovolny, Director of Transportation for the City of Vancouver and former City Councillor for New Westminster, described the steps leading to Vancouver’s success with integrating land use and transportation and achieving transformational change through the use of targets.
  • Darlene Gering, President of 2012 BC Seniors Games, Chair of the Burnaby Art Gallery and former President and CEO of the Burnaby Board of Trade, focused on applying triple bottom line thinking (i.e., social, cultural, economic and environmental) into decision making, including social enterprises.
  • Patrick Johnstone, a municipal Environmental Coordinator and past-president of the New Westminster Environmental Partners, challenged the audience to take strong action, both individually and collectively, to protect and enhance the environment in the context New Westminster’s urban setting.
  • Virginia Weiler, Chair of VanCity, outlined the role of business and the financial sector in creating a sustainable community and provided an example of how VanCity uses community sustainability in its lending practices

At the Saturday visioning workshop, there was a high level of understanding and support for what Envision 2032 is (i.e., a sustainability “filter” or “lens” that will be applied to what we do in the future) and how the process steps work:

  1. Decide where we want to be in the future
  2. Determine where we are now
  3. Identify actions to move us from where we are now to where we want to be
  4. Track and report on progress towards our desired future using key indicators

Workshop participants had an opportunity to attend two visioning sessions for the eleven defined policy areas, covering everything from land use to transportation, culture, the economy, social issues and the environment and answer the basic question: “What does it look like in 2032 if we are successful and sustainable in this policy area?” This simple exercise unleashed a wave of creativity and for over two hours post-it notes with hundreds of vision statements were flying around the room.

After the workshop, an online version of the visioning exercise was available for another month and responses from 90 people were received. Between the workshop and the survey, over 80 pages of visioning input from the community were documented and this is available on envision2032.ca.

We need your help now to let us know if we’ve captured the right vision for New Westminster! An online Description of Success survey will take you through each of the eleven policy areas and provide you with the opportunity to review, confirm or enhance the vision. You can provide input on as many or as few of the policy areas as you’d like.

The survey closes on March 15th, 2013, so don’t delay, we want to hear from you!

Sustainability in New West: envisioning our future at Nov. 2 & 3 event

Envision 2032
Envision 2032 is the name of the City of New Westminster’s sustainability framework that will guide City planning. 2032 represents one generation from now – a length of time that is easy for people to imagine when making decisions that affect the future.

This is a guest post by Mark Allison, a Senior Planner with the City of New Westminster who is coordinating the team working on the Envision 2032 process. He has led a number of award-winning sustainability plans in communities around BC and was formerly the Senior Planner and Manager of Advisory Services for the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.

What exactly is sustainability?! The word has been thrown around so much in recent years that it’s been interpreted many ways. We’ve chosen to adapt a well-known 1987 definition created by the United Nations that is broadly accepted around the world:

“Sustainability” is meeting the needs of the present generation in terms of social and cultural needs, the economy and the environment while promoting a high quality of life but without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

New Westminster’s 2012-2014 Strategic Plan created a focus on building a high and sustainable quality of life for its residents and called for the creation of a sustainability framework, or “Sustainability Lens,” to “guide and test all future decisions and initiatives against balanced economic, social/cultural and environmental perspectives.” Envision 2032 is the name that’s been given this sustainability framework and it is intended to become the guiding policy document for the City.

ICSP sustainability lens
New Westminster’s 2012-2014 Strategic Plan created a focus on building a high and sustainable quality of life for its residents and called for the creation of a sustainability framework, or “Sustainability Lens,” to “guide and test all future decisions and initiatives against balanced economic, social/cultural and environmental perspectives.” Envision 2032 is the name that’s been given this sustainability framework and it is intended to become the guiding policy document for the City.

If you’ve been around the City for a while, you may recall that “Envision” was the name of our 1998 Official Community Plan. We thought that the name was still applicable, since sustainability planning is all about visioning the future that you want and then taking the steps you need to get there. The “2032” in Envision 2032 is the year 2032… one generation from now. While we usually think several generations ahead when planning for the future, one generation is what most people can wrap their heads around. It’s roughly the time between a child being born and the time that they become an adult ready for independence. Most people can imagine that length of time, so we thought it would be a good timeframe for the plan.

So why are we doing a sustainability plan now? Well, besides providing a logical, consistent way to move towards our desired future, most would agree that our region and the world are facing some enormous sustainability challenges to address in the social, economic and environmental areas. The idea of “think globally, act locally” is definitely fitting.

Socially, New Westminster is in a unique situation when it comes to age demographic shifts, the so-called “baby boomer tsunami.” Not only are we going to have thousands more school-age children in 20 years, we’re projected to have tens of thousands more seniors living in the community by then. It’s going to be a huge challenge to provide the schools, and the recreation, housing and health care needs of these residents.

Economically, it’s probably safe to say that most people are either concerned or very concerned about whether there will be jobs for them and their children in the future, whether their pensions will be enough to live on or whether they’ll be able to afford to buy their own home. With a global economic meltdown just a few years ago and countries all over the world close to defaulting on their debts, there’s a strong desire for communities to create strong and diversified local economies and employment opportunities.

Finally, while often overshadowed by economic concerns, it’s hard to ignore the looming environmental crises facing the planet. Many scientists, for example, say that we may already be at the tipping point where greenhouse gas concentrations may cause runaway climate change at the same time that demand for fossil fuels seems insatiable with supplies dwindling.

Sustainability encompasses not just environmental concerns, but also social and economic.
Sustainability encompasses not just environmental concerns, but also social and economic.

What can New Westminster do in the face of these challenges? Quite a lot! While communities can’t do everything on their own and local governments get the smallest piece of the government revenue pie (while having to provide most of services that people need day-to-day!), communities are where most sustainability action starts. Communities and local school boards provide the playgrounds, schools and seniors centres. Small, local businesses create the majority of jobs in Canada. Local governments facilitate affordable housing and the way that we design our communities is a major determinant of resource use and whether people will drive or use more sustainable transportation modes… local governments provide the sidewalks, bike paths and transit shelters that encourage walking, cycling or taking the bus.

While creating a long-range plan for everything that’s involved in moving a community of 60,000+ 20 years into a successful and sustainable future can be a daunting task, there’s luckily a number of existing models that we can follow. There are a number of basic steps:

  1. Create an awareness of sustainability in the community… like writing this blog!
  2. Identify all of the policy areas where you can influence sustainability.
  3. Create a vision of what the desired future looks like in each of those areas.
  4. Determine where you are now in each area.
  5. Work together with community partners to create actions that move you from where you are now to where you want to be in the future.
  6. Select key indicators and regularly monitor and report on progress towards the desired future.

Eleven policy areas have been identified, which we think covers most things:

  • Buildings, Sites and Urban Design
  • Individual and Community Well-Being
  • Economy and Employment
  • Energy and Emissions
  • Environment and Natural Areas
  • Heritage and Neighbourhood Character
  • Affordable and Appropriate Housing
  • Land Use and Development
  • Parks, Culture and Recreation
  • Resources, Waste and Infrastructure
  • Transportation and Accessibility

The next step is visioning and creating a concise set of statements that describe the desired future in each of these policy areas. This will be the focus of the Envision 2032 Sustainability Fair events being held at the Inn at the Quay on the evening of Friday, November 2nd and the morning of Saturday, November 3rd:

The first event, on November 2, 7-9:15pm,  is “Let’s Talk Sustainability.” This inspirational evening will introduce the Envision 2032 process and features an exciting lineup of engaging speakers who are leaders in the sustainability field. Doors will open at 6:30 for refreshments and networking.

The following day, November 3 from 9 am – 1 pm we’ll be presenting an interactive workshop, “Envision New Westminster,” where the vision statements that will form the foundation of Envision 2032 will be created. Participants will be able to attend breakout sessions for two different policy areas. Doors will open at 8:30 for refreshments and networking and a light working lunch will be served at noon.

It’s important for anyone wanting to help define the future that the City will be working towards, which will be the foundation of Envision 2032, to attend these events and provide us with your vision.

For more information on the process, to provide feedback and to register for Sustainability Fair events, visit www.envision2032.ca or send us an e-mail at envision2032@newwestcity.ca… and of course you can also follow the process at www.facebook.com/envision2032 and www.twitter.com/envision2032.

We’ll also provide you with regular updates on this site to keep you in the loop!

 

New West Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to speak at NWEP AGM

For over three years, New Westminster Environmental Partners has been the voice of sustainable living and development in New Westminster. As a founder of the group, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished in such a short time. To continue with this agenda, NWEP has incorporated as a non-profit society, opening new doors to expand its work.

With this in mind, we’re very excited to announce our first AGM on Tuesday, October 13th in the New Westminster Library auditorium. We’re even more excited to announce our keynote speaker for the evening, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and SFU Environmental Economics professor Dr. Mark Jaccard.

Besides being our AGM, the primary theme for the evening will centre on the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The Copenhagen conference is a pivotal moment in our history, where world leaders will decide how the future of our species will unfold for generations to come. That is why we believe it’s so important to join others around the world in raising awareness about this summit; so residents of New Westminster can join other Canadians in letting our government know we demand immediate, decisive action on climate change.

Dr. Jaccard, who is also a New Westminster resident, will give a lecture titled “Can we save the planet from ourselves?” An apt title considering the challenges and – up until now – lack of action by world leaders on climate change. And we feel very fortunate to have Dr. Jaccard come kick off what will surely be the first of many AGMs. Besides being a Nobel Laureate, he was named BC’s Academic of the Year in 2008 and was recently named to the Royal Society of Canada.

In addition, the evening will feature a Q&A session with Ian Bruce, a climate change campaigner with the David Suzuki Foundation, on the topic of Copenhagen and climate change.

Doors open at 6:30 with the evening beginning promptly at 7pm, so please come out and join us for what is sure to be an exciting evening with two internationally respected speakers. The AGM is open to all residents, attendees need not be NWEP members but membership will be available for $5 at the door.

Past NWEP accomplishments include:

  • Lobbied successfully for anti-idling by-law
  • Partnership with Canadian Cancer Society on New Westminster cosmetic pesticide ban
  • Raised New Westminster Station pedestrian safety issues & crosswalk establishment
  • Participation in community visioning process, Translink long-range planning, Metro Vancouver planning
  • Partnership and support for Royal City Farmer’s Market and Community Garden Initiative
  • Organizing New Westminster stop on David Suzuki cross Canada tour
  • Three Pillars of Sustainability lecture evening
  • Brunette River lecture evening featuring Fin Donnelly
  • 2009 Provincial Election All-candidates meeting
  • Composting seminar at NW Library
  • Established Green Drinks in New Westminster (2nd in Lower Mainland)
  • Participation in Shoreline CleanUp, Queensweep, and Sapperton Landing invasive species cleanup

Sustainable development plan coming for downtown

 

Downtown New Westminster. Photo credit: Daniel Fortin (aka powderedsnow)
Downtown New Westminster. Photo credit: Daniel Fortin

New Westminster is working on a new sustainable development plan for our downtown area thanks to a $136,000 grant from the Federation of Canadian MunicipalitiesGreen Municipal Fund

The plan will guide development in a proactive manner by identifying policies and implementation strategies to ensure sustainable growth of the downtown as a high quality, liveable, transit-oriented regional town centre.

The plan will:

  • Review land use/zoning policies
  • Research innovative ways to provide public open space
  • Foster adaptive reuse of heritage resources
  • Identify options to mitigate the noise, air quality and connectivity issues relating to the regional goods movement corridor. 
  • Encourage public transit use in the more densely populated core 
  • Protecting open space and natural areas by focusing growth within existing urban areas

New Westminster development services planning analyst Eric Westberg sent me the following tips on how to get involved if sustainability is an issue that matters to you: 

Read city council’s reports & share your feedback

The Draft Framework for the Downtown Sustainability Action Plan (a sub-component of the Downtown Community Plan) at this time is scheduled to go to Council on June 1. Based on this schedule, it will be publicly available with the weekly Council package on May 29 on the city’s website

The consultant working on the project is HB Lanarc (read more info on the project and the selection of HB Lanarc in the April 6 Council report).

The Downtown Community Plan has a dedicated information page on the city’s website as well, with meeting notes and information dating back to summer 2007.  You may also be interested to reach the city’s Corporate Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan (PDF file)

If you’d like to send feedback to the city, here’s who to contact: 

 

 

Attend upcoming public consultation meetings

Eric confirmed that there will be further public consultation meetings on the overall Downtown Community Plan coming up soon, however dates are TBD. If you’re interested to know when they will be, leave a comment on this post. At these meetings, there will be an opportunity for citizens to provide feedback on various sustainability issues, including one of New West’s big hot buttons: transportation.

Watch for further related city-wide environmental initiatives

With recent Provincial environmental legislation committing to a 33% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, New Westminster may follow the lead of cities like North Vancouver who have created city-wide sustainability vision statements and greenhouse gas local action plans. Further public consultation would be included in any such plan.

Join a city committee and/or NWEP

Councillor Jaimie McEvoy chairs New Westminster’s Environment Advisory Committee, which operates on a one-year term and meets every two months. If you’d like to sit in on a meeting of this committee, the next one is June 10 at 6:30pm at City Hall (either Committee Room 2 or Council Chamber). 

You can see the complete list of citizen volunteer committees on the city’s website. The application process for the upcoming term will begin later this year. 

Eric also recommended becoming involved through New Westminster Environmental Partners, headed by perennial Green candidate Matthew Laird (who is also on the Environment Committee). 

There’s also New West Environmental Partners, headed by Matthew Laird, who is on the Environment Committee. NWEP suggests a variety of ways to get involved on their website, including: 

  • Joining a planning committee (areas of focus include energy, transportation and agriculture)
  • Writing letters to local newspapers and politicians on sustainability issues (and I would add, guest post on Tenth To The Fraser!)
  • Make a delegation to city council on key issues
  • Demonstrate sustainable living in your own lifestyle
  • Spread the word about environmental issues to friends & family
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