Do you have to be rich to be green?
Sustainability, it seems, is associated with affluence – at least if the projects proclaiming their green-ness is any indication. And it isn’t just because the cost of green technology is that much greater. (Indeed, if a project is well planned from the beginning, recent research indicates, there’s no necessary surcharge to be a LEEDer.)
At the Gaining Ground conference in Victoria last week, developer David Butterfield gave a stirring talk on his Loreto Bay project – a vacation spot in Baja California. He was rightfully proud of its commitment to sustainability, and also aware of its paradox: most people will fly there, many to their second homes. By any standard, this is a project available to only a minescule fraction of the world’s population, whose carbon footprint will be comparatively gigantic.
How many times is it pointed out that Al Gore flies around the world to give talks on global warming? Having flown to Australia myself to speak of sustainable urban development, I’m aware of the 8.5 tonnes of carbon allocated to me as just one passenger (and the $154 Australian dollars needed to mitigate it.) But I’m rich enough to afford it. – and aware that the rest of the world would like my options. I know what is more sustainable, and it’s not mitigation and carbon credits. It’s staying at home.
It may be that at this stage, the rich will lead the way by modifying their high-consumption tastes, and thus provide a model for others. But the trend so far seems to be to modify the technology, to spend even more to buy the Prius, than to do with less. The tough choices are thus avoided.
Phillipe Starck, possibly the world’s most high-profile designer of luxury goods and interiors, spoke, well, starkly, about this dilemma the other day in Milan, according to Reuters:

The designer, who decorated the private apartments of former French President Francois Mitterand, said people should only buy essentials.
“The most positive action is to refuse…to buy. But if you need to, the minimum is ethical. To go back to the essence of things and ask myself: do I need this?” he said.

He still designs luxury yachts, even as he speaks to their uselessness. But he is “keen to turn other accepted views of what is luxurious on their head.”

“In the future, there will be two choices: luxury as it exists, mostly linked to the crazy rhythm of fashion, and also new brands with … time value considerations, based on ecology, progress, timelessness.”

Presumably, the value added for these new brands will be expressed in the price. But is this really any closer to the solution?

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Are you better off? Cascadia Scorecard 2007 gives British Columbia its annual check-up.
Sightline’s annual state-of-the-region report finds some big wins in the Pacific Northwest, but shows that we still struggle when it comes to energy efficiency, economic security, and curbing sprawl.

See how BC stacks up in the 2007 Scorecard.

Here are some of the Northwest stories you’ll find in the Scorecard:

  • Northwesterners ease off the gas. We’re using less gasoline per person than we have since the late 1960s, and we’ve cut back almost 10 percent since 1999. Find out about our energy use.
  • We’re adopting smart policies that can improve life here now and in the future. From ambitious climate policies to increased insurance coverage for low-income children, Cascadia is making some good choices. Learn about local solutions.
  • Measuring what matters helps us decide where to put our attention and energy next. The Scorecard shows that the Northwest needs to improve economic security for middle- and low-income families, and that electricity use in our home and businesses remains stuck in high gear. Knowing where we stand today helps us choose the right solutions for tomorrow. More from the Cascadia Scorecard 2007.

Download a free pdf of the report
Tell a friend about the Scorecard

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Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. – a libertarian think tank. IMHO, he’s an apologist for the status quo: the American Way of Sprawl. The Sun was gracious enough to run an article prior to his speech at the Fraser Institute.

So here’s my quick parse of the column.

Wrong way to make a region livable

Randal O’Toole Special to the Sun

Almost all of that ‘off-limits’ land consists of the watersheds and parks of the North Shore and the agricultural and flood-plain lands South of the Fraser. (There’s a related article in The Sun on whether Surrey should allow development on flood-prone lands.) O’Toole’s implication is that government has removed developable land from supply for arbitrary reasons, namely to prevent people from pursuing ‘the Canadian dream’.
O’Toole is also suggesting that housing affordability is directly related to land constraints without actually proving it. It is just as likely related to income, interest rates or allowable density, which have as much to do with housing supply as land availability.

TransLink, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, is building expensive light-rail and other transit lines, and has given relief of highway congestion the lowest priority for funding.
Not coincidentally, Vancouver shares with Toronto and Montreal the record of most time and fuel wasted per commuter of any urban area in Canada.

Leaving aside the point that TransLink doesn’t control the major highways and bridges (that’s provincial), transportation agencies always have to spend more on transit than roads – for the simple reason that people buy, fuel, maintain and drive their own cars while government has to fund all those aspects of transit.
When dealing with comparisons, one has to know exactly what is being compared. Is “Vancouver” in this case the city or the region? Likewise, what is meant by “Toronto” and “Montreal”? Figures actually show that commuter time in Vancouver is dropping.

In 1995, the provincial government asked the Greater Vancouver Regional District to write a “strategic plan” for the region. The legislature gave planners 14 goals, including maintaining housing affordability, providing efficient transportation and protecting the unique character of communities.
The GVRD responded with its Livable Region Strategic Plan. But rather than meet all 14 goals, this plan focused on just two — “avoiding urban sprawl” and “minimize the use of automobiles.” Unfortunately, achieving these goals meant discarding several of the others.

Simply not true. The LRSP has four major principles: Create a compact metropolitan area, build complete communities, provide transportation choice and maintain a green zone – and there are lots of goals related to each.

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Here’s an event coming up on Thursday that could be a highlight of the SFU City Program season.
 
Mike Harcourt (past Mayor and Premier) and Ken Cameron (past regional planner) talk about what’s in their new book, City Making in Paradise, written with Sean Rossiter: nine decisions that shaped the Greater Vancouver Region.  Hear first-hand perspectives from those who did the shaping.

Also: comments from a panel of ‘new leaders’—the shapers of today.
Thursday, June 14, 7–8:30 pm
Venue: SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings Street, Vancouver
Reservations: Required. Email cs_hc@sfu.ca or call 604.291.5100
 

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June 11, 2007

First Singapore, then London, Stockholm, maybe Manhattan … then Seattle? King County Exec Ron Sims thinks road pricing is inevitable, as Crosscut reports in a new series.
Important quote:

“If somebody says, ‘We have a congestion problem in Seattle,’ the first response is, ‘We need to build more roads.'” But, Opiola warns, “When the supply has no price, then demand will always exceed it.” Enough lanes are never enough.

I keep hearing that the Provincial Government (particularly the Premier’s office) would like to rethink Gateway.  But Kevin Falcon has locked them in, and the “free alternative” policy prevents any discussion of regional road pricing.  Meanwhile, the climate-change strategy remains unreconciled with a freeway-expansion transportation strategy.  (First Sea-to-Sky, then Gateway, then Highway 99 and a twinning of the tunnel.)
If the Province doesn’t want to lead, maybe Seattle will help them follow.

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My thanks to Smart Growth B.C. for the Smarty – their award of recognition .  From an organization I respect, for something I love to do, in a very special city, with a lot of other committed caring people (like Bob Ransford and Cheeying Ho in the pic) – that feels great!
Though it goes against my Canadian-ness to publicize it excessively, what the hey …
People Award Winner

Gordon Price > Director of the City Program, Simon Fraser University 

Gordon Price is the Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. He sat on Vancouver City Council from 1986 to 2002 and also served on the Board of the Greater Vancouver Regional District and the first Board of TransLink. He is an Adjunct Professor at UBC’s graduate School of Community and Regional Planning and publishes an electronic magazine – Price Tags – displaying his own photography and featuring his commentary on urban development issues.

Gordon Price’s Price Tags website…>>> 

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