A tale of two smart cities
Stephen Wu is an associate of research & planning with GLOBE advisors, with experience working on various domestic and international green economy research projects. Follow him on twitter.
Studying for my MBA in the United Kingdom a few years ago, I had gotten used to the British humour and witty remarks about Canadian stereotypes. Mounties, beavers, Canadian politeness and if I pronounced about, ‘aboot,’ were all common discussion topics I had at the local pub with my esteemed peers. By the end of my first semester, I thought I had heard them all.
Interestingly enough, one individual I met asked me if it was true that everyone in Canada drove their own cars, due to houses being spread so far apart. That question brought up some interesting public policy issues, mainly:
- How is urban sprawling in Canada impacting energy efficiency, and the proper management of our energy sources?
- How can municipalities adapt and grow in the future?
At a recent forum held in Vancouver, it was revealed that suburban sprawling is to expand at a staggering rate of 2.4 meters-per-second within the Metro Vancouver area alone. However, the most populous and fastest growing cities within the Metro Vancouver area, Vancouver and Surrey respectively, have taken on aggressive approaches in accelerating their respective sustainability objectives and putting a brake on the issues surrounding urban sprawl.
Vancouver has unveiled its 2020 Greenest City Action Plan, while Surrey has developed an ambitious Energy Shift program. It seems as though these two Lower Mainland communities are competing for the title of being the most sustainable community in North America.
They are recognizing that sustainable growth needs to go beyond energy efficiency and anti-sprawl initiatives to maintaining smarter growth for cities. Low-density developments have become unsustainable both in terms of land use and energy use. Most importantly, they pose a significant cost burden to the cities. The economics no longer make sense for these problems to be ignored, and luckilythese municipalities are taking the perspective that it's not only about proper resource management, but also the economic development potential coming from sustainable growth.
Seeing problems as tangible business opportunities
With ambitions of being the “green” capital of the world, the City of Vancouver has outlined 10 goals they wish to achieve by 2020. From local food, zero waste, energy efficiency to green economic growth, the city has demonstrated that they get what it takes to get this work done. Every aspect of the action plan not only considers environmental mitigation and protection strategies, but also demonstrates how the city can stimulate economic development from such activities.
Recently, as part of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan, they released a home energy loans program that offers a 4.5% ten-year period on-bill financing to eligible homeowners wishing to perform energy efficient upgrades, which range from $4,000-$16,000. This program is on top of the province’s existing LiveSmart BC program, which already provides thousands of dollars in incentives.
Not only is the Home Energy Loans Program helping to reduce the city’s greenhouse gases (55% of which comes from homes), but also stimulate job creation and business opportunities throughout the city through economic multiplier effects. This is especially true when the city has partnered with certain private contractors and suppliers that can be recommended to homeowners to have the work completed.
At a more grassroots level, the City of Vancouver, alongside the Vancouver Foundation has set up the Greenest City Fund, which supports community-led projects that help implement the city’s Greenest City Action Plan. This is just one of many initiatives that is encouraging change and economic development through community engagement.
The City of Surrey’s Energy Shift program is another plan that is taking a holistic approach to growing the smart city. Their program describes three overarching objectives that capture its plans to engage communities, demonstrate leadership through its corporate operations and stimulate investment into establishing a cleantech business cluster in the city.
For example, Surrey is offering corporate tax exemptions for cleantech businesses established within the city. Beyond that, they are also partnering with Simon Fraser University to establish a cleantech hub aimed to foster a strong knowledge base, especially with regards to clean energy.
The City of Surrey is also taking the lead by being home to the region’s first biofuel facility, that will convert 80,000 metric tonnes of waste per year into low-cost natural gas that will power the City’s waste collection fleet. This will not only stimulate green jobs, but also establish many business opportunities along this project’s value chain.
Vancouver and Surrey are just two examples of municipalities that have taken the lead in changing perceptions and turning vision into action. With awareness surrounding sprawling and energy efficiency on the rise, hopefully these two innovative cities can act as a model for other North American cities to grow and develop.
For more information:
City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan: http://vancouver.ca/greenestcity/
City of Surrey’s Energy Shift Program: http://www.surrey.ca/energyshift/