EARTHFUTURE.COM by Guy Dauncey
During the recent World Urban Forum, there were discussions about how Greater Vancouver could squeeze another million people into its midst. “If they want to move here, how can we stop them?” is the question that either fascinates or worries people.
Life on the West Coast is good, even if we’d rather the folks in Toronto didn’t know. And what about the world’s huddled masses and would-be immigrants, who have the same dreams that our ancestors did when they came to escape the poverty of Europe, China and India?
If everybody lives the way Vancouverites do, however, we will need four planets to support us, as mayor Sam Sullivan often said during the World Urban Forum. How can we accommodate this growth, knowing that our existing way of living is an Earth-disaster?
A couple of years ago, Vancouver took part in a global experiment with several other cities to imagine their futures in 2030. When the Sustainable Development Research Institute used its Georgia Basin Quest tool to map a business-as-usual scenario for 2030, it discovered that Vancouver’s systems started to collapse because of pollution and congestion. Other cities came to the same conclusion: that path to the future is impossible; it leads us off a cliff.
And yet this is the path the government of BC wants to take us down with its Gateway Program, arguing, "The cost of living and quality of life in the region will suffer without comprehensive improvements to the transportation network.”
To accommodate the growth, the government wants to twin the Port Mann bridge, expand the freeway in Vancouver by building a new four-lane highway along the south shore of the Fraser, build a new highway out of existing roads along the North Fraser, build five other new roads, build a new bridge over the Fraser linking Surrey and Langley and throw in some additional cycling and transit facilities to keep the greenies happy. The budget is $3.9 billion – likely $15 billion by the time the bills arrive.
The Liberal government is like an express train rushing towards the dream of an eternal 1950s, while the premier stands in the caboose and points in a different direction. It’s mighty confusing. I’m sure Gordon Campbell is sincere when he says he wants BC “… to lead the world in sustainable environmental management with the best air and water quality, bar none.” (BBN among civil servants, for “best bar none.”)
I also believe he is sincere when he says we should do better than Oregon in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, knowing that Oregon has committed to a 75 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. The Gateway Program, however, will increase our emissions and our ecological footprint, since new roads always encourage more people to drive on them, far outweighing any small gains achieved through reducing the number of idling cars stuck in traffic jams.
We need to turn our heads in an entirely different direction, towards a goal not of perpetual economic growth, but of deep personal and community happiness in a world where we live in harmony with our ecosystems and with each other.
The models already exist in Europe’s old towns, with their high density surrounded by green space – the very places we love to holiday, drinking up the atmosphere. These towns have strong local economies, and because of their density, people can get around on foot and by bicycle or by bus and train, reducing their ecological footprint.
We need to look at the growing suburbs and paint a new picture, morphing them in our minds into dense urban delights, full of green space, connected by excellent public transport.
We also need to dream in a new economy, in which local goods play a far larger role than goods imported from afar, using fossil fuels. As Julian Darley of the Post Carbon Institute says, we need to relocalize. We need to dream a new dream and spend the $3.9 billion on suburban density, green space, pedestrian trails, cycling, railways and transit, not on roads and bridges.
We need to close the Gateway, and open the Greenway.
Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, which welcomes your membership to help realize these dreams. See www.bcsea.org/.