Seeds of change planted in Ottawa: Vancouver’s Andrea Reimer talks about green cities

Special to KT by Eleanor Willner-Fraser – 

This is a time of choices: for the city, the province, the country. Either we are the early adopters of environmentally friendly practices such as green transportation options, or we lag behind, and live to face the consequences of our decisions. The environment is not only an ideological issue; it is an economic and practical one as well. Climate change is not separate from other issues; it is linked to poverty, health and government.

On the evening of Wednesday, September 16th, at Jean Pigott Place at City Hall, Deputy Mayor of Vancouver Andrea Reimer, along with Ottawa City Councillor David Chernushenko, spoke about the greening of cities. Unfortunately, Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams, who was also supposed to speak, was unable to do so because of unforeseen circumstances. This event was organized by Ecology Ottawa, a not-for-profit organization that is working to make Ottawa the green capital of Canada.

Before the speakers began their discussion, various booths were set up by organizations concerned with environmental issues, including the Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict. The many attendees meandered around the room, visiting booths, nibbling at food and sipping beverages. Once the speakers began talking, there was a palpable energy in the air. The audience was diverse and from all walks of life, but it was united by a common passion for protecting the environment and reducing the effects of climate change.

Reimer is a member of Vancouver’s Greenest City Team, which has as a goal becoming the world’s Greenest City by 2020. Reimer suggested four ingredients for becoming a green city. The first of these ingredients is leadership. Yes, individuals chugging away over a long period of time can make a difference, but a strong leader is required in order to implement big-scale, ambitious changes such as becoming the world’s Greenest City. Secondly, a plan is needed. This plan needs to be specific and quantifiable, with a timeline and regular check-ups, or else it will be difficult to carry out.

The next ingredient, according to Reimer, is action. Making elegant plans is important, but climate change will not wait for anyone. In Vancouver, some quick actions taken include building more bike lanes and installing water fountains to make drinking water more accessible. These kinds of quick actions build momentum, and credibility for those attempting to make the city greener. The final ingredient is partnerships. This includes partnerships between different departments, such as waste management and water conservation, but also partnerships between government and the public.

Vancouver’s Greenest City Team knew that if they wanted public support for their goal, they couldn’t simply tell people what they were going to do. The public had to be involved in decisions, so the Greenest City Team created 10 goal areas, which can be found at vancouver.ca/greenestcity, and let the city’s population help with the specifics. On the website, people could suggest ideas for what projects the Team should undertake. The Team has discovered that a large number of people care. Maybe somebody might not care about bike lanes, but he or she might care about something else, such as waste management.

The question that then arose is: could Ottawa do this sort of thing? Chernushenko and others in the room would say yes. It may seem that major changes like those seen in Vancouver could not possibly happen in Ottawa, but the fact is that they are happening, right here, right now. Maybe not to the same extent as in Vancouver, but good things are happening in Ottawa, too. Chernushenko, Chair of the City of Ottawa’s Environment Committee, told the audience about some of these changes, from smart suburbs, to a requirement for all new municipal buildings to have LEED gold certification, to potential energy generation within the city.

In Vancouver, the Greenest City campaign has worked because people care. Ottawa has a choice to make: will we, as a city, care?

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