I recently spent a few days in Vancouver, British Columbia. Each time I visit this wonderful city, I am further struck by its positive and inspiring efforts to make sustainable living and alternative energy options a reality. This time around, I stayed in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, where I encountered these five earth-friendly ideas-in-action:
- Dedicated streets for cycling. Yup, nestled throughout this busy city, you’ll find a robust network of functional cycling routes designed for bicycle commuters and sightseers alike. Pedal these well-planned routes and you’ll cruise along peaceful, tree-lined, low-traffic streets, complete with bicycle-specific crossing signals at major intersections. Your ears will fill with the gentle whizzing of other bikes coasting nearby as you pedal safely and happily from Point A to Point B — or even 25 kilometres out of town to the Quay Market in New Westminster!
- Public petitions to save trees from development projects. While cycling though the Kitsilano and West Point Grey neighbourhoods, I passed several big old trees hung with colourful flags and eye-catching signs. The trees, I learned, stood on properties earmarked for new housing construction. The signs publicized this fact and directed residents to online petitions that they could sign in support of keeping the trees standing. People actively fighting to save trees in their city: the very thought makes my heart happy!
- North America’s first waste-water heat recovery system. Walk to the southeast corner of the Cambie Street Bridge and you’ll find five svelte, LED-lit smokestacks rising unobtrusively from below. These mark the Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU), which is tucked neatly beneath the bridge. The NEU captures heat from neighbourhood sewage and waste water and transforms it into energy to provide space heating and hot water for almost 400,000 square metres of residential, commercial and institutional buildings. How cool (or hot) is that?
- Food isn’t garbage: 2015 organics ban. On January 1, 2015, the City of Vancouver banned food waste from its municipal garbage collection program. Residents now separate organic waste from regular garbage and other recyclables, and dispose of it via municipal green bin programs, private haulers or on-site solutions. My bed and breakfast had a strict green bin program in place for food scraps. And I found a few dedicated food-waste disposal bins on the street outside the Cambie Street Whole Foods Market. Way to go, Vancouver!
- Community housing in heritage homes. My guided architectural walking tour of Vancouver’s West End culminated at the Mole Hill Community Housing Society, a 170-unit housing initiative spread across 27 restored heritage homes on Thurlow, Pendrell, Bute and Comox Streets. The homes, several of them listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register, were originally built between 1888 and 1908 and together comprise one of the most intact surviving blocks of pre-World War I housing in the city. These beautifully restored houses have been given new life in this thriving housing project, set as they now are among gardens, green space and a very palpable sense of community pride.