There's not much I love about being in big cities. But last month I was reminded why Vancouver rates as one of the most liveable cities in the world.

The city has an ambitious goal: to be the greenest city in the world by 2020.

And it has a serious plan to get there.

There are some fantastic things that the scale of a big city makes possible: like subways and other mass transit that are frequent, efficient, easy to navigate and safe. (Auckland, take note.)


Vancouver now has neighbourhood renewable energy systems that use low-carbon energy sources (such as the heat from sewage waste) to provide heating, hot water and sometimes cooling for multiple buildings. (Although Vancouver has one of the milder climates in Canada, its winters are still chilly enough that central heating is the norm.)

And it has the greenest building code in North America. The City is set to reduce community-based greenhouse gas emissions to 5 per cent below its 1990 levels, even as population has grown since that time by over 27 per cent. (The same while, jobs have increased by more than 18 per cent and the City's action plan has a substantial focus on growing green jobs.)

As of May this year, the City requires all rezoning applications to meet low emissions building standards. This has seen a phenomenal increase in buildings that meet the Passive House standard, which creates exceptionally energy efficient, healthy buildings.

When City publications describe creating a "just and sustainable food system for the city ... considering all aspect of the foods system, from seed to table to compost heap and back again" ... you can see why I get excited. Years of local, grassroots community activism is now informing official policy.

Beekeeping, backyard chickens and urban agriculture are all encouraged. The City has banned the use of pesticides on lawns or gardens for cosmetic reasons (ie to keep your lawn perfectly weed-free).

You can't chuck your food scraps out in the rubbish going to landfill. Instead, organic waste and compostable paper are collected each week from homes, apartment buildings, businesses and institutions and turned into valuable compost and soil used throughout the region.

This all contributes to an ambitious goal of being a zero-waste community by 2040.

Nearly a decade ago, about 40 per cent of trips to and within the city were by foot, bicycle or public transport. That's an enviable figure, but the City aims to increase that further, as well as reducing the average distance driven per resident.


Vancouver is the fourth most densely populated city in North America, thanks to planning measures that encouraged a dense urban core rather than sprawl. Bikes are popular and the City is making serious commitments to improving conditions for cycling. I was delighted to find two lanes on the Burrard Bridge, a major thoroughfare from the west side to the CBD, were being turned into protected cycleways.

I was further astonished by the automated bike counter as we freewheeled off the bridge. There had been 4862 trips over the bridge that day already, and I recall a year-to-date total of over 850,000 trips. Amazing.

Buses are equipped with bike racks and I watched cyclists easily and confidently secure their bikes onto the front-facing racks before hopping on the bus.

The City itself has launched a bike share system called Mobi and it was well patronised on the sunny day I spent cycling through Stanley Park.

The City is actively discouraging car ownership and there are some terrific alternatives.

My friend Leah, a long-time resident of Vancouver, has never owned a car (but is the proud owner of a new e-bike). She was an early member of a co-operative called Modo, which has been around since 1997. Its fleet now ranges from sports cars to moving trucks and it boasts 18,000 members. Three car-sharing companies now provide competition, two of which operate like a self-drive taxi - locate any car near you, drive it to your destination in the city, park it and leave it.

But the first thing I noticed when I arrived in Vancouver in late summer were the berm gardens: strips of diverse foliage and vibrant colour, meticulously weeded, with signs that announced they were cared for by the residents of such-and-such apartment building.
I'm back home inspired by what the City of Vancouver has already achieved and by its bold vision.

Rachel Rose believes that, things being as they are, we need to focus on regeneration rather than conservation. More information and sources can be found at