(UR) Vancouver, British Columbia — Renewable energy and green cities are being increasingly seen as two aspects in the fight against climate change. But that’s not all they’re good for; according to some studies, green cities in particular lead to happier, healthier communities and citizens. But making a city “green” poses many challenges, well beyond simply switching to carbon-neutral energies or adding a few bike lanes. For the Canadian city of Vancouver, the challenge, though daunting, is not entirely unthinkable. Actually, according to the city’s promise to become 100 percent renewable by 2050, it’s a challenge worth facing.
Becoming a renewable, green city involves a massive amount of infrastructure. Old systems of energy production need to be overhauled and replaced with green or sustainable alternatives in order to lower, if not eliminate, carbon emissions.
In the hands of Sadhu Johnston, Vancouver’s city manager, making the move from carbon emitting, dirty sources of energy involves some interesting new building codes, and a little sewer heat. Finding a use for the energy generated naturally in the city’s sewers, this modification to geothermal processes allows buildings with access to use heat generated as waste breaks down to keep tenants warm.
Moving people away from motorized transit has been another area of Vancouver’s plan that is seeing some positive results. According to a study undertaken by the Vancouver business association, increasing the number of bike lanes in the city has not only led to a reduction in vehicle-generated greenhouse gases, it has also helped business. Given the ongoing development of the SkyTrain, Vancouver’s answer to the subway, more people than ever are moving towards communal transport, taking more cars off the road.
For all of Vancouver’s optimism and effort, there are still some roadblocks.
“The greatest challenge we face in becoming a 100 percent renewably powered city is…our public being able to accept the change,” said Johnston.
From the social norm of being a property owner slowing down increased population densification, one of the clearer paths to becoming a green city, to misconceptions among business owners concerning the benefits of bike lanes and other alternative transit, changing people’s minds from the traditional North American model might take a little more than sewer gas.
Hydroelectricity, one of Vancouver’s preferred methods of carbon-neutral heating, may prove a challenge in the long-term. Despite the generally accepted idea that hydro-power (electricity generated from flowing water) is carbon neutral, there is research linking dams to methane generation, another harmful greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change.
More people, be it as a process of densification or because Vancouver is a cool place to live, means more need for electricity. Increasing the population might mean building more dams, each with its own systemic influence andimpact on the environment, and non-urban populations and cultures like BC’s First Nations.
Despite all of this, the idea of working towards a 100 percent sustainable or green city within the next 40-years is a good start. Only in the process can the kinks be worked out, and Vancouver, led by progressive urban planners like Johnston, is at least taking steps away from the status quo.
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