Natural Assets and Infrastructure Services: Why Trees Matter

With and Without Trees
Source unknown.

In a heat wave in Montreal in the summer of 2018, more than 50 people died. Most of the people who died were isolated, vulnerable and living alone. But there was another key link among some of the deaths. According to Global News, “Public health also found most of the victims also lived in ‘heat islands,’ which are spots in a city that are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas because of human activity and development.”

As clearly depicted in the image above, trees and other natural assets provide key services to cities. They cool heat islands and the people who live there. And, according to Jeff Speck in Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, they also take in car exhaust before it hits the stratosphere and they absorb heavy rainfall, taking pressure off stormwater systems.1

The small town of Gibsons, British Columbia, was the first local government in Canada to start to measure and account for the value of their natural assets and the infrastructure services they provide. Their pioneering Eco-Asset Strategy is well worth a read. As provincial government expectations and Public Sector Accounting Board reporting requirements pushed all local governments towards asset management, Gibsons took it one step further.

Here’s what they say in their groundbreaking report, Advancing Municipal Natural Asset Management:

“Our foreshore area provides protection from storm surges and sea level rise. Our creeks, ditches and wetlands help us effectively manage stormwater. A naturally occurring aquifer located beneath Gibsons stores and filters drinking water so pure it meets health standards without chemical treatment.

“The value of these natural assets is clear to us now, but before the Town recognized their economic significance we were – in hindsight – at risk of making decisions without all the facts … Our planning, investment and reporting decisions and practices were narrower and more limited than was desirable.

“Today, for example, we have the numbers and evidence to show that it is smarter and cheaper, by orders of magnitude, to invest in maintaining and expanding green infrastructure, such as forests, urban parks and stormwater ponds, than to design, build and manage engineered stormwater infrastructure.”

As noted in the video below, which celebrates Gibsons Real Estate Foundation of BC award, “by actively working with nature’s power, local governments can save money, reduce risk and increase resilience to climate change.”

Please watch this two minute video on the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative.

We have some work to do in Victoria. And we need to start with trees, which are the most significant natural assets in Victoria (within municipal jurisdiction). According to a recent staff report to City Council, Victoria has made limited progress over the last four years to implement the 2013 Urban Forest Master Plan. The City currently cares for over 40,000 trees on public property. Staff told us that:

“Despite the efforts of staff required to make that progress, it is important to recognize the challenges presented by the recent increase in pressure on staff capacity. In the past few years, operational demands associated with supporting Victoria’s unprecedented growth have resulted in reduced capacity to plan and process the recommended actions in the pro-active manner necessary. The total annual City investment in tree care and management is approximately $1.7 million.

“Staff acknowledge Council’s sense of urgency regarding climate action. With increased investment and focus, the City can more effectively address the challenges highlighted by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its special report on the impacts of global warming. In regards to the role of the urban forest, Victoria has the necessary strategic direction; however, to respond to this call for action staff recommend an updated approach, as envisioned in the Urban Forest Masterplan, in pursuit of the goals identified for the long-term benefit of citizens.” (Read the full staff report and detailed deliverables here pgs 42-44)

The new approach is going to require bold action and it’s going to cost money. But because of the work of Gibsons and elsewhere, we know this is money well spent. As Jeff Speck, Walkable Cities author cited above, points out, “Because they have such a powerful impact on walkability, street trees have been associated with significant improvements in both property values and retail viability. Since this enhancement translates directly into increased local tax revenue, it could be considered financially irresponsible to not invest heavily in trees.”.2

Staff recommend restructuring the Parks division to establish a dedicated team focused on the management and enhancement of the urban forest. This will enable staff to take better care of trees on public land, plant more trees, plan for the future, and also turn more attention to retaining trees on private land, which account for two thirds of the urban forest canopy.

How will we fund the roughly $1.8 million per year to do this? In 2013, Council determined it needed to make more immediate investments in capital infrastructure than had been previously anticipated. We instituted a time-limited 1.25% tax increase per year for three years to invest in infrastructure. That ended in 2015.

Now we need to do the same with trees. A 1.25% “Urban Forest Levy” tax increase each year for five years, will enable staff to accelerate the implementation of the Urban Forest Masterplan. This will meet the demands of our passionate and forward-looking residents who have been coming to Council, meeting after meeting, to ask for bold action on the urban forest. And, it will allow the city to continue to make efforts on climate change, the greatest crisis facing us.

Care passionately about trees and want to get involved? Check out the Trees Matter Network.

 

2030 is the New 2050 – Climate Emergency Declaration, and How Hard it is to Lead

Tomorrow, along with two colleagues, I’m bringing a report to the Capital Regional District Parks and Environment Committee to ask the CRD board to follow Vancouver and other cities around the world and declare a climate emergency. We’d like the CRD to take a leadership role in achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Making climate emergency declarations is easy. Taking climate action is hard.

Two examples are top of mind from the past week. Here’s the first: As part of Council’s Climate Leadership Plan, the City is building an all ages and abilities bike network and associated pedestrian improvements to give people an easy, safe and convenient alternative to the car. This will help reduce the city’s GHG emissions by 18% over the next two decades.

The city has engaged in detailed consultation on the design of the next corridor, a two way separated cycle track coming off of the Johnson Street bridge, running along Wharf St and through to Humboldt St. Part of the design work – to increase safety for people walking and biking – requires the removal of a tree that was planted in the middle of the road at the Humboldt and Government intersection.

I love that tree! A few years ago, the City along with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Viatec and a local company, Limbic Media, adorned the tree with lights that moved to the sounds of the city. We called it the innovation tree. We closed down the street, had a party, hired a band and danced in the street while the lights in the tree danced to the music

As part of the design consideration of the intersection at Humboldt and Government,  our staff team considered the following issues: vehicle turning movements, traffic impacts, pedestrian safety and amenity, parking considerations, cost of design and impacts to rebuilding curbs and sidewalks, right of way and property constraints, underground infrastructure location, safety and sight lines, public realm, aesthetics, bike lane design requirements, tourism impacts, public requests, business concerns, bus and logistic vehicle requirements, emergency vehicle requirements, planning and downtown design standards.

Screenshot 2019-01-23 21.50.56
Intersection re-design at Humboldt and Government Streets.

Staff presented the design to Council, and discussed tree impacts and trade offs when they sought Council’s approval. Here is the public staff report to Council from May 2018. It was always clear that this tree would be difficult to avoid due to the limited right of way at this location, and the volume of foot and motor vehicle traffic. In May, Council made the difficult decision of approving the design and removing the tree.

The trade off is the removal of the tree, for improved pedestrian and cycling safety, a new public plaza in the inner harbour, and two new trees planted in the plaza. But the real trade of is increased safety and connectivity for people of all ages and abilities who will now be able to get safely from the Johnson Street bridge all the way to Vancouver Street. This means that more people will have the option of traveling safely without a car.

A maple tree sequesters 400 pounds of CO2 over 25 years. A typical passenger car emits 4.6 metric tonnes (10,141 pounds) of CO2 per year. Taking one car off the road is 635 times more effective in reducing green house gases than saving a single tree.

This decision is what courageous climate action looks like. And it’s especially difficult when our long-term decisions seem counter-intuitive to our residents in the present. But it’s necessary if we are serious about significantly reducing our green house gas emissions. We also are making significant commitments in our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan to protect and enhance the urban forest (blog post to come!)

The second example: Last Thursday night at a Council meeting, a proposal came forward for an existing two-story building at Belmont and Haultain to have a story added to it and an increase in the number of rental units from two to five, all of which were to be two and three bedroom units. Because there is retail on the ground floor and the addition of new residential units, the City’s policy required 14 parking spots. It is impossible to get 14 spots on the site at the same time as retaining the building. The applicant was applying to vary the parking requirement from 14 spots to three.

To make up for the shortage of parking, she offered to purchase a car-share car to be parked at the building, buy all the tenants life-time car-share memberships, give a $100 car share gift certificate to each of the units, and give each of the tenants $400 towards the purchase of a bicycle. Yes, really!

Fifteen neighbours came and spoke against the project. While some had concerns about the design and massing of the building, most of the concerns related to the parking variance and how it would impact their parking on their street and in the village centre. It was clear in listening to them how much they love their neighbourhood. This made it extra difficult for me to move the motion to support the proposal and to speak in favour.

When it comes to climate action, this is an ideal project. It is a project for the future. It preserves an existing building. It’s rental housing with the significant provision of sustainable transportation amenities so tenants won’t have to have a car. The building is also right on a future corridor of the all ages and abilities cycling network. And on a bus route. It doesn’t need 14 parking spots.

Council didn’t support the project and referred it back to the developer to work with the applicant and staff. What kind of signal are we sending about how serious we are about taking climate action?

Our job as municipal leaders is so very difficult when it comes to climate change. We need to listen sincerely and we need to explain ourselves clearly. And then we need to have the courage to make decisions that may not be understood today, in the interests of ensuring that our community has a safe, resilient and sustainable tomorrow.

Read the full Emergency Climate Declaration report here.

 

Smart Mobility Manifesto and Our Transportation Future

smart mobility manifesto.png

Last week I posted a story to Twitter about Oslo becoming a car-free city centre this year. There were some typical social media responses: “I think you should move to Oslo. You would like it there. I have a car not a bike.”

But there were also many thoughtful comments:

We need better public transportation systems for this to happen. More bus routes, timely buses, and it needs to be much more affordable.

“Lisa, what about providing access for EV vehicles? What about advocating for a Light Rail transit system that gives easy access to the downtown core for people who live in communities further afield?

Ok, but let’s improve bus service so I or my daughter or other women or men don’t have to walk in the dark 90 minutes before a 7 am shift to get to essential services at Vic General Hospital via bus. Does Oslo have rapid transit in place? For those of us raising or who’ve raised children (myself 4), I couldn’t just hop on a bike and drive in 4 directions then head to work. Let’s have some common sense solutions for all!

Yes, let’s!

Right now, in our region, there is an unprecedented opportunity to solve the transportation issues now and for the future. It’s an exciting time, with the Capital Regional District, the Province, local governments and the private sector all coming together to address transportation in the region in a meaningful and comprehensive way.

The South Island Prosperity Project, on behalf of its 10 municipal members, has been short listed for a $10 million Smart Cities Challenge prize from the federal government. This is a big deal. There were 200 applications and our region is among the 20 shortlisted. The focus of the Smart South Island Plan is to use data, technology and innovative approaches to improve transportation convenience, affordability and sustainability for residents of the region. We’re committed to this whether we win or not. And we need your help.

Do you believe in affordable, easy and convenient transportation? Do you believe in transportation options for the entire region? Do you believe in creating a better world for future generations? Please sign the Smart Mobility Manifesto. And please don’t stop there. Please take this short survey (less than five minutes!) and share your transportation needs and priorities.

It is transformation that is required in our transportation system in the region, not tinkering. I am often accused of waging a “war on the car;” and certainly those sentiments were shared in response to my Oslo post. I generally reject military metaphors, but if we’re doing anything, it’s waging a war for the future where all modes of transportation can work, together.

We need to act as if it’s wartime and mobilize extraordinary willpower and resources to combat climate change, the greatest challenge of our time. And with transportation accounting for 50% of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, a smart mobility future is one we need to create. What’s best of all, is that study after study shows that changing the way we move to a multi-modal transportation network, is more affordable, convenient and makes us happier and healthier at the same time.

For people interested in the City of Victoria’s transportation future specifically, please join us for the launch of “Go Victoria, Our Mobility Future.” It’s a free and exciting event at the Victoria Conference Centre on Thursday January 24th doors at 6pm, event at 7pm. Space is limited; please RSVP here.

 

 

Do we really love our children well? #climatestrike

Anyone concerned about the climate and looking for hope and inspiration has probably already seen this video. It’s Greta Thunberg, the Swedish girl speaking to the UN at the most recent Climate Conference in Poland. Since September, she has been walking out of class each Friday to draw attention to the climate crisis and the fact that adults, who should know better, are not taking the kind of action that a crisis demands. She has inspired other children around the world to strike with her.

She tells those gathered at the UN, “You say you love your children above all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their eyes … Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope … We have come to let you know that change is coming whether you like it or not.”

When people tell her that she should be in school, studying to be a climate scientist to develop solutions she says, “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.”

Her call to action has resonated around the world including here on Vancouver Island. A group of local students, organized by 12-year-old Rebecca Wolf Gage, spent the first Friday of December on a climate strike on the steps of the BC Legislature. They will strike the first Friday of every month to get us adults to pay attention and take action.

They have my attention. On Friday January 4th – not even a school day! – they organized a day-long education session for themselves to learn more about climate change and the actions they can take. Their program included guests from UVic Earth and Ocean Sciences, MLAs, and community organizers. I was lucky enough to join them.

ClimateStrikers1

I was so inspired to spend time with such a motivated, knowledgeable, and organized group of  young people from all over southern Vancouver Island. I brought them each a copy of the City’s Climate Leadership Plan and walked them through it. We spent the most time on page 17 (pictured below) where we went through the impact of each climate action.

They were enthusiastic to know that the biggest impact comes from reducing car use and converting to walking, cycling and transit. Fully 18% of emissions will be reduced if we make half our trips by walking and cycling and a quarter of our trips by transit. Why did they like this? Because they can take direct action! They will leave removing oil tanks and insulating their homes (also big emissions reduction impacts) to their parents.

Climate Leadership Plan Wedge

To help us bring our Climate Leadership Plan to life and to harness their energy, I invited them – for the first hour of their strike each month – to come to City Hall and meet with me. They said yes! We’ll work together to determine which actions they’d like to focus on in the coming month and how I can support them. I’ll be sure to report out what they come up with. We laughed together as I said to them, “I can see the headlines now, ‘Mayor encourages kids to skip school.'”

I hope the headlines will read, “Mayor encourages adults to listen to these kids.” “Mayor encourages all of us to take bold action.” Because that’s what’s necessary to ensure that when these kids are our age they look back at us, adults worldwide, and say, “They really did mean it when they said, ‘I love you.'”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who should pay for climate adaptation? Victoria’s Climate Accountability Letters

Screenshot 2018-12-27 11.41.49

In July 2018, the City of Victoria adopted a Climate Leadership Plan to guide us to 100% renewable energy by 2050 and to reduce carbon emissions 80% over 2007 levels by 2050 as well. Arguably, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in October 2018, Victoria and other cities and regions are going to need to move much faster.

But in the meantime, even as we work to mitigate climate change, there are real costs to cities now because of a changing climate and there will be increasing costs to cities in the future as the impacts of climate change accelerate. That is why the City of Victoria joined other cities in British Columbia to write to fossil fuel producers around the world to ask them to contribute a tiny fraction of their profits to offset the costs our residents our residents will have to bear through property taxes. Much has been written in the media about this approach, and it’s a much milder approach than others are taking, launching lawsuits to secure damages.

To my knowledge, the full text of the letter sent by the City of Victoria has not been released. I share here a sample letter that the City sent to a number of fossil fuel companies around the world. Each letter is specific in that it calculates what share of global emissions each company has generated and asks for that share of the City’s climate adaptation costs to be paid by that company.

A full list of companies the city wrote to is below.

November 28, 2017

Attn. CEO of Conoco Phillips

Dear Sirs/Mesdames:

As Mayor and Council of the City of Victoria, in British Columbia, we are writing to secure your commitment to pay your fair share of the costs of climate change that face our community. Climate change is the direct result of pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels, including from your products.

We are beginning to see the impacts of climate change directly affect our region and the infrastructure and services that we provide as a local government to our residents (detailed below). It would be financially irresponsible of us to assume that our taxpayers will bear the full costs of these impacts of fossil fuel pollution, while your shareholders continue to benefit financially from the sale of fossil fuels.

We know that individual consumers, and our community members, use fossil fuels.  However, your industry has played a large role in creating the risks and costs that we now face as a community. Your company has made many billions of dollars from products that you presumably knew would harm our communities.[1] You have had the power to move your company towards a more sustainable business model since you first became aware of the impacts of climate change, decades ago, but have not done so. You cannot make billions of dollars selling your product, knowing that it is causing significant financial harm to communities around the world, and not expect to pay for at least some of that harm.

When James Douglas of the Hudson’s Bay Company selected the southern tip of Vancouver Island as the site of Fort Victoria, the region’s Garry Oak meadows reminded him of the cultivated fields of England. He didn’t realize at the time that this unique ecosystem had been managed for thousands of years by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, who harvested Camas bulbs from the meadows as an important food source.

The Garry Oak Meadow ecosystem – although unfortunately much diminished and one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world – remains a central feature of the City of Victoria, and we take seriously our responsibility to pass it on to future residents. Numerous studies have shown that that climate change will put that goal at risk[2] – and that our work to ensure that the ecosystem can survive shifts in our regional climate is urgent.[3]

Of course, climate change brings with it other, direct impacts on our infrastructure and services, and on our residents.  We offer the example of the Garry Oak Meadow ecosystem to illustrate an important climate impact, and associated costs, that are unique to our region.

In addition, like other coastal communities in BC and around the world, sea-level rise is a serious concern.  Our Inner Harbour, a central feature of our downtown, is the point of arrival for many tourists and a source of pride for our residents. For this business and tourism district, higher sea-levels, especially when combined with storm-surge events, will mean huge economic cost.  It has been estimated that 1 metre of sea level rise in combination with a storm surge would result potential business disruption losses of Cdn $415,557 per day (based on annual averages).[4]

Outside of the downtown, much of our coastline is characterized by cliffs, much of it soft and vulnerable to increased coastal erosion. The needed protection efforts will likely result in significant costs to our community.

Drought and increased winter storms associated with climate change are also predicted for our region.

Planning, building and maintaining local infrastructure is made more costly by climate change. Victoria is in the process of developing a Climate Leadership Plan to do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings and waste.  The City is also investing in our own infrastructure to ensure we are able to maintain resilience and adapt to the changing climate and the impacts to our operations, utilities and services.  At present we are only beginning to understand the potential magnitude of increased local costs for both climate change mitigation and adaptation. We know that cities didn’t cause the climate problem on their own and we can’t solve it on our own. And we know that costs will increase as climate change impacts worsen.

As a community Victoria has committed to work towards 100% renewable energy by 2050.  We recognize that everyone is going to need to do their part to address climate change. We are asking you to take responsibility for the harm caused by your products and to take action to move to a more sustainable business model.

The peer-reviewed research of Richard Heede reveals that 1.12% of the greenhouse gas emissions already in the global atmosphere originate from your company’s operations and products.[5]  In our view, this represents your fair share of the costs facing Victoria.  Will you confirm that you are willing to pay 1.12% of Victoria’s climate-related costs going forward?

Sincerely,
Lisa Helps
Victoria Mayor

Notes
[1]       https://www.smokeandfumes.org/fumes, last accessed 23 September 2016.

[2]       Pellatt MG, Goring SJ, Bodtker KM, Cannon AJ (2012) Using a Down-Scaled Bioclimate Envelope Model to Determine Long-Term Temporal Connectivity of Garry oak (Quercus garryana) Habitat in Western North America: Implications for Protected Area Planning. Environ Manage 49:802–815; Bachelet D, Johnson BR, Bridgham SD, Dunn PV, Anderson HE, Rogers BM (2011) Climate Change Impacts on Western Pacific Northwest Prairies and Savannas. Northwest Sci 85:411–429.

[3]       Pellatt, M.G. & Gedalof, Z. Biodivers Conserv (2014) 23: 2053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0703-9.

[4]       AECOM. Capital Regional District: Coastal Sea Level Rise Risk Assessment (Victoria, BC: Capital Regional District, 2015), p. 36.

[5]       Heede, R. Climatic Change (2014) 122: 229. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0986-y; See also http://climateaccountability.org/carbon_majors_update.html.

Here is a full list of companies that the City wrote to:

  • BHP Billiton Limited
  • BP p.l.c
  • Chevron
  • Coal India Limited
  • Conoco Philips
  • CONSOL Energy Inc
  • Exxon Mobil
  • Gazprom
  • Iraq National Oil Company
  • Kuwait Petroleum Corp
  • Murray Engery Corporation
  • National Iranian Oil Company
  • Peabody Energy
  • PEMEX
  • PetroChina (CNPC)
  • Petroelos de Venezuala
  • Royal Dutch Shell plc
  • Saudi Aramco
  • Sonatrach
  • Total SA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helps Campaign Announces Annual Urban Tree Planting Festival

Building on the City’s tree planting efforts over the past few years and responding to the urgent climate crisis, Mayor Lisa Helps announces the creation of an annual urban tree planting festival in the city.

“Even though it’s a core value in our community, climate change and climate action have not been getting much attention during this campaign,” said Mayor Helps. “The Annual Urban Tree Planting festival responds to calls from the community to plant more trees everywhere in the city. New trees are a great investment as the climate continues to change.”

Last Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a startling report that revealed we only have 12 years to take bold action and get the climate crisis under control. The IPCC report outlines reforestation as a key strategy in climate mitigation and carbon dioxide removal.

“Trees are Earth’s lungs. They are critical natural assets at this time of rapid climate change. The more trees, the better,” said Rainey Hopewell and Margot Johnston, founders of the Haultain Common. “An Annual Urban Tree Planting Festival will bring the community together, allow us to take joyful action to beautify our public spaces, and mitigate climate change at the same time. What a brilliant plan. Let’s do it!”

The City manages an urban forest of approximately 33,000 trees on 300 kilometers of boulevards and in 137 parks and open spaces. In 2017 the City planted 328 new trees, removed 150 trees and inspected 760 trees. New trees have a 95% survival rate.

Working under the skilled guidance of parks staff, the Annual Urban Tree Planting festival builds on the Tree Appreciation days the City already hosts. Spread out in neighbourhoods across the City, the Festival could see upwards of 1000 trees planted in one day.

Two Key Platform Commitments

Since January Lisa’s been working with a diversity of community members to develop a detailed, future-focussed, community-based, four-year plan. Today, we’re releasing the first two of many platform commitments that will help to make Victoria safe, affordable, and prosperous.

Two Key Platform Commitments

Working with the community and Council, Mayor Helps will:

  1. Lower the default speed limit on all local neighbourhood streets from 50km/h to 30km/h and tactically enforce the new rules.
  2. Expand the city’s garden suite program to allow for larger, family-sized units on any of the 5,600 eligible plus-size lots.

Lowering Default Speed Limit on Residential Neighbourhood Side Streets

For the last two months, Lisa has been meeting with small groups of Victoria residents in their homes in neighbourhoods across the city. These “Kitchen Table Talks,” are hosted by local residents. Neighbours, friends, family, and from around the community are invited to attend and participate in a casual Q & A with Lisa. This direct engagement with the people of Victoria generated many insightful and collaborative solutions to make life in Victoria even better. One key recommendation that came up at almost every gathering was: make our local neighbourhood streets safe for our children!

Currently, the default speed limit on all city streets is 50 km/h unless otherwise listed. This is far too fast. Residential streets are on average far narrower than throughways, often have limited visibility due to street-parked cars and tree cover, and are frequently the site of play for school-aged children.

For these reasons, Mayor Lisa Helps will work collaboratively with City Council, School District SD61, the Provincial Government, the Greater Victoria Integrated Road Safety Unit, and community stakeholders to implement a default speed limit of 30km/h on all local neighbourhood streets. This change would be facilitated by a comprehensive education campaign and tactical enforcement.

This commitment of Lisa’s, like many others, is citizen-led. Many families with whom we spoke were already in the process of working with the city for a lower speed limit on their residential street. Many were already in the process of applying to the City’s “My Great Neighbourhood” grant program to fund “children playing” signs, new speed bumps, and other measures to keep their children safe.

To be clear, this new speed limit would only apply to local neighbourhood side streets, those classified as “local streets” in the City’s road classification system. For more information on the distinction between urban street designations and how they apply to roads safety, please hear here.

This commitment represents a core theme of Lisa’s platform: the actions we take now not only benefit the people currently living in Victoria but they also plan ahead to build a safe, sustainable city for the future — for our children and our children’s children.

Making decisions with the next 10, 20, or 50 years in mind does not mean we need to forego quality of life and well-being now. Rather, the present and the future work in tandem. Victoria’s residents have asked for this now and we will implement it as soon as possible. At the same time, this action will make Victoria’s streets safer for children for generations to come.

Allowing Family-Sized Garden Suites on Victoria’s 5,600 Plus-Size Lots

When Lisa was first elected Mayor of Victoria in 2014, she immediately recognized the great need for new homes in our city. With a rapidly retiring workforce and quickly expanding job market, the city’s previous inaction left the city’s housing market in a precarious position. Families and workers need homes, and housing costs have continued to rise while demand outpaces supply.

At the same time – as we heard loud and clear at kitchen tables around the city – protecting the character of Victoria’s neighbourhoods is of the utmost importance. It’s important to maintain what’s special and unique about Victoria’s neighbourhoods as the city grows.

After Council cut significant red tape from the City’s garden suite process making the approval process significantly quicker (4 weeks instead of one year) and cheaper ($200 instead of $4000), the number of garden suites under development increased rapidly. 22 garden suite units were approved last year alone, compared to only 18 units approved in the last 12 years combined.

Lisa has recognized the effectiveness of this low-impact, citizen-initiated development. There is room for significant growth in this program to accommodate the growing number of young families in Victoria. There are roughly 5600 plus size lots in Victoria that are eligible for garden suite development. Currently, garden suites are restricted to one-bedroom designation, but with Lisa’s proposed changes to the zoning process, plus-size lots would be eligible for multi-bedroom garden suites for families.

Wesley MacInnis
Communications Director
Lisa Helps for Victoria Mayor 2018
wesley@lisahelpsvictoria.ca

We are all voting for Central Park

Parks-CentralPark

I was walking in my neighbourhood this evening and saw signs up that said, “We’re voting Central Park” and fears of loss of green space. There is nothing to fear! At a July 19th Committee of the Whole meeting I made a motion that Council passed unanimously directing staff to come up with a plan for the new Crystal Pool that will result in no net loss of green space. Staff are now working on this and will report back to Council and the public in September.

Just like we did recently with Topaz Park, to much community acclaim, we will do a detailed, and community-centred consultation on the future of Central Park beginning in early 2019. We understand the strong connection that residents have with the existing park amenities. Along with building Victoria’s new aquatic and wellness centre, we will also be renewing the park; this has been the plan all along. During construction we will work to preserve as many of the park features as we can.

The Crystal Pool and Fitness Center is an important piece of Victoria’s history. It is a community hub and one of Victoria’s oldest and most frequently used recreation facilities. Unfortunately it is now reaching the end of its life and requires significant investment to meet current building, seismic and accessibility standards. Council asked staff to do a feasibility study in 2016, reviewing three options: to upgrade, refurbish or replace the ageing facility. After extensive analysis of the existing service gaps and long-term needs of the community, in February 2017 Council unanimously approved the replacement of the existing building with a new, barrier-free recreation centre.

December 2016 Crystal Pool Feasibility Staff Report
February 2017 Crystal Pool Feasibility Study Staff Report Follow Up

Today, one in five residents can’t access the Crystal Pool due to the split-level design which limits access for persons with disabilities including mobility impairments. The new facility will welcome all ages and abilities through a design that removes barriers to participation. This universally-accessible recreation centre will feature a 50m pool, universal and inclusive change rooms, an expanded fitness area, better spaces for events and programs, a welcoming community space, and public washrooms for park users.

The new facility is anticipated to see an increase in annual visits by 35%. Over the past year and a half, we’ve been focused on engaging citizens, meeting stakeholder groups and working with technical experts and other partners to first design and then to refine the design of the facility. In June, we presented schematic designs for the facility to the community at public Open House sessions and the City received feedback from the community through an online survey; 80% of people who participated expressed support for the facility design.

Screenshot 2018-07-31 21.35.06

The investment required for the new facility is significant and the City has committed $10 million from its Building and Infrastructure Fund towards the $69.4 million budget and we have the ability to fund up to 33% of the project with city resources should this be necessary. We are also seeking funding from external sources including other levels of government. In February, the Union of B.C. Municipalities announced the award of $6 million from the Federal Gas Tax Fund, and applications will be submitted for two other large grant programs.

To stay in touch as the Crystal Pool and Central Park projects unfold, please look for  regular updates here.

 

Compact living doesn’t shrink quality of life

Photos from inside a new apartment building in downtown Victoria. This building was approved in 2012 – the first new rental building approved in the City in the last 30 years.

There have been questions from certain corners of our community on the need for rapid densification – why do we need so many new buildings? Should we pull up the metaphorical drawbridge and protect Victoria from newcomers because we think it’s the only way to preserve the quality of life for people who already live here? There are many good reasons to answer no. I’ll highlight two and outline how a growing city and its neighbourhoods can be places where quality of life and well-being are enhanced, for everyone. I love my neighbourhood too.

At a recent talk in Victoria, the Governor of the Bank of Canada highlighted Canada’s aging workforce; as a result, currently two thirds of labour force growth comes from immigration. By 2025, he said, all labour force growth will come from immigration. This couldn’t be more true than in Victoria where we have an aging population with many people moving out of the labour force in the coming decades. These people will want to stay in Victoria and enjoy the quality of life they have here.

So, like the rest of Canada, though perhaps more rapidly, Victoria’s labour force will grow through immigration both from other provinces and other countries. This growing labour force – necessary to support those who are retiring – need places to live. That is a key reason that all this new building is necessary.

A second reason is climate change. In early March I was invited by Mayor Iveson in Edmonton to an urgent weekend meeting of mayors from around the world. The 800 scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were meeting in Edmonton the following week and Mayor Iveson wanted us mayors to help shape the conversation.

The materials provided in advance of the gathering and the speakers at the opening plenary made it crystal clear: We have little time to take radical action with regard to climate change or we lose the battle. And, cities are both the cause and the solution to the problem.

The president of the University of Alberta cautioned, “Cities need to change quickly; the window is closing.” Aromar Revi, Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements warned us that we are now 1 degree above the pre-industrial average and we have less than 15 years to stay below 1.5. Bill Solecki the Founding Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities put it starkly. “We have all the knowledge we need,” he said, “but at our core, we can’t acknowledge that we have to fundamentally change the way we live in cities.”

Changing the way we live in Victoria in order to take bold climate action means more compact living and more people living in all our neighbourhoods. This can happen without changing their character too much through gentle density, houseplexes, tiny homes, townhouses and more. It means more people living within walking distance of goods and services available in village centres, resulting in less traffic and pollution. It also means inclusion, diversity, new neighbours and a denser web of social relationships.

On major corridors and downtown the changes we make to how we live in order to save the planet are more visible. There are more tall buildings. But what we can’t see from the outside is that almost all of these buildings are being built with vertical backyards: playgrounds on the third floor, lush, green community gathering spaces on the roof tops, one building even has an multiple birdhouses!

We don’t need to trade in quality of life even as our city grows to accommodate a changing labour force and a changing climate. What we do need is to have real dialogue rather than name calling and finger pointing. “NIMBY” is not a helpful term as it doesn’t take seriously the concerns and fears that people have – we all want to maintain the incredible neighbourhoods we’ve built together. Nor is it helpful to have a drawbridge mentality – this makes young renters and others feel unwelcome, and prevents us from adapting to changing times.

As our city grows and changes everyone will win because ultimately we all want the same thing – to be happy and healthy, to be prosperous, to feel safe, to breathe clean air, to feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves and to know that our children will have good futures.  We’re all in this together.

A version of this article first appeared in the Victoria News here.

First National Sustainable Tourism Conference Hosted in Victoria

Plenary - Lessons from the North 2.jpgPanel Discussion: Lessons from the North                             Photo Credit: Impact Conference

In late January, Victoria hosted Impact: Sustainability Travel and Tourism, Canada’s first national conference on sustainable tourism. Organized by Tourism Victoria, Starrboard Enterprises, Beattie Tartan, and Synergy Enterprises, the conference was buzzing with energy from the moment it began.

Our local hosts and guests from across the nation grappled with important issues facing Canada and the world as the tourism industry continues to grow.  Sessions explored climate change, technology, transportation, Indigenous culture, policy, local labour markets and new tourism trends and experiences. Themes included innovation, prosperity, conservation, culture and partnership.

What does all of this mean for Victoria as host to over three million visitors a year and counting?

Victoria is booming right now. Tech and tourism are both growing. There are lots of new apartment and condos being built for people who want to live downtown. And we’ve recently been named by the renowned Condé Nast Readers’ Choice as the second best small city to visit, in the world.

The result? We have the lowest unemployment rate in the country. But this also means we have labour shortages and we also clearly have housing shortages for workers.

So in Victoria we are already not sustaining this growth. And people will continue to vacation here for the same reasons locals live here – it’s paradise.

What to do? Author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism was a keynote speaker at the conference. Her remarks were instructive. “You have to know what you are sustaining,” she said. She also urged us to answer key questions: “What is the culture? What is the landscape? What are the events? And what’s the transportation plan?”

What are we sustaining in Victoria? A small-scale, compact community, on Indigenous land with strong Indigenous presence where we share the values of environmental sustainability, stewarding natural assets, community, connection, smart growth and prosperity.

In Victoria and other destinations poised to grow we need a deep collaboration between local elected officials, city staff and the tourism industry to answer these questions. And we need the industry to develop according to the answers.

How do we get to 100% renewable energy as a community and as industry by 2050 while still having people arrive by ferry boat, cruise ship and plane? Do we “exempt” these emissions because they “don’t really happen in Victoria?” How do we reduce carbon emissions 80% over 2007 levels by 2050 while more people come to our destination?

Some of our operators in the region are already moving in this direction; sustainability is woven into their business practices. Wild Play as an attraction, keeps the forest intact and has a “treading lightly” program to promote sustainability such as composting and recycling on site. Ocean River sports gets visitors out on kayaks to experience nature without emissions. The Inn at Laurel Point is a carbon neutral hotel that runs with a social enterprise business model. And the Victoria Airport has set targets for emissions reduction, and has restored the creeks that run through their land, where native fish species can now spawn.

These are big questions with no easy answers. But the first annual Impact conference was critically important naming the questions, collaborating to answer them, sharing best practices and moments of inspiration from across the country, and saving the world – one destination at a time.