Climate Action, Active Healthy Transportation, and the Heidelberg Challenge

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Heidelberg where I attended ICCA 2019, an international conference on Collaborative Climate Action. The conference focused on the role of cities in the lead up to UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ Climate Action Summit in New York this September. It was an honour to have been invited to Heidelberg to help shape the global conversation on cities and collaborative climate action.

Over 700 people from 90 countries attended the conference. It was heartening to learn that from Kenya to Sweden, from China to California, cities are taking climate action. Cities are ready to be strong partners to provincial and federal governments and can help federal governments meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. But, in order to do so, cities need more resources and more delegated authority from national and provincial governments. This is the key message from the conference that will be forwarded to the UN Climate Action Summit in September.

Another theme from the conference is the need for creative transportation solutions to decrease emissions in cities. Mauro Petrcionne, European Director General for Climate Action, was asked to sum up what he heard at the Mayors breakfast meeting, at which I was a panelist. He said that many people see individual cars as linked to individual rights. “Will we abolish this perception,” he asked. “No, but we can adjust it. In order to do so, we need to rethink the way our cities are organized.”

Petrcionne observed that if people are asked to choose what matters most, the end of the world or the end of the month, they will choose the end of the month ­– their own interests and survival – believing that someone else will take care of the end of the world. The advice he gave us was to avoid putting people in the position of making that choice; create climate solutions that also benefit people’s pocketbooks and their health and well-being.

Heidelberg is one city we can learn from when it comes to matching individual interests and quality of life with addressing the climate crisis. And they’ve done this by focussing on how people move around.

Heidelberg is currently where Victoria needs to be by 2030. Victoria’s Climate Leadership Plan aims, by 2030, to have 55% of trips made by walking and cycling (we are currently at 39%) and 25% of trips by transit (currently at 12%). This means that by 2030 only 20% of people will get around using a car. Sound impossible? Today in Heidelberg, only 22% of trips are made by car. Fully 38% are made on foot, 26% by bicycle and 14% by public transit.

They’ve achieved this by organizing the city around active and healthy modes of transportation. Almost every main street has as much space dedicated to transit, walking and cycling as it does to private vehicles. Walking and cycling are privileged. There are many pedestrian-only zones. And cyclists are allowed to ride both ways down one-way streets making them de facto bike streets; cars have to go slowly and yield to bikes going in both directions.

Side streets are narrow and have a maximum speed limit of 30km/h. I visited a brand new passive house neighbourhood (where all buildings are zero emissions) and the new streets there are as narrow as the streets in the 800-year-old city centre.

“Why did they make these new streets so narrow,” I asked former mayor of Heidelberg, Beate Weber-Schuerholz, who was kind enough to show me around. She replied, seemingly surprised by my question, “To limit cars so that children can walk safely to school of course.”

In Heidelberg it’s not bikes versus cars versus buses. It’s about the freedom for kids to get to school safely on foot, and for seniors to stay connected to their communities. The city is organized for better health outcomes, more money in people’s pockets and a stronger local economy. Heidelberg is alive, prosperous and thriving and their streets are for sharing.

Can we join them? This is the Heidelberg Challenge. Let’s step up our ambition as a community and work to overtake Heidelberg long before 2030. Will you join me? It doesn’t mean necessarily ditching your car (although car sharing is cheaper and gives more options) – it just means thinking differently about what it’s for and when you use it. And it means continuing to build a city that puts people first.

This piece was originally printed in the Times Colonist here.

The Future of Government Street and Other People Places

IMG_4979.jpgPhoto taken standing on the edge of the Hauptstrauss (highstreet) in the centre of town, Heidelberg Germany. 5:15pm on a Thursday evening.

I’ve recently returned from trip to Heidelberg where I attended ICCA 2019, an international conference on Collaborative Climate Action. The conference focused on the role of cities and was a key step in the lead up to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in New York this September. It was an honour to have been invited to help shape the global conversation on cities and collaborative climate action. I learned a lot and will spend the next few blog posts sharing.

In addition to attending the conference, I had an opportunity to study the city while I was there. I made a particular study of the town square and the streets surrounding it. I did this both during early morning runs and in the late afternoon sunshine – between the conference ending and dinner meetings. And, if I squinted hard, I could see the future of Government Street and maybe the rest of old town too.

Cars aren’t banned from the area. It’s just that they aren’t the priority – people are. It was remarkable to see people in cars, people riding bikes, people walking, people drinking beer, all sharing the same space so gracefully. Jane Jacobs calls this kind of urban activity a “sidewalk ballet.” But amazingly in Heidelberg this ballet takes place in the middle of the streets. I sat and watched for a while and here’s what I saw:

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A young child walking her bicycle.

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Two young boys kicking a soccer ball. I didn’t get my camera out until they were a bit far away but they literally walked right past my table, there in the street passing the ball between them.

IMG_4983.jpgA catering truck delivering food to City Hall (building on the left).

IMG_4992.jpgA woman, child and dog standing in the middle of the street.

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A bike and a car sharing the road where only moments before the woman, child and dog had stood.

IMG_4989.jpg A server carrying a tray of beer across the road where only moments before a car had driven.

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And look, she made it without incident!

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I even spotted the mayor! Before our evening event, taking a break in the sunshine.

Remarkably, when I returned to this space one more time to see how it would be used at 9am on a sunny Saturday morning, I was in for a surprise. I expected to find tables full of people drinking their morning coffee. What I saw instead, where the night before had been a crowded street and square full of Friday evening revelers, were parked cars! The town square and streets surrounding it could even function as a surface parking lot if needed.

Businesses are flourishing. People are everywhere. The city centre feels alive! Heidelberg isn’t even a large city – the population is approximately 150,000. Their regional population is larger than ours at around a million people, but they get less tourists per year than we do. So what are we waiting for?

We don’t just need to “close Government street to traffic”, which is a 2020-2021 Action in Council’s Strategic Plan, we need to rethink the whole purpose of Government Street and maybe other streets too. Streets are for people. They are for kids kicking soccer balls and grandmothers bending down tenderly to their grandchildren without any thought of being run down by a car. Streets are for commerce – for the exchange of goods and services, for afternoon coffee, evening beer, for sharing a meal. Streets are for connection and joy.

The most remarkable and moving thing of all – considering the climate crisis we are in – is that running down the Hauptstrauss in the mornings, there were so few traffic noises that I could hear the birds singing, right there in the city centre. Streets can also be for nature.

 

 

Vélo Canada Bikes: The Case for a National Cycling Strategy

Kid and dad on bike

I was in Ottawa recently as a representative of the South Island Prosperity Partnership which had been shortlisted for an Infrastructure Canada Smart Cities Challenge prize. Coincidentally, and luckily, one day earlier, also in Ottawa, was the third annual National Bike Summit. I’m so glad I was able to attend. Even as an already strong proponent of cycling there’s always more to learn.

Every year in Ottawa, Vélo Canada Bikes convenes municipal leaders, cycling advocates, policy makers, academics and industry. The purpose is to keep cycling on the national agenda and to keep the pressure on the federal government (and all federal parties in an election year) to develop a National Cycling Strategy.

Vélo Canada Bikes is asking the federal government to work with provincial and territorial governments, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Assembly of First Nations and additional stakeholders to develop a coordinated, evidence-based action plan tailored to maximizing current and future investments in cycling by all levels of government.

Elements of a National Cycling Strategy would include a national level forum to consult, share and develop best practices, a dedicated federal infrastructure fund, setting evidence-based and achievable five- and 10-year transportation mode share targets, and having Statistics Canada collect data on cycling prevalence and cycling safety.

Why is cycling capturing national attention and why now?

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, provided the opening address and made strong connections between walking and cycling and positive health outcomes. She noted that only 3% of children who live within five minutes of school cycle to school. She talked about the importance of starting with kids and education in schools to create positive health outcomes and life-long bike riders.

From Health Canada to the Canadian Institute for Health Research, to health researchers interested in implementation science, to doctors themselves, Tam noted that the health benefits of active transportation are becoming more widely recognized, especially in light of the rise of anxiety, depression and screen-addiction in young people and social isolation for seniors.

Another reason to push for a National Cycling Strategy is because there are more people biking in Canada now than there were two decades ago. Yvonne Vanderlin from the Centre for Active Transportation in Toronto presented data from the 1996 through to the 2016 census. She showed that in some places across the country, even in places with tough winters like Montréal, cycling had almost doubled in that period. In Victoria, our increase has been 34%. (The neighbourhood of Fairfield in Victoria is Canada’s second highest “cycling neighbourhood” in Canada with just over 18% of people cycling to work.) With more people riding bikes across the country there’s a need for more education, more dedicated cycling infrastructure and a national strategy to guide this.

There’s also a strong climate argument for a National Cycling Strategy. While riding a bike is an obvious way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, bikes aren’t getting as much attention as electric cars when it comes to transportation emissions reductions. Anders Swanson the Chair of Vélo Canada Bikes made the poignant point that Zero Emissions Vehicle strategies are entirely focused on cars. He pointed out the obvious – that bikes are also zero emissions vehicles. The federal government (and the BC government too) are offering $6000 incentives to people trading in their gas-powered cars for electric cars but there is no financial incentive for those who might be ready to ditch a car altogether if they could switch to an electric bike.

Finally, as Victoria’s own Todd Litman from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute told the national crowd, there are the economic benefits benefits of cycling, and these are often overlooked. He began with a Victoria example where we’ve spent approximately $6 million to build two kilometres of bike lanes (and to improve conditions for pedestrians). He noted all the criticism we’ve received for spending this money for such a short distance. But then look how many people that money is moving! He noted that for $6 million we move an average of 2000 commuters on a daily basis (combined daily average of Fort and Pandora lanes). He contrasted this with the Province’s recent announcement of a highway to Sooke, population 13,000. He pointed out that the Province is spending $85 million to move 13,000 people. If you look at dollars spent per commuter moved, dedicated cycling infrastructure makes strong fiscal sense.

Litman also pointed out the benefits to a family’s bottom line of moving to a car-free life. This doesn’t mean not driving a car (car shares like B.C.’s Modo are available when you need a car, or truck, or van) it just means not owning one. Since giving up their car years ago his family has saved approximately $5000 per year. They are paying for their children’s university education with the savings.

He also noted that cycling is good for local business. When you fill up a car, the profits from the gas purchase go elsewhere. With the money saved by not filling up a tank with gas, this is money in people’s pockets that will more likely be spent at local businesses where the money stays in the community. His overall point was that you don’t need to be an environmentalist or a cycling advocate to see the merits of his argument – cycling has a solid economic bottom line.

In just a short morning at the conference I was convinced once again that we need a National Cycling Strategy.  With a federal election coming up, I will be advocating to ensure that this makes its way into the platforms of all federal parties.

P.S. I was honoured at an evening reception with a national award for Canadian Cycling Advocate of the Year, 2019.

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Photo credit: Yvonne Bambrick/Vélo Canada Bikes

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Pandora Street Businesses Celebrate Bike Lanes and Endorse Lisa Helps

The owners of three popular businesses on the 500-block of Pandora in Downtown Victoria have endorsed Lisa Helps for re-election. They say that bike lanes are good for business.

They submitted this joint statement to our campaign:

“As established small business owners working downtown, we hear a lot of discussion about bike lanes, and, occasionally, about how they are bad for our city. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Bike lanes and their added bike parking have been nothing but positive for our businesses and we have seen firsthand how they’ve elevated the health of our community.

We feel Mayor Helps is the right choice for the future of our city. We’ve been in business for over a decade, and in the last four years we’ve been thriving in the climate conscious and business-forward Victoria that Mayor Helps is working to create. We believe in, trust, and support the direction Mayor Helps is taking Victoria.”

Shane Devereaux, Owner, Habit Coffee
Josh Miller Owner, Mo:Le Restaurant
Joe Cunliffe & Heather Benning Owners, Bliss Cafe

“I’m so thankful that these business leaders are choosing to speak up,” says Helps. “The benefits of active transportation that their businesses are experiencing are not unique to Victoria. The correlation between bike lanes, better walkability, and increased customer foot traffic to storefront businesses are tried and true in cities across Canada and around the world.”

Mayor’s Economic Development and Prosperity Task Force 2.0

Today, Mayor Helps announces Making Victoria 2041, a second Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity to hit the City’s target of 10,000 new jobs in Victoria by 2041. Making Victoria 2041 will set Victoria on a path for sustainable, equitable and inclusive job growth out to mid-century.

In the last election campaign, empty storefronts downtown were a key issue. When Mayor Helps took office in 2014, the downtown retail vacancy rate was over 10%. She created the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity to tackle the problem. Comprised of business leaders, entrepreneurs, and students, under the leadership of Mayor Helps, the group created a five-year economic action plan, Making Victoria: Unleashing Potential.

“The most urgent recommendation of Making Victoria was to open a Business Hub at City Hall,” said task force member Jill Doucette. “In less than a month after Council adopted the plan, with no new tax dollars used, the Business Hub at City Hall opened and has been serving Victoria’s business community since December 2015.”

With the help of the Business Hub and the City’s Business Ambassador, the downtown retail vacancy rate is now below 4%. But there is more to do.

“Starting a business, or growing an existing one, requires tough decisions and risks. As a city, we need to keep identifying new ways to streamline our processes and support job creation,” says Helps. “Creating 10,000 jobs by 2041 requires collaboration and concrete action—that’s why we’re creating the Making Victoria 2041 task force.”

Making Victoria 2041 will once again draw together business leaders, entrepreneurs, students and the work of experts across the country to develop a sustainable, equitable and inclusive economic plan for the future.

References

Making Victoria Unleashing Potential 2015-2020 Economic Action Plan https://www.victoria.ca/EN/main/city/mayor-council-committees/task-forces/economic-development-and-prosperity-task-force.html

 

300 New Affordable Childcare Spaces Coming to Victoria

Today, the Helps Campaign is announcing the creation of at least 300 new affordable childcare spaces in neighbourhoods across Victoria. Working with non-profit childcare providers, School District 61, and Island Health, a funding application has been submitted to the Province to fund the creation of new childcare spaces in Victoria starting in 2019.

This announcement comes after 18 months of work with an informal Childcare Solutions Working Group, led by Mayor Helps. In mid-2017, non-profit childcare providers working out of city-owned facilities came to the Mayor asking for help to create more childcare spaces. In response, Mayor Helps gathered Island Health, the provincial government, School District 61, the Chamber of Commerce and the childcare providers around one table.

Together, they developed a plan to be ready for the anticipated announcement of childcare funding in the 2018 Provincial budget.  

“We’ve worked hard together to put an initial plan to address the concern we’ve heard over and over from both parents and employers that access to affordable, high-quality childcare is a key priority for keeping life liveable in Victoria,” said Mayor Helps. “This application to the Province for 300 new spaces is a good start. We also need to develop a Childcare Solutions Action Plan so we can anticipate future demand and develop a plan to meet it.”

Last year, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce raised childcare as a key issue for its members. In Business Matters magazine, CEO Catherine Holt wrote, “The lack of affordable, government-regulated childcare spaces is having a direct impact on workers, families and our economy […] Childcare is a fundamental workforce requirement. But right now there is inadequate space and staff and it is too expensive for a working family.”

The plan for the 300 spaces is to work with School District 61 to provide modular learning units on school properties throughout the city. This will create ease for parents with a child in daycare and a child in school by creating one drop-off spot rather than two. It will also make an easier transition for young children from daycare to school.

Subject to Provincial funding, the plan is as follows:

  • Vic West Elementary School –  2019, Two units plus the gym divider (32 + 25 = 57). It could hold up to 75 new spaces depending on programming.
  • Fairfield Sir James Douglas – 2019/2020, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • Fernwood – George Jay – 2020, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • Oaklands – 2020, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • South Park – 2021, One unit (16 – 20  young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • James Bay – 2021, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.

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.

Wholehearted Support for Songhees Games Bid

Something remarkable happened in Victoria recently. Late last Monday morning I walked into the Songhees Cultural Centre on the lower floor of the Steamship Terminal Building in the inner harbour. I’m not sure what I was expecting. But I was thrilled to see such a packed room. And happy to see so many of my colleagues; there was a least one elected official from each local government across the region.

We were there with local business leaders, media, and community members to throw our wholehearted support behind the Songhees Nation in their bid to host the 2020 North American Indigenous Games.

The North American Indigenous Games were created in the 1990s as a catalyst to support the health and wellbeing of Indigenous youth through sport and cultural activities. The Games today are a symbol of respect, friendship and athletic achievement. The event serves as a powerful opportunity to showcase the rich Indigenous cultures from across North America and to foster understanding.

Teamwork and the practice and rewards of discipline and dedication are transformational experiences for anyone. These are particularly important for Indigenous youth for whom we must all work together as a community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to ensure this next generation has a future full of cultural pride, optimism, opportunity, health and prosperity. Pride, success, celebration and harnessing the strength of their distinct cultures – these are transformational experiences for everyone, but especially for youth on which the Games focus.

Bringing the North American Indigenous Games to Greater Victoria also makes great economic sense. The Games will be a significant economic generator and for the entire region. The Toronto games generated over $44-million for the regional economy. And we expect more delegates than Toronto.

Family members, coaches, and chaperones will come, along with 5000 athletes who will compete in the following sports: 3-D archery, Athletics, Badminton, Baseball (male), Basketball, Box Lacrosse, Canoe/Kayaking, Golf, Rifle-shooting, Soccer, Softball (female), Swimming, Volleyball and Wrestling.

The Songhees dream of hosting the Games is not a slam dunk by any means – Winnipeg, Halifax and Ottawa are all in the running. And the Songhees and their partners have a lot of work to do between now and the bid deadline of March 16th. But there’s something special happening here in the region that bodes very well for their bid: we are united as a region behind them

In his remarks at the event Chief Sam shared with us a word in the Lekwungen language, “NÉTSAMAÁT” which means “together we are one.” This North American Indigenous Games bid is a big deal in an era of reconciliation. It’s an opportunity for us as settler allies to stand with the Songhees and partner nations and to support them in any way we can.

And when they are successful in winning the bid we will celebrate with them, as a community. And when they host the games in 2020, we will stand beside them as they watch their young athletes compete with pride in their culture and with achievable aspirations and opportunities for a very bright future.

Originally published in the Victoria News.

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.