Smarter Communities

Farmers-Market-LB0708-4158-1-1.jpgWhere we live, how we get around, where we shop, and what kind of access we have to green space all impact our environmental footprint and our standard of living in huge ways.

Throughout the 20th century many North American cities chose to spread out and build communities dependent on cars. Urban planners call this urban sprawl. Environmentalists have long been critical of this form of development because it leads to higher fossil fuel use and paves over important farmland. More recently, many communities have been trying to break out of this model that leaves too many residents stuck in traffic on longer and longer commutes.

The alternative is building communities where we can shop, play and get to work without getting behind the wheel. This starts with where we live, solutions like mixed use zoning that includes shops and services on the ground floor and homes above, which allows residents to shop where they live. Good public transport and other transportation alternatives, like bike lanes, allows people to choose whether or not they want to drive to work. Finally, lots of parks allow families to get outside and enjoy our shared green spaces.

These may seem like simple steps but it takes strong leadership to transform a car centric suburb into a thriving walk able community. Fortunately here in the Lower Mainland we have benefited from generations of forward thinking public policy. The decision to halt free-way expansion in the 1960s, the Agricultural Land Reserve, and the decision to turn much of the region's waterfront into public parks are just some of the reasons that we are thought of as one of the most liveable regions in the world.

However there is more to be done. Our transit system is struggling to keep up with the growth of our communities and the cost of housing threatens to force young families to move further from where they work and back into car dependency.

We need to continue to advocate for smart long term investments in mass transit, that includes light rail which can be more cost effective than Skytrain, with a stronger focus on connecting the communities south of the Fraser River.

On the housing front we need the federal and provincial governments to start reinvesting in non market housing to make sure that renters can stay in the community. We also need local governments to use their zoning powers to incentives the private sector to create new rental homes and to work with neighbourhoods to be sure that densification does not displace existing residents.

Our communities must reflect our values and be sustainable, inclusive and most of all great places to live. We can do all that through smart public policy with people and our planet at its core. But we know the only way we can get these outcomes is by working together to demand that all levels of government invest in our communities.