Mission: Vancouver

Jeff vonKaenel

Vancouver, Canada, is often hailed as one of the world’s most livable green cities. So when the Sacramento Metro Chamber invited me to join the 30-member delegation on a fact-finding mission to Vancouver, I jumped at the chance.

And I am glad that I jumped. The chamber put together a stunning, four-day array of Vancouver’s experts, talking about everything from agriculture to movie studios.

A few hours drive north from Seattle, beautiful Vancouver has implemented superdense development, protection of agricultural lands, energy-efficient buildings utilizing recycled materials for construction, no freeways for people (although they have freeways for fish) and port development in order to fulfill their EcoDensity initiative, started in 2006.

The key, we learned, to creating such a green, livable city, does not lie in the particulars of the Vancouver experience, but rather in well-thought-out policies and the political experience to implement them into successful practices. Care has been taken to develop sustainable solutions that conform to local conditions, since local materials, weather and economic conditions can dramatically affect any proposed solution.

In Vancouver, the city has focused on identifying problems first before searching for solutions. The effectiveness of having smart, focused individuals developing innovative solutions was emphasized repeatedly. Often times it turns out that the most effective solutions are also the simplest.

Policymakers in Vancouver also noted that it’s important to recognize the baby steps, the many minor improvements, that add up to large-scale improvements. Little changes often can and do lead to big change.

Additionally, Vancouver has worked hard to include all levels of government in the decision-making process and has encouraged local organizations working for environmental, economic and social justice to become involved in the process.

A sustainable community is like a three-legged stool. Environment, economy and community are the three legs. Kick out one of the legs, and the whole community falls down.

One of the joys of traveling is that you can often see your own town a little more clearly when you return. While we here in Sacramento have much to do, we are making progress, such as the Sacramento Area Council of Governments planning process and SMUD’s environmental efficiency programs. It helps to have a chamber of commerce that is interested in participating in environmental innovation. Hats off to the chamber and its head, Matt Mahood, as well Los Rios Community College District vice chancellor Sandy Kirschenmann, who chaired the mission.

Bringing the environmental, political and business communities together in Vancouver has paved the way to that city’s sustainable future. There’s no doubt that the same principles will work for Sacramento.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.