Useful ideas for greener cities from the Canada West Foundation

A recent report from the Canada West Foundation provides some constructive suggestions for improving urban environmental performance. With a focus on western Canada but with an approach that can be useful to a much broader audience, the report starts by noting that

As long as decisions that affect our urban areas are based on short-term returns, we will never have truly great (not to mention green) cities in western Canada.

This naturally leads to the recommendation that ‘truly great cities’ are

only possible if residents and policymakers shift their focus from the initial costs and challenges of implementing new approaches to the long-term benefits. We have to curb our impatience and be willing to pay upfront for benefits that take time to accrue.

The well-written report identifies barriers as well as opportunities to successful urban environmental policies. Among the latter are:

  • The development of a long-term green growth strategy that integrates the health of the environment and the economy. The strategy should be developed through genuine resident and stakeholder engagement, be a decision-making tool that provides a clear roadmap of where the city should go and how to get there and recognize the jurisdictional challenges cities face vis-à-vis their provincial governments.
  • The inclusion of more rigorous environmental measures in building codes, the implementation of retrofit programs and environmental certification of new city-owned buildings. As significant users of energy and other resources, changing the way buildings are constructed and operated can result in demonstrable improvements to urban environmental performance.
  • The use of green incentives and pilot projects to encourage environmental action. When used wisely, green incentives can promote the use of best environmental practices, spur the market to reach desired outcomes, and find innovative, win-win solutions to urban environmental challenges. The use of pilot projects that clearly demonstrate the “doability” and benefits of green initiatives are essential to convincing skeptical residents, builders and policymakers.

The report also notes that all of these options are subject to a fundamental caveat: they should only be pursued after

  1. solid return-on-investment (ROI) analysis confirms that the short-term costs are likely to be outweighed by the long-term benefits; and,
  2. appropriate measurement and reporting mechanisms are in place to assess the outcomes of the policy changes.

Better data on economic returns and quality of life improvements will, in part, address the missing link, but it will be up to citizens to forego instant gratification in favour of benefits that take time to materialize. Against this background, the report notes that each of the options outlined is relatively easy to implement (their italics)! GallonDaily is particularly attracted to the headline embedded in the report: Cities have the opportunity to create a virtuous circle toward green growth.

The report is available for download from http://cwf.ca/publications-1/the-missing-link

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