Visionary Vancouver: creating a welcoming and sustainable place for all

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City Government, Private Sector, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Metropolitan Area

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Ongoing since 2009

The City of Vancouver has been awarded the 2012 Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation in recognition of its Greenest City and housing affordability initiatives.

Known for its commitment to sustainability, Vancouver pursues an integrated approach to social, economic and environmental development, using innovative financial mechanisms and urban design. While the city’s vision is to become the "Greenest City", it is aware that it cannot leave anybody behind and engages in an affordable housing policy and strategy.

The City of Vancouver launched its Greenest City Initiative in February 2009 involving all levels of city government, citizens and business in a variety of initiatives, forums and outreach programs. Substantive green requirements for new buildings, increasing the diversity of housing, and evolving a flexible planning process, are just a few of the initial steps set to ensure that Vancouver becomes a greener city by 2020. The “Greenest City 2020” initiative provides an inspirational vision and ambition with a practical focus, and strong commitment to citizen and business engagement for its population of 603,000. It builds on the city’s long track record in sustainability, but orienting its policies and practical solutions to serve future generations. It has three framework themes – Zero Carbon, Zero Waste, and Healthy Eco-systems.

In 2011, the City also launched the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability. The Mayor’s Task Force role is “to examine conditions that exist in Vancouver which may act as barriers to the creation of affordable housing and the steps necessary to protect existing affordable housing, and to identify opportunities for increasing affordable housing.”

For more information about Vancouver's supportive housing projects, see:

Sustainable Development Goals

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Guangzhou Award

This project was awarded the 'Guangzhou Award' in 2012.

Vancouver, Canada

Size and population development
2011: 2,267,000, 1990: 1,559,000, 2025: 2,765,000, 2010-2015: +1,45% / year

Population composition
the most culturally diverse city in Canada / only 49% of the inhabitants speak English as their first language (25.3 % speak Chinese)

Main functions
industrial centre, transportation hub (seaport)

Main industries / business
forestry, film industry, high tech

Political structure
Mayor and City Council elected every three years.

Administrative structure
Mayor and Vancouver City Council, School Board and Park Board elected for a three-year term

In late 1988, the city launched one of the first-ever task forces in the world to examine the impact of atmospheric change on municipal planning and activities. The result was the June 1990 release of Clouds of Change, a report that described the goals set by Vancouver’s Task Force on Atmospheric Change.  

In 2003, the city launched the Cool Vancouver Task Force. Its recommendations led to the creation of two 2005 action plans: one to reduce emissions from municipal operations and a second aimed at reducing community-wide emissions.  

In the past 25 years Vancouver has been acknowledged as North America’s leader in developing compact, mixed-use communities. Well-designed density has been utilized to achieve a highly livable and sustainable environment.  

Building on the quarter century of innovative planning, Vancouver approved the EcoDensity program in 2008 to guide the city in becoming a “more ecologically sustainable, affordable, and livable city of neighbourhoods.” The approved EcoDensity Charter commits the City to creating a greener, denser city pattern through “greater densities smartly and strategically in land-use patterns, locations and designs where carbon footprint improvements and environmental gains are highest... and where affordability and livability are also fostered.”

Building on these achievements Vancouver launched the Greenest City 2020 initiative in 2009 with 10 goals to address three larger areas of focus - carbon, waste, and ecosystems:

1. Green Economy  

2. Climate Leadership  

3. Green Buildings  

4. Green Mobility  

5. Zero Waste  

6. Easy Access to Nature  

7. Lighter Footprint  

8. Clean Water  

9. Clean Air  

10. Local Food  

With its adoption by Vancouver City Council, the Greenest City 2020 action plan has become the foundation for all municipal policy work. Two thousand people attended the public event that launched the Greenest City 2020 plan. By making use of online and social media support to spread the word, the city engaged more than 35,000 people in web-based and face-to-face activities. At least 9,500 citizens had deep involvement in the action plan process.

In 2011, the City launched the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability a major initiative to ensure Vancouver remains an affordable city for all. The Task Force builds on the City’s record of facilitating innovative housing solutions throughout the city to ensure that there are no “differentiated enclaves” but a city for everyone. For the Housing Task Force, public involvement through on line forums such as Talk Housing and recent ideas competition, ReThink: Housing have generated an extraordinary range of ideas on how new housing might be integrated into the existing city fabric.

Vancouver’s continued focus on sustainable development is exemplified in the development of the Village on the south east shore of False Creek. Developed as a mix of medium and low rise buildings with 1,100 market and non-market homes, offices, retail and service uses, the Village hosted the athletes of the 2010 Winter Olympics.  

A key component of the development was the full integration of green technologies and environmental strategies including, solar heat, passive energy design, a unique neighbourhood energy utility, grey water systems, infrastructure for electric vehicles and cutting edge wetlands habitat creation. As in earlier planning, most of these initiatives piloted in the Village have since been translated into city-wide policy and programs. The Village was the first major complete community certified to the LEED Platinum standard.  

From the Village experience, the City has seen the development industry reach for higher targets than mandated with many new projects achieving LEED Platinum.

To further the agenda and bring new thinking to the City, a number of related initiatives are underway that include:  

- the University of British Columbia’s innovative summer internship program which sponsors 10 UBC graduate students to work on sustainability projects with the City of Vancouver. Graduate students are partnered with a city team and a mentor to investigate and implement one of 10 projects identified under Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.  

the Vancouver Foundation partnership with the City of Vancouver to offer grants up to $50,000 for ideas to help Vancouver meet its 2020 goals.  

- and for existing homeowners there is a Home Energy Loan Program to promote and assist in home energy upgrades.

The Greenest City Initiative is the key component in the ongoing evolution of the City of Vancouver’s planning and development policies first set in the early 1970s. Those policies set the foundation on which the key principles of livability, inclusiveness, density and sustainability were built upon.  

Green House Gas (GHG) emissions have been reduced to 1990 levels and continue to fall, in fact Vancouver has the lowest per capita GHG emissions of any major city in North America. Car journeys within the city continue to decline while transit use has risen by 9% each year for 2010, 2011 and 2012, one of the largest increases of any city in North America, and bicycle ridership and walking are at all time highs.    

Vancouver already has one of the greenest building codes in North America where new development must meet a minimum of LEED Gold standard, the City is piloting neighbourhood scale renewable energy projects, innovative densification of neighbourhoods, and with the Mayor’s Housing Task Force the City is expanding on its work to ensure Vancouver remains a city for everyone.  

Vancouver’s innovative housing policies have created unique solutions to housing the disadvantages, families and others in affordable and purpose built facilities. Using a combination of development and conversion fees, leveraging City resources such as property and working with other levels of government Vancouver has been able to replace ageing single room occupancy hotels with new purpose-built accommodation and provide new housing for families. In 2012, over 1400 new units of housing for the hard to house will have been completed under a unique agreement with senior levels of government which forgoes property taxes in perpetuity as long as the resulting buildings remain non-market.

For the City of Vancouver operations there are four high-priority actions that have been identified:  

- Plan and implement a comprehensive corporate waste reduction and diversion program for all City facilities.  

- Develop a procurement policy and practice that supports the purchase and use of local food in City-run facilities, including community centres and Park Board restaurants and concessions.  

- Look for opportunities to green community events that the City runs, sponsors, and permits.  

- Plan and implement a program to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as fossil fuel use in City-run buildings and vehicles, and achieve carbon-neutral operations.

The Greenest City 2020 Initiative has ten broad but integrated goals which underpin all municipal policy work within the framework of a clear and coherent vision and backed by a deep commitment and capacity to implement innovative sustainability policies and measures. The Greenest City Initiative brings a comprehensive focus to the City’s ongoing sustainability efforts with three themes; Zero Carbon, Zero Waste and Healthy Eco Systems providing the framework for the plan’s implementation.

Guangzhou Award Jury's comments on the winning initiative.

- Visionary Vancouver: Creating a Welcoming and Sustainable Place for All, Urban Innovation Database, (accessed 20 April 2016)

- Visionary Vancouver: Creating a Welcoming and Sustainable Place for All, Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation, (accessed 20 April 2016)

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Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation
Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation

Institution | Urban Award

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