Gregor Robertson got religion about the environment back in 1990 when he was doused by chemicals in a farming accident. As he has evolved from organic farmer to green entrepreneur of Happy Planet Foods, to politician, his reputation has turned a vibrant shade of green.
Now Vancouver’s new mayor is confident he’ll be able to keep pushing the city as a model of meet high LEED standards, Robertson notes. This is part of a long-term solution that will add to the short-term goals of increasing shelter beds, outreach services and affordable rental housing.
When it comes to sustainable housing in general, Robertson doesn’t think EcoDensity goes far enough. “EcoDensity has some great ideas, but until now, affordability was left out of the picture,” he says. He aims to change that.
The new mayor’s boldness doesn’t surprise some who know him well. “Robertson adapted extremely well to the learning curve when he took on provincial politics,” notes Anne Paxton, his legislative assistant for three years when he was in caucus with the provincial NDP. “And he walks the talk on the green side. He was a paperless MLA, which was unique.” But Robertson’s biggest asset as he travelled B.C. as a politician was his ability to listen to the public, she says.
This skill will come in handy when deciding which neighbourhood sustainability projects the city should provide seed money for, such as community gardens or carpool clubs, through the proposed $100,000 Green Neighbourhoods Grant Fund.
This project shows the city is taking more steps along the trail broken by the One Day program, which emphasizes small projects and behavioural changes to help improve sustainability. “This is about reducing the local environmental impact on a neighbourhood scale,” Robertson says.
The fund won’t apply to private businesses, but as these kinds of projects filter through the city, it’s bound to provide inspiration to the private sector.
“The prior administration lost the pulse of what was possible, but Gregor has it,” says SFU business professor Boyd Cohen, who is helping develop a forum for green business and investment at SFU Harbour Centre.
“We often feel that the city is a real leading edge-city and like to thump our chests, but there are cities ahead of us,” Cohen says, pointing to Portland, which he says has a better transportation system and more advanced green roof standards.
Cohen adds he has faith in Robertson’s potential to make Vancouver a leader in sustainability and a hot spot for green companies, pointing to his proven background in green entrepreneurship.
If faith can go a long way, especially in tough times, then Gregor’s sustainability priorities seem to deserve it.