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Credit: Flickr / Kennymatic

New book and seminar series considers long-term solutions to food supply, transportation, energy and livability in Vancouver

What will our cities be like in 40 years? Will cities like Vancouver be an inspiration to other urban settings around the world?

The choices we make now will have a huge impact on what we can achieve for when the world’s population has risen to 9 billion, mostly living in cities. This is the subject of The City in 2050: Creating Blueprints for Change, a new book and title of a seminar series created by the Urban Land Institute happening in Vancouver over the next few months.

The conversation began in April in downtown Vancouver, with an introduction by Stantec vice president Michael Kennedy, discussing some of the most important aspects of thinking about the future: how we get to where we are going and how to integrate local solutions to foundational challenges like transportation, redefinition of public space and sustainability of food supply.

“Thinking about 2050, two things have struck me,” Kennedy began. “Maybe it was Olympics, but I got a transit pass. Maybe it took several billion bucks, but I finally started taking transit. The thing is, when you take transit, people talk to you.”

“The other thing is this carrot,” he said, holding up his snack for the morning. “I never paid attention to where it came from. This one comes from California. Do you think in 40 years we’ll be talking about importing these? We used to grow things in the garden. These things grow here too, don’t they?”

Kennedy was followed by a selection of experts on urban planning and sustainability, including SFU Community Trust president and CEO Gordon Harris, HB Lanarc principal Mark Holland and City of Vancouver deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston.

Affordability is the key to livability—and therefore, sustainability, according to Harris.

“We need to pay more attention to purpose-built affordable housing. If we want people to live close to where they work, we need to make it affordable or the system just stops working.”

As well, transportation solutions need to take advantage of a full range of options, rather than seeing buses, Skytrain and other methods as “either/or” choices, he says. For instance, he points to a plan to ferry SFU students up Burnaby Mountain on a gondola rather than using diesel buses that have to cope with steep inclines or which can be made useless in slippery weather.

Meanwhile, Holland’s main point was about setting practical objectives, recognizing that while our sustainability goals are steep, many are easily achievable with only a few percentage points of improved efficiency every year. As well, he focused on the idea of leading rather than reacting to change.

“Our competitiveness and prosperity are at stake," said Holland. "This dynamic will have us change the story.”

This is going to take discipline and rewriting of public interests assumptions, he said, suggesting that the capitalist model of our society will not be able to deliver long-term solutions to issues like food supply, transportation, energy and livability.

“We are going to have to redefine citizenship” with a changed focus on obligations and responsibilities, he said.

If cities have to become more sustainable to cope with population growth, we need to be looking at solutions that solve four or five different problems, Johnston says.

Looking at how the city of Chicago has led innovation in this area, he pointed to things like using photovoltaic sidewalks and green roofs that can eat smog, reducing need for lighting, minimizing heat sinks that cause health problems and provide spaces for urban agriculture to improve access to local food supplies.

“We’re not looking for a silver bullet. We need silver buckshot.”