Green Vancouver: A Response

 Image by Tim Shields | flickr.com

Image by Tim Shields | flickr.com

I read an interesting article in The Vancouver Sun the other day about the City of Vancouver’s “brand.” It is something I had not thought of before. They referred to Paris’ brand as “love” and Rome’s as “history”, so what is Vancouver’s? Well, it’s “green,” of course.

Our brand encompasses sustainability, eco-friendliness, mountains, parks, and bike lanes. The article even references that Vancouver is being branded as a “utopia”. If utopia is our goal and we pitch this idea to the world, what is the cost to us as Vancouverites? And how can we continue to create the Vancouver we love, when so many others want their piece of the pie and have more than just a Canadian salary compete for it?

This branding has both positive and negative effects. A negative effect is that Vancouver is changing. It is changing in a way that the very people who made the city what it is can no longer live here. Our branding is so successful that corporate investors and foreign buyers have taken notice, driving the price of real estate and the cost of living way up. “Offshore buyers,” as they are referred as by the Globe and Mail, are primarily interested in the West side of the city, but this has a ripple effect that raises prices all over Metro Vancouver, as local buyers are forced out of areas preferred by foreign buyers.

International investment has driven cost of living and real estate prices sky high as well. In 2013, Demographia rated Vancouver second most unaffordable city in the world, with Hong Kong in first place. Meanwhile, a property assessment released in January of 2015, showed that average detached home assessments rose 12 to 28 percent since last year, with more thousands of units now valued at over a million dollars. The cost of living and of real estate in Vancouver has been continually increasing, yet minimum wage has not risen and the average salary is not enough to afford $1 million plus homes. Vancouver has the highest house prices in Canada, yet our incomes are less than most major Canadian cities.

If property values and the cost of living continue to rise while our working wages remain stagnant, what happens to people who simply want to continue their lives and careers in this beautiful city? Why has our government taken the proverbial back seat on a very real issue, while in other areas of the world, such as Sydney, Australia and the U.K., public interest has spurred direct action?

From a very young age, I understood that Vancouver was continuously becoming more expensive and the chances of me growing up to become affluent enough to own property anywhere near the Downtown core or in the older suburbs, was slim to none. Just last night I listened to a group of my friends swap horror stories about looking for places to live in East Vancouver; tales of 40 people lined up for one small apartment with landlords mercilessly driving up prices due to high demand.

Young adults being priced out of Vancouver is obviously unfair to an entire generation, but it is also detrimental to the city. The current generation of young people grew up in a world hyper-aware of the state of the environment and our impact on it. As a result, this generation is willing to pay more to make sustainability a priority and wants to invest in corporations and projects that encourage sustainability. Pricing the younger, change-making generation out of a city that is bombarded by foreign interests is only to Vancouver’s detriment.

So if our branding of “green” is so important to the city’s overall success and international marketing, then we will naturally come to a point where city planners and governors will have to make decisions to maintain that image. An example of potential dangers to our lucrative branding is increased tanker traffic due to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. More traffic means more opportunities for an oil spill, and remember how well the spill that occurred last April was handled? In summation: not very well. To Vancouver, the damages caused by an oil spill would not be purely environmental or solely expensive to clean up, but also costly to our international image.

Now the city has cause for concern. The entire world is watching what we will do. The pressure is on. It is a shame that it takes a serious threat to our city’s capital to force us to take sustainability seriously. However, this threat is what unites residents, city officials and business. Does it not seem to our mutual advantage to force the making of sustainable decisions in order to maintain our “green” brand? Our city’s image has been valued at over $31 billion according to a report mentioned by the Vancouver Sun article and done by Brand Finance for the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Economic Commission. So if our image alone is worth that much, it stands to reason that the people fighting for a more sustainably conscious city now have a distinct advantage, a useful bargaining chip.

Sustainability needs to be approached in terms of new and existing infrastructure as well as population. Without the people who shaped Vancouver into what it is today by pushing the city towards a conscious and sustained approach to living, Vancouver would never have developed its “green” brand in the first place. Certainly the natural landscape has helped, there are very few places where the mountains run into the ocean with just enough room for a bustling city in between, but the people are truly the heart of the city.

Now the challenge is for city planners, government officials and residents to cultivate a future worthy of our branding, and also beneficial for the people of Vancouver. We must actively shape the city that we want to be a part of. The Vancouver Sun article debates whether the “green” branding of Vancouver will “make us or break us”, but I say we can make it work. If green, sustainable, eco-conscious living is what the world sees and what it likes about Vancouver, then, by all means, let’s carry on along that path while maintaining social sustainability as a driving force for positive change. Let us push for that kind of consideration in new developments and city planning, because if for no other reason, we now know: it’s worth it.