Thursday, November 27, 2008

“The Opportunities for Urban Density”

This morning was the Metro Vancouver Sustainability Community Breakfast with discussions around "The Opportunities for Urban Density".

The first speaker was Ronda Howard, Assistant Director of Planning at the City of Vancouver. Her talk focused on solutions for low density areas outside of downtown Vancouver by speaking on three types of densities - 1.)Gentle 2.)Hidden and 3.) Invisible. She stressed that it was important to focus on these areas as land area that Vancouver can spread into is becoming less available and it is important to meet the new housing needs that will arise (i.e. an aging population with home care, new families, etc.)

For the first type of density, gently density, she gave the example of neighborhood centres. Currently in Vancouver these are primarily in the conceptual stage; however, the Kingsway and Knight Neighbourhood Centre Program is one example where the city is working to create a denser and more functional neighborhood centre.

The second type of density, hidden density, referred to the laneway housing that is being developed in Vancouver. The idea behind this housing is to expand on the areas currently put aside for garages and parking and turning them into single family or rental units. Some of the ideas behind this are that caregivers could live behind houses or adult children would have places to stay in the city. This type of 'ecodensity' housing would keep neighborhoods diverse and functional. While I believe that space needs to be utilized as much as possible, I think the laneway housing project is difficult to grasp as very small, shack like houses would be dwarfed by their larger neighbors and could be abused by people using them only as an extension of their large homes, by perhaps using them as guest houses or studios. However, Ronda did stress that many concerns and aspects of this type of housing were still to be discussed and defined.

The final type of density, invisible density, dealt primarily with secondary suites. For example, renting out basement suites. This is already done widely in Vancouver, but can be expanded. Ronda finished her talk by discussing the importance of public involvement in all the planning processes.

The second speaker was Norm Shearing, Vice-President of ParkLane Homes speaking from a developer's perspective. He spoke on locating areas to be developed for urban density, determining the feasibility and appropriateness of the development. He spoke of three projects that his company had been involved with: East Fraserlands, Bedford Landing and Sapperton. All of these projects were done on previous industrial areas. He spoke on finding non-industrial opportunities for these sites and the importance of community involvement in the planning and building process. This involves finding the appropriate densities and uses for the land, providing mixed use, mixed housing and increasing density that would have been marginally developed otherwise. He cited that all his examples were pedestrian friendly and displayed smart growth opportunities.

The final speaker, Jean Lamontagne, General Manager of Planning and Development at the City of Surrey spoke of the opportunities for urban density in the City of Surrey. Surrey has seen large amounts of new growth due to trends in affordability of the area, this growth has been mostly in the form of multi-family buildings and apartments. 41% of the residents work in Surrey; however, public transportation within the city is poor and needs to be developed. The City of Surrey is currently trying to steer away from single family housing to more pedestrian oriented development in high density neighborhoods while supporting LEED certified building and community involvement.

Overall I found the talks to be interesting. Vancouver is currently the highest density residential area in North America followed New York and the planning and organization behind that development is interesting. It was interesting to hear how the city is currently increasing urban density in neighborhoods that are not as dense as the downtown area.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The X Prize

The X-Prize is a competition to find the answer to the question, "What's your crazy green idea?" The public can view two-minute YouTube videos and choose the idea that they think deserves the prize money. The prize has been narrowed down to three videos to be voted on by November 30.

I personally like the video "Energy X-Prize: Reduce Home Energy Usage" (seen below) because it addresses individual's personal consumption rather than a specific technology that can 'fix' energy use. However, I also though The Energy Independence X PRIZE was also quite good with the use of micro-energy to run homes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Environmental Impact of Cocaine

Columbia's cocaine trade not only has an enormous impact on individual's health, well-being and security, but also has an enormous ecological impact as well.

Watch a slideshow put together by The Guardian which demonstrates how the cocaine trade in Columbia is ruining the ecology of the region.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kill the Cardboard Cup

A new campaign created to end the widespread use and abuse of cardboard cups for hot beverages.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Pine Beetle Epidemic in the West

Pine Beetle Video

A brief look at how the pine beetle is affecting forests and trees in the western US and Canada.

Africa Canada Accountability Coalition

The Africa Canada Accountability Coalition (ACAC) was created in response to the November 2008 crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The coalition's message calls on the Canadian leadership to act immediately to stop human suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The coalition acts by contacting Members of Parliament and holding education events, through the support of member and individual organizations committed to the message that ACAC embodies.

Our message has the support of Oxfam, UBC Africa Awareness Initiative, Caribbean African Association UBC, Canadian Students for Darfur, WUSC UBC, UNICEF UBC, Hillel House UBC, STAND UBC and the Alma Mater Society of UBC.

Download the following PDF file and fill it out then send it to your local Member of Parlament (you do not need to pay for postage when mailing an MP).

Monday, November 17, 2008

The New Competition for Global Resources

Companies in the U.S. and Western Europe once had unfettered access to the world’s resources, such as raw materials, capital and talent. However, with increasing demand from India, China, Brazil, Russia and other rapidly developing economies, access is no longer assured.

This report from Wharton and The Boston Consulting Group discusses the ways in which the 'race' for resources is reshaping global business and how key political and financial trends in emerging economies are likely to affect companies doing business anywhere in the world.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Team Earth

Conservation International has released their new Team Earth Digital Magazine. This digital magazine offers an interactive way to see what projects Conservation International have been working on.

This issue highlights:

Bird’s Head Seascape in Papua New Guinea — a teeming coral reef where they found 50 new species of fish, coral and crustaceans, including two new species of “walking” sharks and where they are training a new cadre of conservation leaders.
Guyana’s forests — the source of 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, where they have leased 200,000 acres from the government for conservation, both addressing climate change and providing living resources to the people who live there.
A Climate for Life — an evocative photo essay that celebrates the wildlife, places and people that are affected by climate change.
An on-the-ground update from post-disaster China — where CI and numerous partners are working to protect both the people and the pandas who have been affected by last summer’s earthquake.

It is a pretty interesting way to explore conservation efforts around the world.

Friday, November 14, 2008


A single seat electric car that was released in Japan this past week. The bodywork is made entirely from bamboo.

Read more here and here

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A cute electric car

Echoing Green

The Echoing Green Fellowship

If you have an innovate solution to social and environmental change, consider applying for the above fellowship.

Each year, Echoing Green awards 20 two-year fellowships to social entrepreneurs. Fellows receive up to $90,000 in seed funding and technical support to turn their innovative ideas into sustainable social change organizations.

Application deadline is December 1.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Aspen Design Challenge

Cumulus has created the Aspen Design Challenge - Designing Water's Future competition for students and recent graduates.

''In March 2008, Cumulus adopted the Kyoto Design Declaration, committing itself and its members to sharing the global responsibility for building sustainable, human-centered and creative societies. As one of the first opportunities to demonstrate the strength and reach of design education and students in addressing global problems, Cumulus faculty and students have been invited to participate in the first of what will become one of the most prestigious annual global design events, the Aspen Design Challenge-Designing Water's Future."

Manly Drinking Station

Manly Drinking Station
Originally uploaded by knicole7
A clever public water tap at Manly Beach in Australia.

Encouraging the use of public water and reusable water bottles.