Category Archives: Environment

Reshaping Victoria’s Economy for a Sustainable Planet

An expert panel discusses how our municipal government could help build a more economically vital and ecologically resilient community



There have long been gaps between the vision most of us have for a socially responsible, environmentally “green” Victoria, and the high-priced, unbridled growth towards which the dominant economic forces in this region steer us. This gap was identified in city staff’s own analysis of Victoria’s Official Community Plan (OCP), and grows wider daily through disagreements over everything from new condominium high-rises to mega-yacht marinas.

In sustainable governing parlance, such gaps can ideally be bridged by making all development decisions with equal consideration for economic, social and environmental impacts, or “triple bottom line” accounting. Unfortunately, in its current OCP consultation process covering issues like urban design, energy and emissions, local food sustainability, and economic development, the City inscrutably failed to request that its economic discussion paper provide any triple bottom line analyses (see “Visioning Our Future or Our Pipe Dream?” in May’s Focus). Yet, obviously, economic decisions frequently drive bulldozers right through the most beautiful of our food sustainability and urban design dreams.

So Focus and Transition Victoria recently brought together an expert panel to brainstorm how the municipal government could help transform Victoria’s economy and economic decisions to be more in line with the social and environmental values which our citizens have overwhelmingly given voice to over the years. Continue reading

Visioning Our Future or Our Pipe Dream?

There’s a problematic gap between what many people want to see in Victoria’s Official Community Plan, and what traditional urban economics dictates.


As the public participation component of Victoria’s Official Community Plan process officially launched, the air felt heavy with irony. It was only March, but fans were already fighting mugginess in the glass-roofed Crystal Garden, serving as a constant reminder of the preceding century of haphazard government “planning” that built a downtown saltwater swimming pool which became ­a tropical botanical zoo and then an ill-fated geographic museum and finally a less-than-ideal conference centre dependent on the public purse.

Nevertheless, as I participated in the municipality’s “Shape Your Future Victoria” event, the energies of an increasingly concerned and engaged population were stirring inspiration. Continue reading

The Politics of Parking

We’re paying a lot for parking. An awful lot.


Years ago, I was awaiting the fate of a grant application before Victoria city council to help build a community garden. Instead, council got bogged down debating a developer’s building permit and re-zoning application.

The developer wanted a reduction in the number of parking spaces required in favour of more room to expand his apartment building. Discussion ensued about the number of people moving in, the number of cars they’d own, the limited availability of street and store parking in this high-traffic area, and our tight, expensive rental market.

It seemed mundane. Recently, though, an opinion article prompted me to investigate the politics of parking, and it dramatically shifted my perspective.

Most of the article’s arguments and statistics were based on Yale University urban planning expert Donald Shoup‘s intriguing book, The High Cost of Free Parking. Reading Shoup’s analyses, it suddenly seemed bizarre that, even though I’ve long been aware of the many damaging environmental and economic impacts from cars, I hadn’t thought much about the role of parking. Continue reading

Everything for Show

Our elections have ever less substance–and maybe that’s becoming true of us, too.

There’s an empty vacuum in the middle of our elections.

For years, the honesty and humanity of candidates has been evaporating, leaving behind only superficial posturing. Then, substantive issues and investigative, truly critical media were sucked of vitality, leaving behind only vague generalities and simplistic soundbites. But startlingly, during our most recent election, even we ourselves started dissolving, by attaching ourselves to ephemeral, non-substantive issues, and allowing ourselves to be treated as a largely imaginary electorate. Continue reading

Disaster for Sale, 15% Reduced!

I was contemplating how to stay healthy while preventing environmental catastrophe, as I’m wont to do these days. The bus to the ferry stopped next to a billboard. It was a bad omen, fitting for the times.

Nestle, the world’s largest bottled water seller (owning Perrier, S. Pelligrino, Vittel etc) wanted me to know about their “Eco-shape” bottle for Pure Life water. It uses 15% less plastic than some water bottles. A whopping 15%! Nestle added that this 15% less waste allows each of us consumers to positively “make a difference” in the world. (In U.S. ads it’s 30% — those bigger Texan bottles?)

Unfortunately, widely-publicized research has been reminding us recently of the enormous waste, pollution and carbon emissions bottled water production and distribution generate, even while most North Americans can access cheap, safe, efficient public water supplies. Also, bottled water cleanliness is spotty, and recycling of plastic bottles is itself messy and inefficient.

So, from where I was sitting, the most remarkable facet of this ad campaign was that Nestle could run it without fear of being openly mocked throughout our media. Apparently, the corporate ad executives and expert package designers who daily take the pulse of the masses know something: Despite our awareness of the depth and breadth of the environmental and health crises we’re facing, we’re still eager to swallow inane sales pitches and flimsy quick-fixes hook, line and sinker.

Why? Continue reading