Tackling the biggest problem of all

CityStudio’s Executive Director and Co-Founder, Duane Elverum, shares his response to the City of Vancouver’s report and recommendations for addressing the climate emergency.

It is exciting to live in and be part of a city that recognizes the urgency of the time we’re in.

Yesterday at Vancouver City Hall, city staff shared their Climate Emergency Response report and recommendations with city council, detailing how the city would need to act in response to the climate emergency declared earlier this year.

The report outlines a very ambitious plan to put Vancouver on track to hold warming to 1.5 degrees celsius by 2050. I had the opportunity, along with 27 other members of the community, to respond to the report at the Council Meeting.

Sharing what I said to council, I think the proposed 6 Big Moves plus 53 quick actions present a strong start and CityStudio is ready to support staff in its implementation.

But I also think it’s important to ask if we’re working on the best possible problem. It’s part of CityStudio’s manifesto: “We find better problems to solve.”

I think of our good friend Dave Ramslie, who said, “if you like problems, it’s a good time to be alive.”

We are certainly in support for this plan to work on the biggest problem of all, but as we wait to get started, it’s important to ask if we’re working on the best possible problems.

And if it’s true that we only have 10.5 years to do this work, as ambitious as this plan is, is this the plan that will get Vancouver there? Here are a few questions that can amplify some important opportunities in the plan:

  1. The policy that creates jobs is climate policy: in Big Move #1 Walkable City, how can we foreground and examine the possibilities for the elusive “local job”? What would that mean for us as a city to set this as a goal? What would it mean to create a Vancouver Basic Income?

  2. Land-use policy is climate policy. People need to move, but we can’t move our way out of the 2 degrees warming. In Big Move #2 Speed and Efficiency, it is taken for granted that we’ll move more and faster. What would it mean to take on the deeper challenge of simply moving far less?

  3. Transportation policy is climate policy. There’s considerable evidence showing that energy saving and efficient technologies can significantly increase the undesired outcomes as we do more and more of the efficient activity. The effect is hidden and amplified in Big Move #3 Zero Emissions, because the manufacture cost of the embodied carbon footprint of zero emission transportation is externalized (because it is created in the countries of manufacture). Therefore, we’re not counting the true carbon load of this move. If we’re going to design increased movement into this plan, how can we improve our full-cost accounting to include non-local embodied carbon in electric vehicle carbon counting?

  4. There’s a strong, overdue call for massive increase in new trees and wetland restoration in Big Move #6 Negative Emissions, but for the sake of students and citizens everywhere, can we please call it what it is: Biology and Life Systems? We haven’t come close to understanding how to let these systems do the heavy lifting for us over the next decades.

  5. Lastly, all levels of government need to re-examine the laws that hold intergovernmental jurisdiction in place, which can frequently block smart policy and systems change generally. What role can the city play in leading a new era of integrated governments that these big moves will ultimately require?

These questions aim to support and improve on Vancouver’s ambitious plan.

As a matchmaker between City of Vancouver staff and our 6 Vancouver partner schools, CityStudio offers a key value for the city: we are able to increase problem distribution to more youth, more citizens and more experts. City staff bring their work plan challenges and needs to us and we translate them into problems that the schools can use their expertise on. Teams of city staff, students, faculty and citizens then refine the problem and co-create projects together that contribute to all strategic areas.

A few examples are:

  • Electric vehicle charging with Engineering, Sustainability and BCIT;
  • Settlement services with Vancouver Immigration Partnership and Langara Nursing;
  • Reducing bike theft with the VPD and Emily Carr Animation;
  • Increasing voter turnout with SFU Semester in Dialogue at CityLab;
  • Urban ecosystem restoration with Parks, Sustainability and UBC Earth and Ocean Science.

Since our launch, we’ve developed 782 projects with 250 City Staff and 5,611 students, who have contributed over 148,000 hours to city staff work plans.

This summer we’ll start working on the new City-Wide Plan, bringing the student voice into this important process. Students want to join us and tackle the hardest problems; they want to fix the planet; and they want to earning a living that will let them stay in their city. All reasonable ambitions.

As we prepare for a new term to begin Fall 2019 at CityStudio, we look forward to continuing this work together with the City of Vancouver, students, faculty and community members. We’re excited to see how these Big Moves create new opportunities for students to use their voice, skills and knowledge to advance climate action in Vancouver.