The City of New Westminster wants to make sure it's making decisions in a sustainable way.
The city has embarked on the Envision 2032 process that will lead to the development of an integrated community sustainability plan, which will be a document that uses a "sustainability lens" to inform and guide the city in the future when considering various plans, policies and projects.
"Sustainability is everything," said Mark Allison, a senior planner with the city. "It is social, cultural, it's economic, and it's environmental."
The City of New Westminster recently kicked off the Envision 2032 process with a Let's Talk Sustainability event.
"We are not trying to go back into mud huts," Allison said. "We are trying to maintain a high quality of life."
Mayor Wayne Wright said New Westminster's population is expected to grow to 100,000 in the next 20 years and the city needs to grow properly.
Allison said New Westminster is "bucking the provincial trend" and seeing a growth in the number of children who reside in the city.
"We are going to have thousands more kids in New Westminster," he said. "We are going to have tens of thousands of seniors. So we have youth and seniors to look after in the next 20 years. We have to get started now."
Allison said the planet's supply of resources is decreasing at the same time the demand for resources is on the rise.
To kick off the Envision 2032 process, the city gathered speakers with a variety of perspectives on sustainability for the Let's Talk Sustainability event.
New Westminster resident and environmentalist Patrick Johnstone said cities are part of the solution to the problems facing society.
"They are not the problem. They are part of the solution," he said. "We have to think about how we are going to approach these decisions."
Johnstone said people want to lead comfortable lives, but in order to do that they have to start living sustainably with existing resources - while resources are still available to support the type of lifestyles they want. Although individuals can make changes to reduce their need for products like energy, he said people need to work together to have a real impact.
"We can't individually solve this problem. We need to solve these problems as a society," he said. "We need our leaders to make the real choices, to make the hard choices. We as individuals we are not all leaders. We need to empower our decision makers to make those hard choices. We need to vote for them of course, but we also need to support them when they make decisions that are sometimes not popular. We need to educate them, we need to educate ourselves."
Johnstone believes the city has "some power" because it has its own electrical utility.
He also voiced opposition to the concept of an incinerator saying it may make economic sense at this time but isn't a sustainable way to make electricity.
"I could also go on at length about how burning garbage for electricity is no more sustainable than burning coal is," he said.
Jerry Dobrovolny, director of transportation for the City of Vancouver, spoke about how land use and transportation planning can help create sustainable communities. Vancouver city council recently approved the Transportation 2040 plan, which updates that city's 1997 transportation plan.
At the Let's Talk Sustainability event, Dobrovolny gave a brief overview of the goals and accomplishments in the City of Vancouver's transportation plans from the 1970s to today.
He noted that Vancouver determined in 1997 that there was no room to build more roads or create more room for cars so it had to accommodate growth through transit, cycling and walking trips.
As part of its 1997 plan, Dobrovolny said Vancouver set targets for 2021 that included seeing less than 60 per cent of trips being done by vehicles.
He said Vancouver hit its 2021 targets by 2009 - without tolling or road pricing that had been contemplated to reach those targets.
"We have a history of setting what we think at the time are very aspirational targets, maybe we will get there, maybe we won't," he said. "What we have is a whole series of examples where we exceed those targets and we exceed them decades early. So that's part of what we took into planning for this piece of work."
Dobrovolny compared the Transportation 2040 plan to a tricycle, with the economy, people and the environment being the trike's three wheels.
"The economy for us is the big wheel at the front. The economy is the one that allows us those other wheels to come along behind and allows the system to work," he said. "So a lot of our emphasis has been on all three of these, but really prioritizing with the economy first because that allows us to do a lot of those things."
Transportation planning is about more than mobility, said Dobrovolny, explaining it's also about issues such as health, safety, accessibility, affordability and public life.
Judith Cullington, a city councillor in the City of Colwood, spoke of that Vancouver Island community's success in engaging the community and community partners in the Solar Colwood initiative. Colwood, which received $4 million in federal funding, developed a community energy plan that was aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, showed leadership by installing a solar panel on the roof of its fire hall and offered energy efficiency assessments, grants for solar hot water panels and other initiatives for residents and businesses.
"They work really well," she said about solar panels. "A lot of people say, do we have enough sun? . We have plenty of sun."
Colwood is seeking create renewable clean energy, generate jobs and reduce energy costs through the Solar Colwood program.
Lori Baxter, former manager of the 2010 Legacies Now arts program for the 2010 Winter Olympics and executive director of Greater Vancouver Alliance for Arts and Culture, spoke of the importance of arts, culture and heritage in creating vibrant communities.
In addition to social, economic and environment, Baxter said cultural vitality is one of the pillars of sustainability.
She noted that arts and culture is about a lot of things, including entertainment, education, interaction and business.
"Investing in a strong arts and culture sector is vitally important in order to get all the benefits that can come from that area," she said.
Darlene Gering, president of the 2012 B.C. Seniors Games and former president and CEO of the Burnaby Board of Trade, spoke about social innovation initiatives undertaken at the board of trade.
She said social innovation refers to new ideas that resolve existing social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges for the benefit to people and the planet.
Gering noted that the board of trade's actions included developing new commitments (such as environmental sustainability) and consulting with members about issues they viewed as being most important.
Learning that homelessness, immigration and early childhood development were top concerns from a social sustainability perspective, the board of trade was able to engage businesses in those areas and partner with other community groups on projects.
"They are actually a part of the social fabric of the community and have taken a role in making it sustainable," she said about businesses.
Virginia Weiler, chair of Vancity Credit Union's board of directors, encouraged people to think of credit unions as a community asset that can help with creating long-term vision for the community. She noted that credit unions invest in organizations that improve the social fabric of members' lives.
"We believe that for people to truly prosper they need to be connected to a vibrant, healthy community that is sustainable over the long-term," she said. "Our vision guides us to consider not only how we spend our profits but how we earn them."
For more information about the Envision 2032 process, visit www.envision2032.ca.