February 19, 2014

What makes a Happy City?


I felt sad when I finished reading “Happy City” the other day. Vancouver author Charles Montgomery weaves together stories, interviews, culture and information in such a compelling way that I felt like a month-long conversation had ended. When I began reading it, I gushed about it on Facebook and with good reason. It has something for any city dweller — from the history and science of happiness and behaviour, to impacts of transportation on wellbeing, to dwelling types influencing social interaction. I returned it to the library reluctantly after my initial 14-day restricted loan period was up, and waited anxiously to get it back until another copy was returned six days late. (I guess the other person liked it even more than I did.) I felt its absence like a close friend.

Continue reading What makes a Happy City? »

October 28, 2011

Nature and night: Moving from the woods to the city

Maple leaves

Swishing through a bed of leaves in Kitsilano reminds me there’s nature in the city, but it’s still difficult letting go of the dense, unique nature around the home in which I grew up.

It’s dark when I get home from work now. I get to my street, and it’s like I’m at the edge of the wilderness. There’s only one street below mine on the hill as it slopes down into the water. From street level you can’t see the lights across the inlet. Those lights are what make the darkness borderline between oppressive and refreshing. There’s just enough of them, and at Christmas everyone lights up their docks and boats.

Moving was easy the first time. I don’t know why — I should have been more emotional about it since I didn’t intend to move home again. I did two years later; I’ve been here again for over three. I’m glad of it though: being in my mid-twenties — a mature adult, one might say — I’m aware of my surroundings in a more intimate, celebratory, pensive way, where I revere and require the nature around me. I would have missed out on this if I hadn’t moved back.

I know it will be harder the second time. I remind myself that I will be excited about the prospect of having my own place. It’s more complicated now, and yet easier: I plan to buy an apartment not solo but with my sweetheart, once his current place is ready for the market and we’ve had more time to know each other. The only disadvantage of this co-purchase is timing, since we’re in agreement about having a bright place near a farmer’s market and a bike route, close to nature. (Too bad Trout Lake is a lofty dream.)

But as we’ve been talking about it more, I’ve been thinking more seriously about the prospects. Oh, not regretfully. I want to. But I’m nostalgic and I’ve spent all but two years of my life living in this house, surrounded by trees and looking out onto a scene so beautiful that people always remark about that aspect when I tell them where I live.

Continue reading Nature and night: Moving from the woods to the city »

March 3, 2011

Green thinking in cities, Part 8: Stockholm

Stockholm Bike Parking at Central StationBike parking at Stockholm Central Station. (Photo by EURIST e.V. via Flickr)

I read quite a great article about Stockholm’s sustainable qualities last year and can’t find it, but here are some interesting new-to-me tidbits I dug up tonight:

This is awesome: the 250,000 or so people passing through Stockholm Central Station every day generate a lot of heat, and one Swedish company has figured out how to harness the otherwise wasted energy to heat a nearby building. The system “lowers the energy costs of the office block by as much as 25%.” (Via GOOD)

Hammarby Sjöstad, formerly a run-down industrial area in Stockholm, has been undergoing a metamorphosis since the early 1990s that has made it a model of sustainable urban development. From waste and wastewater management to renewable energy and active transportation, the community has an integrated plan with strict requirements and ambitious goals. GOOD talks about the community’s use of distributed energy, and it’s pretty exciting stuff.

Check out this Green City Guide on Stockholm’s other offerings, like a green hotel chain and organic treats, clothing and cosmetics.

75th graphicThis daily green blog challenge is in celebration of David Suzuki’s 75th birthday, supporting the David Suzuki Foundation. Please support our work on climate change and safe cosmetics by making a generous donation online now.

Note: I am writing solely on my own behalf, and do not claim to represent the David Suzuki Foundation or its views here.

February 28, 2011

Green thinking in cities, Part 6: Portland

kidical mass southeast portland, august, 2008Photo by cafemama via Flickr

Portland, Oregon has several remarkable traits that make the city liveable and more sustainable.

Portland StreetcarPhoto by contessak via Flickr

The city is well-known for its cycling culture — 3.9% of residents make their trip by bicycle, beating out Vancouver at 3% (we’re not even in second place!). With the city’s investment in expanding its current 300+ mile network, they’re bound to shoot ahead. (Copenhagen still takes the cake by a long shot.) Bicycle transportation planner Mia Birk from Alta Planning + Design was recently in Vancouver to show us the quick and successful improvements she was involved in to bring more and safer bike lanes to Portland. The results? More cyclists, fewer crashes, less traffic. Their process involved community engagement as well, which isn’t easy. The city’s mayor, Sam Adams, was here a couple years ago to talk about active transportation in Portland. They take it seriously.

Continue reading Green thinking in cities, Part 6: Portland »

February 21, 2011

Green thinking in cities, Part 1: Barcelona

This is the first in a series on green initiatives certain cities are undertaking to improve their public spaces and co-create a healthier environment. First up is Barcelona, where one neighourhood is tackling energy use, light pollution, and security with wirelessly-controlled LED street lights. It’s pretty nifty. As someone who has to put up with streetlights shining in her bedroom window and notices when the stars look dim, I’m hopeful this technology will gain traction in our brightest cities. Via GOOD.

Expect to hear about Copenhagen, Portland and Curitiba (among others) soon!

75th graphicThis daily green blog challenge is in celebration of David Suzuki’s 75th birthday, supporting the David Suzuki Foundation. Please help me out by sponsoring me online now.

Note: I am writing solely on my own behalf, and do not claim to represent the David Suzuki Foundation or its views here.

February 10, 2011

Work in progress: Great things people are doing (together) for the planet

Above video via GOOD: Brooklyn’s Habana Outpost is a Mecca of Food and Sustainability

You’re probably familiar with 350.org‘s global citizen engagement on climate change at the local, grassroots level. I love hearing about these social and environmental change actions and, similarly, what self-propelled groups are doing in their own communities to improve their urban spaces, make cycling safer and save beached whales. The power we have as individuals is even greater when combined into collaborative forces. I highlight here some efforts in making our world better that may have been initiated by one person but thrive best with at least one other. I can remember in particular a community garden in Vancouver started by two women that not only resulted in local food, but better relationships between neighbours.

Continue reading Work in progress: Great things people are doing (together) for the planet »

February 6, 2011

Kick the pavement: cities are for people

CrowdsCrowd at Main Street’s Car Free Day, 2010

I made the observation recently that each of us learns to walk, then virtually everyone learns how to bike, then we’re taught to drive. At that point, it’s like the first two are reduced to merely leisure activities or, to some people, hard work. Curious, isn’t it? Culturally, being able to drive and having a nice car is a measure of success. You know, because the bus is the “loser cruiser.” At the same time, being fit and skinny is attractive. They’re a bit at odds with each other, are they not? Sorry, can’t come over tonight — gotta drive to the gym. Whew, now you’ve got car payments, parking fees, insurance, AND a gym membership to keep tabs on. Better get some cheap take-out for dinner.

Whoa, hold up!

How did we get ourselves into this mess? Cities are designed for cars, not people.

Continue reading Kick the pavement: cities are for people »

August 30, 2010

Why bikes are good for Vancouver

Bikes in Vancouver

Cyclists on Robson St. Photo by cabbit via Flickr.

As Vancouver’s City Hall proposes another separated bike lane, this time on Hornby Street which currently has just a regular bike lane, the usual bike vs. car debate fires up again. I don’t see it as a choice of one over the other; we all have to get along. But as a cycling advocate and addict (and the daughter of another — I like to joke that my father was practically born on two wheels), I’d like to share some ways in which bikes make our city a better place, without getting too much into the anti-car realm here. Certainly thinking of these benefits makes me even more resistant to ever using my driver’s license for its primary purpose. The last time I used it was to hand it over so I could test ride a bike!

1. Bikes are the ultimate zero-emission vehicle.

I think we all understand that clean air is vital. Cycling contributes to cleaner air by taking pollution-emitting vehicles off the road. Having fewer cars on the road results in less traffic congestion, which should in turn reduce pollution further. Because bikes require no fossil fuels to operate (let’s not get into a debate over what fuels the human because everyone eats regardless of their mode), there is reduced strain on our non-renewable resources. We all know oil extraction has catastrophic environmental impacts even without oil spills.

Bikes are extremely efficient and use less materials. On the other hand, “These 1,300-kilogram metal boxes carry on average one-and-a-half people, approximately 130 kilos — a mere 10 per cent of the vehicle’s weight” (Yves Engler, The Mark) and require 1,860 calories per mile, compared to 35 for a bicycle, according to the WorldWatch Institute.

2. Bikes take up less space.

Whether they’re parked in an apartment or on the street, riding on the road or a trail, bikes require less physical space than cars. And when you have more space available, this makes room for more useful and pleasant aspects of a city: restaurant patios, parks, street food, community gardens, street performers, art installations, and so on. A parking space is private space, not public, when a car is on it.

Continue reading Why bikes are good for Vancouver »

July 17, 2008

Topsy-Turvy or, I’m Not Dead

Trees silhouetted

In case you’d been wondering, I didn’t die, fall ill or otherwise lose the ability to post to my blog. The desire, somewhat… but moreover I was too busy doing and thinking other things to even remember to post, and when I did I didn’t feel up to it or there was something of higher priority. (I had my New Entry page open, blank, for 12 days.) So why have I been so quiet? Long story short (long story is hopefully coming later but don’t hold your breath), I moved back to North Vancouver from my co-abode in Surrey. That was almost a month ago (my how time flies when one is busy!) and my new-old bedroom is still a mess so it’s been my priority over many things. Everybody here (my middle sister and her family moved back in two days before I did) has been in purge mode and digging through my old stuff I left behind has been eventful and interesting. The cause for the move back home I don’t wish to discuss in detail — so please don’t ask — but is simply that the two of us aren’t together anymore. Nothing simple about that but it’s a straightforward reason. More specifically I guess I could say I moved back home because living solo in Metro Vancouver is incredibly expensive if not unaffordable. So I’m here waiting out the housing heat wave and am trying to be optimistic about it.

On Monday I had a little adventure I’d like to share with you. It needed the above introduction to fully make sense of the context, but it’s kind of like the 8th story in a series because there is much to say for the previous weeks. We’ll start here for now.

Continue reading Topsy-Turvy or, I’m Not Dead »