13 Thursday: Green City

Larry Beasley gave a Forum Lecture on March 2nd, 2011 on Ottawa’s Quest to Be a World-Leading Green Capital He’s the Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver and regularly advises other Canadian municipalities and numerous cities worldwide, including Abu Dhabi, Dallas and Rotterdam. Mr. Beasley is a Member of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest honour for lifetime achievement. He’s also an inspiring speaker and at home fielding questions with grace and detailed knowledge.

Here are 13 things he said in his talk about how to make a better city:

  1. Green design is not about giving things up or being selfless and limiting options but creating access to options that make for a better life. it’s not selfless good, it’s the best for selfish, what people really want. A streetscape that is alive, feels safe, where the air smells good, and its easy to move around and get the consumer goods you want.
  2. how to make green design work

  3. Working in Abu Dhabi Beasley pointed out that its extreme climate is comparable to Ottawa’s or Montreal’s. Even though there is half the year where the streets are comfortable, the U.A.E. city was built for the heatstroke season. His project made parallel systems to get around when it is also pleasant. Montreal has done a lot of work to make outdoor spaces comfortable pleasant places and a parallel underground system for the nastier weather months. In some cities with our climate, although there may be 3 or 4 months of the year not comfortable for walking, the city is designed as if the other 8 or 9 months weren’t either. They are built without sidewalks or human-scale businesses, built for the car on 1950s models of car as supreme and only means to get around.
  4. We need to start the dialogue of what we want. Each town has to go thru it own conversation. Some results can’t be imported. With a discussion led when heads are cool and no money is at stake, we can do an interest-based discussion rather than a position-based discussion on nitty-gritties. We can find common ground and find creative solutions to particular needs and create guidelines for when the cash and contracts do get involved.
  5. He pointed out that Ottawa has had a Choosing Our Future of the initiative of the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau and the National Capital Commission (NCC) to do a long-term plan of how to model our city over the next century. Since 2008 until Fall 2011 it’s asking residents to help and be involved in crafting what a sustainable city would look like.
  6. Beasley

  7. He was talking about on Eden Mills, Ontario which has decided to be the first carbon neutral village in North America. That makes the Eden Mills Writers Festival even more attractive. This town has made a commitment to self-audit, fund winterizing homes, making sure sidewalks work to walk on, all kinds of things.
  8. In particular to Ottawa he suggested we should keep the current Green Belt. The 203.5 square kilometers (78.6 sq mi) crescent of land is essential as lungs, as recreation, as somewhere to keep. London, England let theirs go wild and regret it. It should be maintained. A new green belt of land should be made, something to define the new urban boundaries that would also protect farmland as reserved.
  9. The downtown should be intensified of both Gatineau and Ottawa to keep a smaller footprint of people, like Vancouver, finding what people value, protecting the sun or views, or whatever consultation says we value. In downtown Vancouver 60% of trips are now made by walking and there are fewer cars and more green roofs, such as housing and green roof built over a grocery store. It makes for a more liveable community to have things at hand.
  10. How to fix the subdivision’s short-sighted designs? Urban growth is only 1% a year so it is more effective to fix what we have as well as changing how we built. Community actions to add community gardens, connect cul-de-sacs, create back lanes, subdivide lots, add in-law suites, diversify the type of buildings, add sidewalks, apply for variances to change zoning to add all the city main street features of real stores, not just convenience stores, parks, playgrounds, daycares and businesses that make the work-play-home triangle smaller and more walkable.
  11. Closer proximity, higher density living done right can solve most urban issues: gridlock, pollution, low quality of life, local foods, ideas sparking, sense of community, health problem, rich communities. Studies have found that the threshold for the sweet spot for best sustainable living is at 40 housing units per acre. Subdivisions are typically popping up at 10 per acre. When highrises are 80 feet apart people stop looking at each other across the gap. Closer than that people are uncomfortable.
  12. Clamp down on road building. Expand transit. People will drive less if the public transportation is more comfortable, more convenient and better. Add streetcars and light rail and heavy rail and boat or whatever. Add entertainment systems. Improve the comfort of transit stops. The best options for individuals can also be the best option for the society and for business.
  13. Larry Beasley

  14. Federal government complexes are nodes of offices isolated away from home and play. It requires people to drive. No housing or shopping is near there. Reconstruct the government towers as mixed used buildings, reintegrate street life to treasure principles of proximity. The properties are completely in federal hands so can be done top down.
  15. Ottawa is uniquely positioned because there are national, NCC, ngo and local bodies that all could cooperate. Ottawa could become a creative flashpoint for the nation to mobilize and create a supergreen exemplar, like the athletes village at the Olympics, like renovating an example suburb.
  16. Embellishment and beauty is part of green. . Beauty is a human need. Green planning is making a space work on all levels: economic, social, environmental, experiential.

See the other Thursday 13s

He also spoke with city council while in town. Another thought about the city? draining streets properly.

Quote: “Belief gets in the way of learning. ~ Robert Heinlein

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