Raphael Lopoukhine. North Shore News. North Vancouver, B.C.: Jan 25, 2008. p. 3

Defining the terms of sustainability

HOW to create a desire for change was an underlying concern surrounding a Sunday afternoon workshop about sustainability on the North Shore.

The volunteer-organized Legacy North Shore conference at Capilano College brought some of the leading North Shore environmental and social advocates together to discuss ways to enhance the dialogue around sustainability.

The term "sustainability" used by the participants is usually defined as having a healthy environment, economy and community life, now and for future generation.

Many, if not all in attendance, believe the current lifestyle of most North Shore residents is not sustainable. They point to leading scientists who say we must reduce our carbon emissions by upwards of 70 per cent by mid-century to avert dangerous climate change. Yet Canada's emissions are only projected to increase.

In attendance Sunday was an array of social, environmental and business advocates, as well as the three North Shore mayors who, they made clear, were there as private citizens. City of North Vancouver Couns. Bob Fearnley and Pam Bookham and District of North Vancouver Couns. Alan Nixon and Mike Little were also in attendance along with a variety of staff from the North Shore municipalities.

One of the first comments to surface from the floor of 70 or so attendees was about a conflict seen often at North Shore council meetings, where rezoning is sought for increased density.

Today's sustainable urban planning calls for increased residential density, especially along main traffic corridors. The increased density, boosters say, creates market-based affordable housing while the concentrated grouping of citizens justifies community services and investments in public transit, while it also fosters an environment where local businesses can grow, which all reduce the dependency on the car.

Critics usually see the increased density as a fast buck for developers, while the single family character of the block is ruined, traffic only increases and bus service, which is controlled by another level of government, doesn't improve.

"The people who want more housing that is affordable are talking about density, and the people see that as more cars, so there is a long road from A to B," said Donna Stewart, the chairwoman of the Community Housing Action Committee.

In an Ipsos Reid survey of residents in the District of North Vancouver, more than nine in 10 respondents said they were concerned about sustainability, but only four per cent said highrises are the type of housing the district needs (townhouse and duplexes toped the list, followed by affordable housing). As well, 16 per cent of respondents (the second most common answer) said they hoped the district was the "same as today," 25 years from now, while five per cent said off the top of their heads that they hoped it's a "sustainable community."

On the one hand, many residents on the North Shore are concerned about issues like climate change that left unchecked threatens quality of life, but on the other are wary and skeptical about solutions that question and challenge a comfortable way of life.

Little said he attended the workshop to better understand ways to encourage behavioural change in his conflicted community.

"In our community, we have people who are extremely diligent about sorting out their recyclables, but then they wear that as a badge of honour when they move on from a small car to an SUV," said Little in one of the break-out sessions.

It is a fine line balancing the needs of long-term residents, while trying to explain to them that some change is required and ". . . sometimes that change can involve some density," said Walton in the same break-out session. "We have to get people to live differently and live on a smaller footprint, but we can't necessarily do that living the way we have lived since the 1950s," he added.

Developing a road map towards an inclusive vision of sustainability is challenging, and incorporating the many North Shore voices in the hopes of moving beyond the differences is a driving goal behind Legacy North Shore.

"It's not an easy job," said organizer Sabine Jessen, who is also the national manager of the Oceans and Great Freshwater Lakes program for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The goal is to create a "scalable strategy which can transform barriers that lead to behavioural changes," said one of the volunteer leaders of the workshop, Charles Holmes, who is also a facilitator with the Dalai Lama Center for Peace Studies.

One of the assumptions often made in trying to raise awareness about integrating sustainability is that with perfect information, people will want to change. That is not always the case, especially with global warming which is often described as a tragedy of the commons, meaning everyone assumes someone else will fix it.

Holmes said the approach he would like to encourage is that those who lead by example can encourage their neighbours and friends to do the same. Legacy North Shore is hoping that those in attendance would be those North Shore leaders.

Halfway through the workshop, Legacy North Shore broke into the four sub groups that will form the crux of the group's future efforts. Volunteers will be engaged in asset mapping, to document all the sustainability related assets on the North Shore like eco- friendly businesses. Another group will focus on vision making to create a North Shore wide vision for sustainability. A third group will tackle creating a cohesive North Shore voice to push for sustainability at the municipal level. The fourth group will work to develop climate change policies, and has received a $10,000 grant from the district to help them craft policies.

Colour Photo: Raphael Lopoukhine, North Shore News / Participants consider the future at the volunteer-organized Legacy North Shore conference at Capilano College Sunday. ;