When the Economist Intelligence Unit released the latest version of its Global Liveability Report two weeks ago, three Canadian cities were listed in the top five of the 140 cities surveyed. The Global Liveability Report, which originated as a means of testing whether Human Resource departments needed to assign a hardship allowance as part of ex-pat relocation packages, ranked Vancouver as third, Calgary as fourth and Toronto as fifth in the list of the world’s most liveable cities.
The top cities do well on a variety of criteria, including stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. While the quality of the environment is not the only measure that matters in these rankings, it certainly is a major draw for those who live and work in a city. The ability to commute by cycling on dedicated pathways, for example, or to handily access urban green space contributes to community sustainability, ecosystem stability and an overall sense of civic well-being. This is precisely why environmental initiatives should be actively supported by policymakers.
Environmental initiatives are not simply ‘nice to have’; they are must-haves for cities that are constantly competing to attract and retain the best and brightest talent. Cultivating a healthy and vibrant setting for residents fosters economic competitiveness while at the same time protecting and preserving the natural environment. Vancouver, it was cited in the report, has begun work this year on an “Evergreen” mass transit line and is considering measures such as scramble intersections and road tolls to counteract congestion. Calgary, which has previously been named as the top eco-city in the world by the consultancy firm Mercer, has a C-Train system entirely powered by wind energy, as well as one of the most extensive recreational pathway networks in North America.
As it stands, plenty of good work is being done across the country that speaks to ‘triple-bottom line’ policy-making, which equally weighs the environmental, economic and social considerations of proposed policies. Many cities in western Canada, including Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, have formally adopted this approach into their municipal operations as a means of promoting environmental initiatives while respecting the economic and social dimensions of such decisions. Furthermore, municipal officials are finding that environmental initiatives often have positive financial impacts. Reducing building emissions through green design, for example, results in lower energy bills in the long run.
This is not to say we should sit back and rest on our laurels. All cities, regardless of their ranking or reputation, have the opportunity to be greener. With over 80 per cent of Canadians living in urban areas, environmental improvement in cities stands to impact the overwhelming majority of the population. Canadian cities should capitalize on these current gains and focus on the future expansion of environmental initiatives, as indeed many already are. Technologies which were once considered cutting edge—district energy systems, wastewater heat recovery systems and biomass combustion systems, to name a few—are becoming more the norm from Vancouver to Halifax.
Without a doubt, liveability means different things to different people, and a city’s likeability does not always necessarily correspond to its liveability. It can generally be said, however, that environmental initiatives have a positive influence on the quality of life a city has to offer. In celebrating our region’s successes, let’s hope more of the same is encouraged in the years ahead.
Canada West Foundation hosts Bridging the Gap: Shifting Urban Environmental Policy into Action on September 25th at the Telus Convention Centre. For more information, click here.