Destination of the Week: Vancouver
City's planned green spaces are the envy of sprawling cities everywhere. Plus: This Canadian gem is ready for the Olympic spotlight.
Sat, Oct 31 2009 at 9:35 AM
BEIN' GREEN: There are many green spaces within the city limits of Vancouver, thanks to smart planning in the '50s, '60s and '70s. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
Vancouver’s urban development has not followed the same blueprint as other major cities in North America. The labyrinth of highways that surrounds most cities’ central areas is noticeably absent from downtown Vancouver. Also missing is widespread urban sprawl.
Vancouver often receives recognition for its high quality of life. The densely populated areas of the city were carefully zoned during the 1950s, '60s and '70s to assure green spaces were part of the equation and the skyline contained views of nature (namely the mountains that sit outside the city). The result was a highly livable and user-friendly (but tightly packed) metropolis that has become the envy of sprawling, traffic jam-afflicted cities everywhere.
Vancouver’s unique design will be on full display when it hosts the Winter Olympics in February 2010. The city and its Olympic committee have taken steps to ensure that the Games are among the greenest on record by purchasing carbon credits (see below) and awarding medals made from recycled material.
Renovated buildings like the new Vancouver Convention Center have been made into low-impact, high-efficiency venues. Old districts, like Granville Island, have been reinvigorated by arts, commerce and culture, not wrecking balls and new constructions. And then there is the strong sense of conservation that has helped to protect Southwestern British Columbia’s wilds (one could expect no less from the place where Greenpeace got its start).
Several years ago, Vancouver started a project to “green” its air travel industry. It has been purchasing carbon credits and will ramp up investment in an effort to neutralize the emissions created by Olympic tourists who will travel to the city next year. Even tiny Harbor Air, which offers flights (mostly on prop planes) to scenic destinations around Vancouver and southern British Columbia, purchases carbon offsets.
Though completely erasing the carbon produced by hosting such a major event is nearly impossible, these ambitious initiatives prove that offsetting emissions is a practical solution to the pollution problems created by air travel.
Once visitors land in Vancouver, they will find it quite simple to skip the rental car counter. Public transportation consists of an elevated train, the SkyTrain, a system of buses, and a fleet of SeaBus ferries. Trips inside Vancouver average $2.50. For those who want to have an even lighter footprint, the city boasts an impressive array of bike trails and a strong bike rental industry.
Also, Vancouver’s neighborhoods, especially downtown areas, are quite walkable. Yes, the weather might turn dreary, especially during the winter, but wearing proper wet-weather attire, as most locals do, takes rain out of the equation.
Vancouver is a relatively young city that didn’t really come into its own until the middle of last century. While new residential and commercial towers have gone up quickly at various times during its development, there is a trend of renovation and renewal rather than one of wrecking and rebuilding.
The biggest example of the neighborhood recycling movement is Granville Island. This former factory and warehouse district is now a bustling retail area with a huge public market, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and performance spaces.
Unlike many similar neighborhoods that were reinvented by artists and craftspeople only to be gentrified, Granville retains its gritty edge. Though the industrial waste was removed, the original tin-walled buildings remain, though they have been thoroughly renovated. The island is one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist destinations and the market is the best place to buy or enjoy some locally grown food.
Vancouver’s hospitality has one foot firmly planted in the green movement’s corner. The Pacific Palisades Hotel, in the heart of downtown Vancouver, offers the usual assortment of eco-friendly features: low-flow toilets and faucets, energy-efficient lightbulbs, recycling and composting. In addition, guests can offset the carbon used to fly to Vancouver by simply visiting the front desk and asking them to “green my flight.” They will calculate the credits needed to offset the carbon produced by your airplane journey.
The Marriot Pinnacle in Downtown Vancouver is an example of a mainstream hotel chain that has adopted green practices. Marriot will enforce LEED standards on all their buildings by the end of 2009. A number of other top hotels in the city have taken steps to improve energy efficiency, air quality and waste disposal systems.
Vancouver’s eco-friendliness doesn’t stop with its hotels and urban planning. The city was the birthplace of Greenpeace and the passion for ecological conservation that characterizes that organization is found at other places in and around the city. The unique geography of the area provides many opportunities for visitors to get close to nature.
The city boasts numerous public green spaces. The most notable, Stanley Park, is one of North America’s largest urban parks. It boasts gardens, a sea wall, and trails through dense forest. Vancouver is ideal for scenic kayaking tours because of the rugged, untouched nature found along much of the Southwestern B.C.’s coastline. The rain forests on Vancouver Island (39 miles from the city of Vancouver by ferry), offer the untamed landscapes that eco-tourists and adventurers flock to this region of Canada to find.
Vancouver is an attractive city, especially for eco-tourists who want to spend their dollars in places that care for the environment. The city proves that, with a little planning and ingenuity, environmentalism and modernization do not need to be mutually exclusive.
Also on MNN:
MNN homepage photo: HamidEbrahimi/iStockphoto