UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Livable Communities Vice President Research, Office of the Jun 30, 2009

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What makes a community sustainable? is it the effective management of local environmental resources? Or meeting the social, economic and health needs of its population? For the five Ubc researchers in the following pages, the answer is unequivocally both. From tackling water scarcity to environmental health and planning, these researchers are individually working to ensure local communities are equipped with the necessary knowledge to remain sustainable for generations to come. L R S SW liva b le c O m m U N itieS r etU r N  O F tH e N ative SU Sta iN iN g  tH e SW ell FO r  W a N t O F W ater Spa r e tH e a ir Livable communities Spring / Summer 2009 17 Return of the native L R More than one hundred years after being hunted to near-extinction, sea otters are returning to the waters off the West Coast of Vancouver Island. While the return of these marine creatures marks the successful re-introduction of a native species, not everyone is welcoming the sea otter back with open arms. “The sea otter’s return is causing all kinds of ecosystem changes,” says Kai Chan, an assistant professor at UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES). “The changes of most concern to people are that sea otters eat the organisms that their fisheries depend on. The Nuu-chah-nulth (First Nation, of the West Coast of Vancouver Island) has declared its authority and intent to cull sea otters.” Determining what side-effects sea otter culling might have for Vancouver Island’s aquatic ecosystems is but one aspect of Chan’s research with the B.C. Coastal Ecosystems Service Project. The project focuses on ecosystem services – the provision of benefits by ecosystems to people, directly and indirectly – and aims to help community leaders make the best decisions for the long-term health of their communities. According to locals, the sea otter causes a negative impact upon the shellfish industry because it feeds on shellfish, reducing harvest. However, Chan and his colleagues are promoting research that demonstrates the sea otter’s positive contributions to the ecosystem. For example, sea otters are known to prey on sea urchins, an organism whose primary function is to graze marine vegetation like kelp. But when sea urchins become abundant in the absence of sea otters, some kelp forests are wiped out. Chan explains: “Kelp is to the marine world like a forest is to the terrestrial world. If you don’t have kelp, you have a desert. But when you have kelp, you have really productive ecosystems that create habitat for all kinds of organisms. The B.C. Coastal Ecosystem Service Project is concerned about shedding light on these positive interactions that have received little attention.” A consensus on the sea otter’s fate in Clayoquot Sound has yet to be determined. But by equipping local decision-makers with the information they might need to make sustainable choices, Chan sees his research as a direct path to maintaining biodiversity and improving human well-being in communities. The B.C. Coastal Ecosystems Project is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Hampton Fund and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). kai cHaN iS SeekiNg tO prOmOte biODiverSity iN ecOSyStemS WHile imprOviNg HUmaN Well-beiNg iN cOmmUNitieS livable cOmmUNitieS retUrN OF tHe Native  ecosystem services are the provision of benefits by ecosystems to people, directly and indirectly. Ph ot o > R us se ll M ar ke l, U B C 18 Spring / Summer 2009 Sustaining the swell In the heart of Canada’s west coast lies Vancouver, a city world- renowned for its striking natural beauty and high standard of livability. To many, it’s no wonder that the region’s population is expanding – at a significant rate. By 2050, Greater Vancouver’s current population of two million is expected to nearly double to almost four million. For city planners today, the question of how the region will accommodate that growth while ensuring continued livability in the region has never been more critical. The Sustainability by Design Project by UBC’s Design Centre for Sustainability is directly addressing those issues through a collaborative effort that aims to produce a compelling visual representation of what the Greater Vancouver region might look like in 2050 at neighbourhood-, district- and region-wide scales. “A visual representation of what Vancouver would look like in the future allows us to determine how we can restore the green systems,” says Patrick Condon, Principal Investigator. “These pictures allow citizens and researchers to participate in a hands-on way and apply what they know about sustainable communities collaboratively in an effort to provide a new vision for the region.” According to Condon, maintaining livability while accommodating population and demographic change does have its challenges. For example, he notes that Vancouver’s dependency on the single-passenger automobile, which accounts for 80 per cent of all car trips, is antithetical to a sustainable future. While completely eliminating automobiles isn’t a viable option, he does see opportunities for change. “The models for success are places like Downtown Vancouver. In the last 10 years, it has doubled its population but at the same time, trips by car to the area have significantly reduced,” he says. “It used aS vaNcOUver’S pOpUlatiON cONtiNUeS tO expaND, tHe SUStaiNability by DeSigN prOject iS emplOyiNg viSUal repreSeNtatiONS tO eNSUre cONtiNUeD livability iN tHe regiON to be all jobs and no people and now it is both jobs and people, which has reduced the number of people traveling downtown because many of them live there.” Condon believes that strategically locating the new population through densification and proper distribution of services and jobs to create neighbourhoods is only one of a myriad of sustainable solutions, but certainly the most effective in the short term. He adds: “Vancouver is advantaged by its growth. For places that aren’t growing at all, it’s much tougher to get those kinds of changes because you have to basically rebuild all the buildings at great additional cost.” Through consultation with numerous stakeholders, the project will result in a 10m x 15m wall-size map that will provide proven tools and strategies that are appropriate to deploy at the regional scale. The map is expected to be ready in 2011. The Sustainability by Design Project is funded by numerous organizations including the City of North Vancouver, Real Estate Foundation of B.C., the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), the Landscape Architecture Canada Foundation, the Vancouver Foundation, UBC, Transport Canada and Western Economic Diversification Canada. “ a visual representation of what vancouver would look like in the future allows us to determine how we can restore the green systems.” L S livable cOmmUNitieS SUStaiNiNg tHe SWell Spring / Summer 2009 19 It all started with a fluke lightning strike in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park during one of the driest summers on record. A spark ignited, and the flame spread quickly, forcing the evacuation of 45,000 residents and consuming 239 homes within days. For residents, the Okanagan wildfires of 2003 became well known as one of the worst disasters to ever affect the region. John Wagner, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber School of Arts & Sciences, remembers the wildfires well: “I had never thought of the Okanagan as a place facing major water scarcities until the fires. I recall thinking that some real changes were needed to the way people manage water here.” That desire to change the Okanagan’s water governance strategies prompted Wagner to focus his research on the history of water management practices in the Okanagan. His project,  “From Abundance to Scarcity: the Political Ecology of Water Use in the Okanagan Valley,” aims to ultimately inform policy-makers on the best solutions for effective water governance in the Okanagan. The Okanagan will experience significant water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, says Wagner. Although less precipitation may not be a major contributor, water will be needed throughout a longer irrigation season since snow will melt earlier and many reservoirs will be exhausted by September. As scarcity becomes more of an issue each year, Wagner sees the need to address significant questions around the fair distribution of this increasingly limited resource. Water licensing in the Okanagan, which is based on provincial legislation and policy, has created important historical inequalities in the area in regard to water distribution. Under existing legislation, the first people to apply for and obtain a license have priority rights. Wagner explains: “Farmers and settlers took out all the early water licenses – the system was created for their benefit – but Indigenous communities were not able to apply for licenses and their pre-existing Indigenous rights were not recognized. This is an outstanding grievance that is going to have to be addressed at some point.” Examining effective water governance strategies on an international scale is one way that Wagner is tackling fair and sustainable water allocation. He sees a multi-level distributed system that allows a network of institutions to cooperatively govern water use as a viable approach to Okanagan’s water scarcity issues in the short term and an opportunity for significant improvements to water sustainability in the long term. “From Abundance to Scarcity: the Political Ecology of Water Use in the Okanagan Valley” is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). For want of water jOHN WagNer iS UNeartHiNg a myriaD OF SOlUtiONS FOr eFFective Water gOverNaNce iN tHe OkaNagaN L W www.footprintstandards.org Originated by Ubc School of community and regional planning professor William rees, the ecological Footprint concept measures human demand on the earth’s ecosystems with earth’s ecological capacity to regenerate. FOr WaNt OF Water livable cOmmUNitieS 20 In 1994, Metro Vancouver was the first regional district in Canada to develop and adopt the Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP). The plan detailed aggressive measures to reduce tail-pipe emissions, a primary cause of air pollution in the area. As a result, residents of Vancouver enjoy air quality that is better than it was 20 years ago even as population numbers skyrocket and economic activity booms. However, despite substantial improvements to the city of Vancouver’s air quality, establishing the most effective solutions that benefit the maximum number of people still has a long way to go. “The air quality is better in Metro Vancouver than in the Fraser Valley because of the AQMP but these measures have shifted the pollutants downwind,” says Douw Steyn, Professor, Department of Earth & Ocean Sciences at UBC Vancouver. “Whereas two decades ago, the most polluted places in the Fraser Valley used to be Port Moody to Maple Ridge, it’s now Chilliwack to Hope.” The evolution of pollution in the Greater Vancouver Regional District is the subject of Steyn’s research project “Modelling in Support of Management: Photochemical Air Pollution in the Lower Fraser Valley, B.C.” Specifically, he is using computer modeling to understand the chemical composition of emission patterns and what their changes as a result of the AQMP can tell us about tackling pollution in the future. Steyn explains that Vancouver’s air pollution problems are the result of meteorological and chemical factors. For example, the region’s location between the coastline and mountains produces a land-sea breeze that traps air and allows pollution to build up from day to day until it is pushed further downwind. In addition, while technological advances like catalytic converters have removed volatile organics in tailpipe emissions, they have not been able to remove another category of pollutants called oxides of nitrogen, resulting in a changed chemical mixture whose chemical reactions are much slower. By understanding these complicated factors, Steyn believes more effective solutions to air pollution can be developed. As Steyn tackles air pollution’s composition, Michael Brauer, Professor, School of Environmental Health at UBC Vancouver, is also busy helping inform Metro Vancouver’s AQMP by looking at the relationship between pollution hotspots and health. His research is actively drawing links between health complications, including low birth weight, pre-term babies, asthma and adult cardiovascular disease, in areas that are affected by residential wood burning or large amounts of vehicle traffic. “There’s a bit of a paradigm shift from the more traditional approaches to managing air quality, like reducing the sources. All that is great but if you have 50,000 vehicles passing by your home everyday, you’re still going to have a problem,” says Brauer. Brauer points to Knight Street in Vancouver as an example of an area that is a major truck route but is also heavily populated with schools and homes. However, he suggests this example is one of many that exist in most metropolitan cities, which is why the need for best practice guidelines is so important. “Our research has resulted in urban planning guidelines that have been adopted by the Ministry of Environment and are integrated into Metro Vancouver’s AQMP. These guidelines specify that locating schools and long-term care facilities along major traffic hotspots should be avoided and gives guidance on how close is too close and how busy is too busy,” says Brauer. Both Steyn and Brauer’s research are expected to play key roles in shaping the future of Metro Vancouver’s AQMP as well as to the continued improvement of air quality in the GVRD. Douw Steyn’s research is funded by the BC Clean Air Research Fund (through the Fraser Basin Council), the Fraser Valley Regional District, Metro Vancouver and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Michael Brauer’s research is supported by Health Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and others. Spare the air DOUW SteyN aND mike braUer are lOOkiNg tO iNFOrm tHe Next pHaSe OF metrO vaNcOUver’S air qUality maNagemeNt plaN iN aN eFFOrt tO reDUce tHe Negative eFFectS OF regiONal air pOllUtiON L S “ Whereas two decades ago, the most polluted places in the Fraser valley used to be port moody to maple ridge, it’s now chilliwack to Hope.” livable cOmmUNitieS Spare tHe air Ph ot o > Er ic  T ho rk el ss on Spring / Summer 2009


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