Industrial and Economic Vitality
The City of Vancouver has set a high standard in strategic planning documents. The Greenest City Action Plan and the Economic Action Strategy are two examples of the clarity of vision at the City. Both policies have important messages, but what is not often evident is how they relate to one another in practice. The opportunity presented by the City-Wide Plan is to create a bridge between these and other strategic Vancouver documents by providing a concrete spatial plan in which these visions can be delivered on the ground.
One of the first tasks of the City-Wide Plan will be defining how Vancouver sees itself in the world. The Economic Action Strategy makes explicit reference to the significant positive impact global trade has on the city, emphasising the importance of Port Metro Vancouver’s shipping links and the broader Gateway program in driving the economy. At the same time, the Greenest City focuses on a more local scale, calling for urban agriculture and a closed-loop economy.
I believe that both the local and global scales can co-exist in Vancouver and in fact strongly depend on one another. Vancouver’s Gateway functions are essential for supporting the local economy through attracting jobs and investment. Unparalleled shipping, rail and road connections also mean that local businesses have access to opportunities across North American and Asia Pacific. Similarly, innovations in the local green economy can help improve the energy and resource efficiency of the Gateway goods movement, offering even higher standards of service and a more resilient supply chain in the face of peak oil. The challenge will be developing a spatial plan that encompasses both the local and global.
Closely connected to this point is movement through and around Vancouver, and is an issue that will have to be proactively addressed in the City-Wide Plan. There are already strong connections between the aims of the Economic Action Strategy and the Greenest City, which the Plan can help make explicit. Although truckers and biking advocates appear to have little in common, both have a shared interest in reducing the number of people driving private vehicles.
According to the City of Vancouver’s Gas Emissions Inventory, heavy duty vehicles accounted for only 5% of Vancouver’s total greenhouse gas emissions, compared to light duty (primarily private) vehicles which contributed over 30%. In this sense, getting cars off the road will reduce GHG emissions as desired by the Greenest City. Simultaneously, it will lead to decreased road congestion, allowing more efficient goods movements to support the economy. The City-Wide Plan can help draw out these common interests and help to find common solutions to current challenges.
The City-Wide Plan must acknowledge that while public transport, walking and cycling are a viable solution to get private cars off the road, in the medium term at least, there are no viable alternatives for the movement of goods by truck. The Plan will need to acknowledge this by carefully considering residential densities around existing or potential freight corridors and how to facilitate efficient routes through the city.
Another key outcome of the Plan must be the protection and enhancement of industrial lands. While this suggestion is in clear alignment with the Economic Action Strategy, it is also vital in meeting the targets of the Greenest City Action Plan. Aside from ensuring an adequate land base for the envisioned green economy, protecting industrial lands within Vancouver is essential in creating a compact city. If sufficient land is not preserved within the City, industrial facilities and the people who work at them will have to travel further afield, increasing commuting levels and threatening the region’s broader urban containment goals.
Protecting the industrial land base in Vancouver is a challenge due in large part to the high demand for residential development. The defence of industrial land may seem particularly difficult to justify given the need to provide more affordable housing. But cheaper housing is only part of the equation in creating affordability in Vancouver. Employment — particularly high paying jobs like those on industrial lands — is a vital part of the solution.
The City-Wide Plan must reflect the fact that while some industrial areas may have lower direct job densities compared to the more broadly defined “employment lands,” industrial areas create significant levels of indirect employment and provide vital support to local enterprises, meeting their distribution, manufacturing and construction needs. Industrial lands are also essential in realising the sustainable waste management and utilities goals outlined in the Greenest City Action Plan. By developing a clear strategy for industrial lands, the City-Wide Plan can work to meet the objectives of both policies.
I am encouraged to see the Economic Action Strategy’s recommendation to monitor rezoning applications in Vancouver. This is an important first step in protecting existing industrial lands. A further challenge I would pose to the City-Wide Plan is to consider how the industrial land base can be expanded and enhanced in the future. The Plan will have to carefully consider adjacent land uses, ensuring that industrial functions are not undermined by conflicts with neighbours. Supporting design and zoning guidelines will also need to look at how to intensify the use of existing industrial land while effectively integrating these uses into the urban fabric.
The City-Wide Plan is a unique opportunity to create a unified vision for Vancouver’s future and deliver a practical framework for the realisation of this vision. It will undoubtedly be a challenging process, but I am confident the City of Vancouver will rise to the occasion.
Bob Wilds is currently providing consulting services to the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council in the capacity of Managing Director. This Council represents major transportation service providers and has played a key role in advancing the infrastructure needs of this Gateway to the Federal and Provincial Governments.
Prior to this, he was President and CEO of the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association. He was Vice-Chair of the Board of Port Metro Vancouver and chaired their Human Resources and Compensation Committee. He is Past Chair of the British Columbia Institute of Technology and the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation. He has been active in the Transportation Sector for the past 25 years.