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How One Vancouver Neighbourhood Reduced Their Ecological Footprint

Published on March 16, 2016

A Project Green Bloc participant raking their front yard. (Photo: Mychaylo Prystupa)

A case study from Project Green Bloc

Project Green Bloc involved two ecological footprint surveys, with the goal of reducing the neighbourhood’s collective footprint by 25%. The first was done in the fall of 2013, and the second was done in the fall of 2015. Using the two surveys, participants were able to track their progress and see where they had succeeded, and where they had challenges.

The survey was developed using a formula from Dr. Jennie Moore. Dr. Moore is the director of sustainable development and environmental stewardship at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). With her Master’s supervisor Bill Rees—co-founder of the Ecological Footprint—Moore has been working closely with the City of Vancouver to achieve the lighter footprint targets of the Greenest City Action Plan.

Twenty households signed up for either 14- or 28- day surveys, and the final results were shared anonymously. 8 households completed the 28-day survey (MS Excel format), while 10 completed the 14-day survey (MS Excel format). Two households dropped out.

The survey involved one-time-only questions, including annual energy use and air travel. For the remainder of the survey, participants were required to track food consumption and transportation daily, and record their garbage and recycling once a week.

Although individual results varied, with anywhere from 1.78–5.28 planets needed to sustain individual households, the average total planets needed to support the neighbourhood was 2.79. The goal for 2015, then, was to lower the footprint of the neighbourhood to 2.09 planets needed.

The 2015 survey had 11 participants; two households took part in the 28-day survey, and nine households completed the 14-day survey. Three households started, but did not complete, the survey.

Prizes were solicited from local businesses that focus on sustainable and local goods. These were given out in a random draw, following completion of the survey.

Dialogues Case Study

Project Green Bloc held three dialogues in the first few months of the project. They covered the foundations of the ecological footprint and what was being measured, established connections to the neighbourhood and to each other, and developed concrete ideas to collectively address the neighbourhood ecological footprint.

Key to the process was having local experts attend the dialogues. Dr. Jennie Moore, one of the pre-eminent ecological footprint scholars in Vancouver attended the first and second workshops, answering participants’ questions and offering achievable suggestions. Dr. David Suzuki, former colleague of a PGB participant, also attended the first dialogue to offer his support for the initiative.

While the first dialogue was based on creating a knowledge baseline and connecting as a neighbourhood, the second dialogue allowed participants to start developing ideas that could make their neighbourhood healthier, both at a household and at a ‘block’ scale. Ideas were generated and then voted upon, with participants then choosing to work on the idea that they liked best.

Finally, at the third workshop, committees were formed around the three major projects that neighbours wanted to initiate:

  1. Street greening: remove part of a street to create a park/community meeting area. The park would incorporate greening to maximize food production, beehives or mason bees and other gardening.
  2. Creating a neighbourhood renewable energy project and energy audits for participants’ homes.
  3. Creating a system of material and expertise sharing, based on a local listings website and community bulletin board.

Bulletin Board Case Study

In the fall of 2014, Evergreen and Project Green Bloc decided to build a community bulletin board. The bulletin board would be a place where neighbours could share information, set up material and skill swaps and communicate with their broader community.

Materials and Construction

The bulletin board was made from reclaimed wood and vintage doors.

The City of Vancouver encourages community bulletin boards as a way to foster connections. In its 2013 Engaged City Task Force Report, bulletin boards were specifically mentioned as an easy, and relatively low-cost, place making tool for neighbourhoods. Using regular permitting channels, the permit for Project Green Bloc’s bulletin board took about one month, and cost $275.

Pollinator Pathway Case Study

Our flowers, fruit and food plants rely on bees and other bugs and birds to pollinate them. Due to pesticides and habitat loss, bee populations are in decline. To support healthy bees, Project Green Bloc built a Pollinator Pathway—a collection of planters with variety of pollinator-friendly flowers. With funding from the City of Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Matching Fund, work was started on eight planter boxes that would provide seasonal sustenance for bees.

Materials and Construction

The project was spearheaded by one neighbor in particular, who had bee colonies in his backyard. Design was done by an Evergreen employee, creating eight large honeycomb-shaped boxes. Solid oak lumber was sourced from a local supplier, and pollinator-appropriate plants were bought at local nurseries. The construction work was done by a local contractor.

The planters were installed along 23rd Ave, between Columbia and Yukon streets. Permits were needed from the City of Vancouver, who approved the dimensions and placement of each planter. Approval was also needed from the neighbours whose house the planters sat in front of. Changes were made to the design due to concerns about benches being attached to the planters, and their potential use as spots for loitering.

Street Mural Case Study

A final community place making project happened in September 2015, with the painting of a street mural at the intersection of Columbia St and 23rd Ave. Funding was provided through the City of Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Matching Funds, and covered artist’s fees, materials and street closure permits.

The mural served not only as a physical legacy of Project Green Bloc, but as a chance to tell different aspects of the project’s story. A design charrette was held in the neighbourhood, where participants shared their ideas. They were asked which parts of Project Green Bloc were most important to them, and what kind of aesthetic appeal they wanted the street mural to have. In the end, the design of the street mural ended up highlighting food and gathering, a connection to local water systems and a commitment to non-automobile transportation.

Materials and Construction

Paint was supplied through a City recommended paint store. The mural was painted using outdoor latex paint, mixed with grit to prevent slipperiness and help with longevity. However, the mural is only intended to be short-term, as per City guidelines, and so the paint wears away relatively quickly. Barricades to close the surrounding streets and the intersection were rented through a local tools supply company.

Permits were provided through the Department of Transportation and Viva Vancouver. Although costs were covered through the Neighbourhood Matching Fund grant, they still totaled $205, a barrier for some neighbourhoods. Street closure planning was done through the city at the cost of $170.

Painting was done by local neighbours, primarily parents and their children. Prep started at 8 in the morning, with sweeping and chalking the mural outline. Then, a paint-by-numbers outline was done, so that painters could easily contribute, even if they had little-to-no artistic skill. Over 40 people came out to paint over the course of several hours.

Kitchen Tables Case Study

Two kitchen tables were held, that taught participants how to cook delicious vegetarian meals. Funding was given by the Sitka Foundation. Two chefs from local restaurants gave their time at a reduced rate. 12 neighbours participated over the two sessions. One of the kitchen tables was held at a local community space, while the other was held in the house of a Project Green Bloc participant. The total budget for both kitchen tables, including the chef’s time, ingredients, space rental and some wine was $500.

Want to learn more?

See How One Co-op Improved Their Ecological Footprint through the Lighter Footprint Project.