In fighting climate change, an opportunity to create a vibrant network of neighbourhoods

By Brent Janic, the Globe and Mail, June 8, 2020

Urban planner Andy Yan senses an opportunity for cities to consistently decrease greenhouse-gas emissions, intrigued by the pandemic’s impact on a wide range of employees who no longer have to commute to work.

In his neighbourhood on Vancouver’s east side, as he works from home, he ponders the implications for fighting climate change.

While many downtown condo dwellers already live close to their offices, his community vision is to position work, home and shopping much closer together, with clusters of vibrant neighbourhoods.

“We have hope for flattening the curve against COVID-19, and I have this idea of crushing the commute and also creating a network of neighbourhoods,” said Mr. Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s city program.

“This isn’t to say that central business districts are done, but with a lot of white-collar workers now desiring the option of working from home, that could change the idea of what could happen in their neighbourhoods.”

The urban planner and demographer thinks flexible zoning for mixed-use buildings is crucial to a sustainable recovery, notably for Vancouver and Toronto. Major Canadian cities heavily favour zoning for commercial development (such as office space) and retail along busy arteries while preventing encroachment into the heart of residential areas.

It’s understandable that provinces and cities focus on transit systems in their strategy to reduce congestion while also combatting climate change, Mr. Yan said.

“But the twist is that public transit is only half the picture,” he said. “The other half of the picture is land-use reform. We’re talking not only about transit-oriented development but also talking about mixed land use in terms of commercial, retail and maybe a bit of light industrial in some neighbourhoods.”

Mr. Yan hopes that cities will be inspired to alter land-use rules and decrease reliance on cars. As part of his vision for a “revitalization of localization,” residents would have a greater number of options to buy groceries and other staples from the corner convenience store or other retailers within easy walking distance or a 15-minute bicycle ride, reducing the frequency of car trips for shopping expeditions.

The Globe and Mail

Connect with us