Is Nanaimo’s Sustainability Sustainable?
David Brown: Sept. 19, 2012
The word sustainability is derived from the Latin sustinere (tenere, to hold; sus, up). Dictionaries provide more than ten meanings for sustain, the main ones being to “maintain”, “support”, or “endure” Since the 1980s sustainability has been used more in the sense of human sustainability on planet Earth. The most widely quoted definition of sustainability is associated with the Brundtland Commission; namely , “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The notion of the ecological footprint (developed by retired UBC professor, Bill Rees) provides a more concrete way of expressing sustainable development. The ecological footprint approximates the amount of arable and agriculturally or ecologically productive land area it takes to sustain one human or group of humans, say in a family or city, based on their use of energy, food, water, building material and other consumables. In other words how much land area is required to support a person’s or a group’s standard of living. Bill Rees argues that our current North American lifestyles are already not sustainable.
The word “sustain” or derivatives thereof appear by my account 23 times in the City of Nanaimo’s 2011 Annual Municipal Report. It is used in various ways in various contexts but rarely, if at all, in a Bruntland Commission or an Ecological Footprint way.
The first referential way it used in the Report is under the heading “Engineering – 2011 Performance”. The passage reads “Sustain, improve, construct and maintain in a cost-effective and efficient manner, all municipal infrastructures to meet the future needs of the community.” Sustain in this sentence appears to mean something like “keep going”. Further down still under “Engineering – 2011 Performance” passages read ”Maintain and improve a transportation network that enhances the safety, livability and sustainability of the community and “Plan and design the transportation network for the longer term to enhance safety, livability and sustainability.” The latter use of sustainability might suggest a Bruntland application but the report talks primarily about road projects in Nanaimo such as the Bowen Rd. widening. Sustainability in this sentence thusly seems to mean meeting the needs of increasing vehicle traffic.
Subsequent sentences under the Engineering or Public Works components of the Report include “Sustain and improve the service life of utilities infrastructure to meet the current and future needs of the community.”, “Maintain and improve a transportation network that enhances the safety, livability and sustainability of the community” and “Update Water Supply Long Range Capital Plan on an annual basis, to ensure funding levels remain sustainable; develop asset management strategy for existing water supply assets”. These statements could probably be best paraphrased as “We got to keep expanding our roads and utilities to keep pace with new developments.”
When the report says “Manage the finances of the water utility on a sustainable basis.” it obviously means coming up with revenue to expand the water utility; i.e. sustaining the revenue stream. When it says “The ongoing challenge for the Engineering and Public Works Department is to manage the City’s assets in an efficient, effective and sustainable manner while maintaining a level of service that meets the community’s expectations.” it is talking about the maintenance or enhancement of the standard of living. We are a long ways from the sustainable development of the Bruntland Commission.
Under the Report’s heading “Future Issues & Trends” we learn that “Sustainability Initiatives, include: “Right sizing vehicles; Electric and hybrid vehicles; higher purchase cost and projected lower operating cost.” I suspect that City Hall’s understanding of sustainability is akin with that of the aging rock star who built a three million dollar plus earth house on a Gulf Island. If the whole world followed suit with earth houses, of course, there would be no land area or soil left to grow any food. For City bureaucrats it is LEED standard buildings at double the cost; hybrid vehicles that only seemed to get purchased when a public entity is buying them; social housing on Bowen Road where the per unit cost for a 550 square foot unit exceeds $300,000.00. In other words, it is about “environmental showcases” which simply are not reproducible at a scale which could have any significant impact on the ecological footprint.
Nanaimo in a Bruntland or ecological footprint sense is the opposite of sustainability. It is a twenty kilometer long corridor built along a single highway (with several offshoots). It is a low density community with 95% of its retail space located in vehicle parking lots. There are virtually no commercial facilities which one would normally access by foot. Even most of the higher density residential development is not close to retail facilities. The surrounding farmland produces less than 2% of the community’s food supply. The City and its environs produce no energy and virtually no manufactured products.
In fact over the last sixty years or so Nanaimo and environs has become less and less sustainable – back in 1950’s Vancouver Island was largely food self-sufficient and it supplied a significant part of its energy needs. If it had suddenly been cut off from the rest of the World, its (human) population would with some privation have been able to survive. Not so today when less than 5% of the Island’s food is sourced on-shore.
The closest that the Nanaimo’s 2011 Report comes to using “sustain” in an ecological footprint sense is in relation to planning when it talks about “A density bonus system which awards additional density to a development which meets or exceeds the City‘s sustainable amenity criteria.” These comments are made in connection with density initiatives such as laneway housing. Laneway housing, however, is a trivial densification tool – the real action in Nanaimo in the housing sector continues to take place in North End subdivisions.
When push comes to shove, of course, Nanaimo approves every major new development that comes along including a Parking Lot-Big Box Complex at the South entrance to the City and a so-called “Resort” on the Cable Bay lands. The City’s containment boundaries are neatly wiped off the map. So even though lip service is occasionally given to the notion of sustainable development, it is not followed.
Our erstwhile City Managers could take some real measures to lead us to reduce our ecological footprint. They could become fanatical about increasing population density and halting any further green field development. They could advocate that the City no longer require every new subdivision to be outfitted with paved roads and underground utilities. Most of all they would start with theirown salaries – rather than ask for 3 or 4% wage increases they would ask for wage reductions because real sustainability; i.e. an ecological footprint which is supportable long term is only possible with a reduction in average consumption and consumption will only be reduced if collective buying power is reduced.
Well said David.
Newton’s second law of thermodynamics: Entropy, nothing is sustainable!
It is about time we began to seriously question all this bureaucratic self serving mumbo jumbo that does nothing to serve the planet: and you can add AGW to that.
Nanaimo north is bad enough but when erstwhile councilor Bill Holdom had the temerity to a-front our intelligence by complacently stating, in reference to southwards sprawl, Cable Bay, Sandstone etc, as “this is not a zero sum game” one has to wonder, are these guys out to govern or just shine there tarnished egos?
You want sustainable? Stay in bed!
Ya gotta love the liberal use of catch phrases like sustainable. One of my favourites is ‘Best Practices’. Who exactly determines just what ‘Best Pracices” are and in turn who determines the meaning of Sustainability. I would really worry, not that I don’t already, if they start talking about Sustainability through the use of Best Practices.
Sustainability, a subject dear to my heart..
Visions of milking cows at daybreak & a potters wheel in the front room.
Whilst I agree with David & Rogers thoughts on sprawl ( tho not with Rogers comment on AGW) I think we are missing the connection between environmental sustainability & financial sustainability.
We live in a world where our expectations are rising way beyond the planets ability to provide.
To finance our expectations we have mortaged not just ourselves but our greatgrandchildrens future for our present lust of consumerism.
The ability to finance this lust of consumerism has (noticably since 2007/8) led to our inability to provide further credit ( that stuff later generations are supposed to pay for)
The monetary giants of the world have run out of ideas upon how to provide more & more credit by providing unrealist mortgage terms to ‘investment vehicles’ that have proven to be little more than Ford Edsels.
Thus the collapsing financial system has put pressure upon the environment with reduced eviromental asssesments & requirements to facilitate the ‘development’ of projects of dubious worth the consequences of such will be payed AGAIN by future generations.
We can also add in idiotic local decisions that require financing for little or no value such as the Zamboni purchase by the City of Nanaimo or the equally idiotic $24K for a name change to the School District ; but for gods sake don’t mention population control!
Whilst these comments relate to a global situation they apply just as much to the workings of Nanaimo .WE DO NOT EXSIST IN A BUBBLE.
The fallacy of AGW!
“Real climate solutions,” she continues, “are ones that steer [government] interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.”
Heads up Trailblazer . . .
The carbon tax is a tax grab . . .
Roger, not to go off subject & on to AGW.
I agree we have another tax grab.
I still believe in AGW.
Talking of sprawl.
I was up the Linley Valley hill a while ago. It’s sprawling even up there.
Roads but no places to live!
The last of our pristine wilderness gone and for what?
Clr Brennan surprised the hell out of me: she gave it her okay. I emailed her: no reply!
There’s no savvy among any of them!
Planning by realtor is not “sustainable“!
Roger; why would anything Councillor Brannan does surprise you?
Why would you also expect a reply; remember she is the one that pushed for a Communication Manager and I expect she will be one of those taking advantage of using him as a go between.
The modern municipal corporation has no leader, no soul, no moral compass, and no world view on which to base actions. The corporation is a structure that measures every event in economic terms while sometimes paying lip service to public issues. In reality the typical city employee is more concerned with job security, benefits, perks, pay raises and pensions rather than with the survival of the biosphere let alone the hapless citizen who pays the freight. No solutions to be found in this realm.
We the 7 billion along with our modern technologies have created an alien monster which is destroying the world as we know it. Read the news, watch TV, listen to the radio they all tell the same sad tale. Because of our lifestyles, we can expect environmental collapse sooner or later and a return to a natural life for the survivors if there are any.
The modern municipal corporation has no leader, no soul, no moral compass, and no world view on which to base actions. The corporation is a structure that measures every event in economic terms while sometimes paying lip service to public issues
In other words ‘It the Corporation” is owned by business not that every business is guilty as charged.
The apathetic resident is once again to blame as he or she would rather exert their right to line up for hours to purchase the new i Phone than make an educated vote or even vote at all.
That said when the voter does vote & the powers that be ignore their wishes should we be be either surprised or angry with them?
Would a ratepayer association be a start at reform?.
Yes… A ratepayer association could be a start at reform. Any ideas about how to get one started?
Ron; I reside within the RDN .
I follow Nanaimo City politics as they provide insite to the unelected majority representation that governs us often above the wishes of our elected representitives..
We are slowly working upon solutions to our grievences.
For us a ratepayer association is of little use but for City residents it could be useful.
I have found that for any grassroots movement to take hold you first start knocking at doors within the locality ; if the interest is there then hold a community meeting .
On local issues we, in our area, have started by word of mouth followed by posters on every mailbox we can find then an advert in a local publication ( in our case the Take 5)
This is what we have done for past issues & it has worked.
Surely Jim Taylor Gord Fuller & yourself could put together a meeting to discuss the problems with the City establishment?
Should you find interest from 100 to 150 persons & your message is clear the word will spread?
Your chances of success are better if you have a defining issue but that will mean taking off the gloves & being more confrontational otherwise noone will listen especially the media.
Roger, thanks for your link to this article in Counterpoint.
I recently watched Prof. Albert Bartlet (Emeritus Prof. of Physics, at U. Of Colorado) deliver his lecture, “Arithmetic, Population and Energy”. Wiki states that he’s delevered this lecture over 1,600 times since 1969..
There are eight parts(videos) to this lecture, I beleive that it’s relevent to the topic of “sustainability”.