What Canadian Cities Should Be Doing

Seeing as we have entered construction season here in Canada (a.k.a. spring and summer), I thought it prudent to collect some things that other cities have been doing that I think we ought to be implementing here in London (in some cases especially since we’re known as the Forest City) and other Canadian cities ought to be at least contemplating.

Let’s start with a great example from Vancouver: The roof of the Vancouver Convention Centre has been turned into a green roof. What does that mean?

Well take a look at this article from Fast Company and then take a look at the Vancouver Convention Centre’s website – it’s quite the marvel to behold.  Not only are they decreasing their cooling costs by doing so, but look at some of these statistics from the Fast Company article:

The Vancouver building also has black water treatment systems and desalination machinery to water the plants, a heat pump that uses seawater, and cooling via radiant floor. The bottom line is a water-use reduction of 60% to 70% over similarly sized convention centers.

I know darn well the Thames River is filled with fresh water, and not saltwater, but surely taking some of these ideas (plus others in the same vein) and incorporating them into city-owned buildings here in London would benefit us and our environment in the long-term! In fact if we end up reducing the bill, maybe we can get a cut on our taxes?

The six-acre “living roof” atop the convention centre also recovers rainwater for irrigation thanks to the over 400,000 plants it houses, and the West Building expansion was built to LEED standards. And living/green roofs have been around in Europe for over 30 years – why are we often so slow to adapt things like this in North America?

Next up – solar power trash compactors. Boston began installing these almost 3 years ago and the press I read on the issue was largely positive.  Basically it’s a trash bin with a solar panel on top and a sensor activates the compacting functionality whenever necessary. They hold over 567 litres of trash and clearly need to be emptied less often. I’m certain the city of London (and all others) could still sell advertising on the sides as they do now.

Just a few of the BigBelly trash compactors would probably handle all of the needs the city of London’s public trash bins handle now, but I’m looking at the reduced manpower needed to empty them out. Another potential big money saver in the long run especially in places like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. Plus the added capacity would certainly help eliminate the spillover that I so often see downtown in London and in Toronto – and that’d just plain disgusting.

It seems there are design issues that need to be addressed, according to some of the behaviours that Boston residents took to as opposed to opening the compactor’s door and depositing their no-longer-wanted/needed items, but I’m sure the manufacturer would be willing to hear some ideas in return for business.

Third – Find someone who can deliver smart grid technology. What’s smart grid technology? Click here to read up a bit on it. Basically what I would really like to see happen is smart meters on every house in London that can eliminate the need for manual reading (either by London Hydro or the homeowner). AT&T and SmartSynch are already delivering the functionality to a utility in Texas – why can’t we do it here?

The smart meters in that EcoGeek story enable a utility to remotely connect and disconnect the power when people move out/in of houses, immediately alert the utility of power outages and therefore allow London Hydro to deliver their services in a smarter way. Rogers, Bell and Telus all have robust enough networks to facilitate this or we could even build our own WiMAX network here – so why not?

Fourth – Free bus fares! I won’t go too much into this because Tyee Magazine has already done a 5-part series on the benefits and how to pay for it. It’s terrific – check it out.

Fifth – Open our data. Vancouver did it recently and I’m confident they can expect bountiful tools and revelations to come out of it. There’s something very freeing, both to the city and to its citizens, when data about the city is open to all.

And lastly I want to end off with some related articles. Fast Company announced their top 13 cities of 2009 – only 1 Canadian city made it on. Guess who? That’s right, it’s Vancouver. Is it any wonder why?

I really like this video about New Urbanism and urban planning. Please watch it.

And finally there’s on article by ComputerWorld on using technology to build “City 2.0” which basically takes in all of the initiatives I mentioned earlier into account and then some and how this will shape our cities going forward and why how technology can make our lives better.

Please comment – I’d love to hear your thoughts even if they contradict mine!