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City Holler

Trish Kelly explores the issues and challenges that face our growing city.

Vancouver should make culture a pillar of sustainability

The idea of culture as a fundamental principle of sustainable development is the kind of big, audacious goal a mayor could campaign on, writes Trish Kelly.

Snow falls at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.

Stu Neatby/For Metro

Snow falls at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.

Tonight is city council’s last meeting before the holidays, and they’ll spend a good chunk time focused on the year to come. They’ll review the operating budget, and mind-numbing subjects like incremental increases in water fees and sewage fees we pay to our regional government. But towards the end of the meeting, a notice on motion will be discussed that could become a New Year’s resolution of sorts for our city.

Elizabeth Ball, with the support of her fellow NPA councilor, Melissa De Genova, will try to convince the Vision-dominated council to make culture a fourth pillar of sustainable development for Vancouver.

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The idea is one that Toronto and Montreal have already adopted in an effort to give culture an equal consideration alongside economic, environmental and social sustainability. The idea comes from an international association of urban governments called United Cities and Local Governments, which adopted the concept a decade ago.

While governments often hitch arts and culture together, culture can mean a lot more than theatre festivals, ballet and concerts. In the Vancouver’s culture plan that launched in 2008, culture is defined as “the expression and celebration of the values and aspirations of a community, country or group”. That’s pretty big stuff.

With culture as a pillar of sustainability, we might ask which Vancouverites feel their values and aspirations are celebrated and who doesn’t? 

We would prioritize ensuring each community that makes up this city knows they belong.

If we considered culture as a pillar in sustainable citymaking, we wouldn’t allow glass towers that stack and isolate residents, even if the building was energy efficient. We’d make an effort to name things like streets and parks in a way that recognizes what they were called before European settlers named everything after governors or their daughters. And when deciding what to do with the land under the viaducts, we’d not only consider translating the content of open houses into another language, but into as many languages as necessary to enable all residents to weigh in as informed citizens.

Actually, Elizabeth Ball’s motion is quite a can of worms. The idea of culture as a fundamental principle of sustainable development is the kind of big, audacious goal a mayor could campaign on. Gregor Robertson has hung his hat on the bold goal of making this the greenest city in the world by 2020. He’s gone to great lengths and served multiple terms to make that goal more than a tagline. He’s changed the DNA of our city in the process. Ball’s audacious idea would be an interesting mandate for someone to run on. If she doesn’t try in 2018, I think someone else should.

Trish Kelly lives and write in East Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter @trishkellyc.

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