Home to one of Canada’s most iconic urban parks — Stanley Park — and a population that values and uses green space in and out of the city, Vancouver is a recognized leader in managing and promoting urban forest ecosystems. Vancouver looks forward to sharing its innovations around parks and forests with the Cities4Forests network and working with them to strengthen and develop connections to the forests outside city boundaries, an especially important topic in the wake of record-breaking forests fires this past summer.
Vancouver recently launched a “Greenest City Action Plan”, which, through a set of measurable and attainable targets, aims to put Vancouver on the path to become the world’s greenest city by 2020.
“In Vancouver we’ve worked hard to build clean, green neighbourhoods with the world’s most spectacular urban forest.”
Mayor of Vancouver 2008-2018, Vancouver, Canada
Currently, Vancouver has 300,000 urban park trees. The city aims to plant an additional 150,000 trees by 2020. The trees will absorb carbon dioxide to mitigate climate change, help manage rainwater, provide wildlife habitat, provide access to nature and create healthy communities (shade, fruit and stress reduction) and create jobs for the local economy.
The city aims to limit the number of healthy mature trees being removed due to new developments, to create an urban forest inventory system and to develop strategies for ongoing public engagement and connections to stewardship programs.
Currently, Vancouver is the only Canadian city with an elected park board, which operates over 240 parks. This includes the 404-acre Stanley Park, which is home to ancient cedars, wildlife and rainforests. The city plans to build on this legacy as part of the Green City Action Plan, which also includes creating a “strong local economy, vibrant and inclusive neighborhoods and an internationally recognized city that meets the needs of generations to come”.
Vancouver is a globally significant area for big trees. The city is surrounded by lush temperate rainforest that to this day contains trees over 1300 years old and up to 86 m tall. Only 200 years ago the entire Vancouver region was a swath of towering old-growth forest. In the 1850s, settlers began to arrive in search of gold, then lumber, and as the immigrant population grew by the 1880s, large-scale forest clearing began. Many pockets of old-growth forest were spared: ancient trees can be found around UBC, Stanley Park, Capilano, Maple Ridge, Lynn Valley, and up in the higher elevations around Vancouver, where trees still stand over 90m tall.
Vancouver, the greenest city
In the 1960s, Vancouver’s downtown was at risk of being razed for an eight-lane freeway from the Trans-Canada Highway through the East End. However, a historic protest movement of neighbourhood residents turned the tide and finally the plan was shelved. Today, Vancouver has the smallest per capita carbon footprint of any city in North America. Moreover, in 2011, the city government drew up the Greenest City Action Plan to realize its aim of becoming a carbon-neutral metropolis, with an ecological footprint reduced by one-third by 2020. To further this aim, the strategy highlights the importance of maintaining the urban forest under the banner of “protect, plant and manage” the canopy. So far, Vancouver holds the second place in the Treepedia ranking, a MIT project in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, in which the researchers calculated the Green View Index (GVI) using Google Street View panoramas. Vancouver’s percentage of canopy coverage is 25.9 %, and growing.
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