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Livable Cities = Sustainable Cities


In order to create sustainable cities, local and federal governments will need to be adaptable, creative and willing to take risks to upgrade parks and water quality, improve recycling programs and research natural gas and other green technologies. 

 By Lisa Sookraj, Staff Writer
City lights at night

Via british.chris, flickr

There are several surveys conducted each year that rank the livability of cities worldwide.

Companies use these surveys to determine how much they must pay employees who are relocated to cities with unfavourable living conditions. Livability scores are based on numerous categories, (such as unemployment rates, housing prices, crime, healthcare and culture) each of which are weighted differently and receive a certain number of points.

In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2010 Global Livability survey, Vancouver was number one – in part due to hosting the 2010 winter Olympics and Paralympics, which boosted the city’s scores for infrastructure, culture and environment.

Toronto came in at four and Calgary at five amongst other top-ten cities in Finland, Austria and Australia. In Mercer’s North America rankings, Vancouver was first, Ottawa 14th, Toronto 16th, Montreal 21st and Calgary 28th, while worldwide Vancouver was third and Toronto was 8th.

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While policies are key to reducing our carbon footprint, the best way to get business owners on board is by having incentives to test new concepts for sustainable living.

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A new definition of what makes a city most livable is now emerging: sustainability. This was marked by Mercer’s establishment of a new category this year – best Eco-city – based on water quality, waste removal, quality of sewage systems, air pollution and traffic congestion.

In this category Calgary was #1, with Ottawa at 3rd, Montreal and Vancouver at 13th and Toronto at 39th. For high and low-ranking cities alike, there remains room for development in terms of the percent of employees who use public transit and bike/walk to work, and air quality ratings.

Some cities are setting notable examples of how to tackle these issues. The STM in Montreal recently won the American Public Transportation Association’s award for Outstanding Public Transportation System in North America between 2007-2009. Since 2006, the STM gained 19.5 million more rides. The STM, who are currently manufacturing new metro cars in Montreal, remains a good role model, minimizing their carbon footprint with a 60% Canadian content requirement.

Another notable accomplishment in the public transportation field is BMW’s Inspiro subway for Poland – an energy-efficient aluminum train that is 97.5% recyclable. Such technologies are more pertinent than ever with rapid climate change and our current economy.

A recent Texas Transportation Institute study at Texas A&M University determined that in 2009 American commuters spent 4.8 billion hours of travel time and 3.9 billion gallons of fuel, costing $115 billion. Another study showed that New Yorkers save $19 billion a year using sustainable transport.

Most commuters who cycle to work in North America are males under 25 years of age who don’t abide by rules for pedestrians or motorists (resulting in accidents and deaths). Most American cyclists over 25 fear being in a serious accident. In Europe, equal numbers of men and women, most of whom are middle-aged, bike to work. These bikers abide by rules of the road and tend to bike slower.

Infrastructure in Europe has increased the percentage of workers biking to work. The Dutch have invested in bike lanes with special safety features, including separate traffic lights for cyclists. The roads are divided into 4 areas, including a bike lane protected with its own curb. The more safe biking conditions are, the more appealing to potential users.

Proof of this lies in Montreal, where a clearly designated bike lane (buffered by a raised median) has turned the province into the cycling capital of Canada. The successful Bixi public bicycle sharing system launched in 2009 and had its millionth ride less than 6 months later. Now the system has popped up in Ottawa, Minneapolis, Melbourne, London and Toronto.

While policies are key to reducing our carbon footprint, the best way to get business owners on board is by having incentives to test new concepts for sustainable living. As a part of Toronto’s Climate Change Action Plan, which aims to reduce Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, the city has implemented the Eco-Roof Incentive Program.


The City won the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ FCM-CH2M Hill Sustainable Community Award for being the first City in North America to have a bylaw which requires green roofs on new development, and provides funding to developers.

An “Eco-roof” is one of two things – a “green roof” that supports vegetation or a “cool roof” that reflects the sun’s thermal energy. Eco-roofs help reduce urban heat, manage stormwater, enhance biodiversity and improve air quality and energy efficiency.

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To fare well in future livable-city surveys, leaders will have to rely on FIT (fully integrated thinking) to develop the best strategies to improve their communities.

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Americans have adopted some exemplary practices as well. California has established a law which requires building owners to disclose their buildings’ energy ratings to potential buyers and renters. The city hopes that by having to disclose this information, building owners will upgrade their buildings’ energy systems to raise marketability.

California also encourages cities to plan development near public transit or with other existing buildings in order to receive a portion of the state’s $6 billion transport funding.

All new online energy in Austin, Texas must be carbon-emission free, and the city has developed a car sharing program for workers who commute by public transit or bike, but still need a car on occasion.

Seattle has created a sustainable on-site sewage treatment plant for a residential project that cost less than a traditional system. The sewer water maintains a particular temperature in order to create a thermal loop heat exchange system that heats the entire project.

To fare well in future livable-city surveys, leaders will have to rely on FIT (fully integrated thinking) to develop the best strategies to improve their communities. Local and federal governments will need to be adaptable, creative and willing to take risks to upgrade parks and water quality, improve recycling programs and research natural gas and other green technologies. Some of these changes are costly, but are crucial to long-term stability, and left too long, costs will only increase.

ARB Team
Arbitrage Magazine
Business News with BITE.

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