SFU students uncover Vancouver's green history
When third-year student Aateka Shashank and other SFU undergraduates start talking about the history of the Vancouver planning process, it would be easy to conclude that they’ve lived here for decades. In a third-floor office at SFU Harbour Centre, Shashank explains that Vancouver has always had a strong environmental ethic, noting the placement of City Hall outside of the downtown core and the decision not to allow a highway through Chinatown and Gastown in the early 1970s.
Later, she describes Harland Bartholomew’s first master plan for the city, commissioned in 1926, as “the most important” document for setting the pace of growth in the city. Sitting beside her on the couch, fourth-year student Maria Lee characterizes Bartholomew’s work as “very meticulous”.
“Some researchers have put out that he was the reason for the urban sprawl that’s been happening in the metropolitan cities,” Lee says. “Otherwise, I thought his layout of parks and how the sidewalks would look—incorporating the greenery of Vancouver—was kind of how most of our neighbourhoods are shaped.”
Third-year student Maria Oliveira explains that the group came together to work with SFU’s Carbon Talks to create a Green History of Vancouver Timeline. Timeglider software enabled the students to create written and visual accounts for the online project, which will be launched on Tuesday (December 4). Oliveira was responsible for investigating how nongovernmental organizations engaged citizens and advanced political change. “At first, I didn’t even know Greenpeace was founded here,” she admits.
The three students, who were part of the project from the beginning, are all immigrants. Shashank was 12 when she moved from New Delhi, Lee came from Pusan, South Korea at the age of six, and Oliveira came from the Sao Paulo area for the Winter Olympics. “Vancouver was very lucky to have organizations like Greenpeace and David Suzuki [Foundation],” Oliveira says. “I thought it was amazing how different organizations concerned about different aspects [of the environment] all kind of came together.”
They were joined by Mexico City–born Stephania Domingo, who examined First Nations history, and Justin Chen, a Guangdong-born, long-time Vancouver resident who was responsible for adding pictures.
Ritika Dhirmalani, who’s from Mumbai, and Alyssa Bigiolli, the only nonimmigrant, came in to confirm facts and sources, add descriptions, and find missing elements.
Dhirmalani says that when she grew up in the suburbs of Mumbai, it was a “concrete jungle” and she was used to a lot of pollution. “Here it’s very different,” she adds. “The air is so light. You cannot compare the two cities.”
The founder of Carbon Talks, Shauna Sylvester, tells the Straight that the goal of the timeline is to offer insights into why Vancouver has become known as a green city. She says interviews were conducted with numerous key officials over the years, which demonstrated that the environmental ethos goes back decades. “A number of people would say it was the stopping of the highway,” she mentions. “That was the most pivotal point.”
However, Sylvester notes that Mayor Gregor Robertson cited two other key considerations: clean drinking water and the Agricultural Land Reserve. “You know where your water is coming from—and the clarity—and with the Agricultural Land Reserve, you know the parameters of your development,” she says.