2012 Cascadia Sustainability Field School Victoria Entry:

Tues, May 8th, 2012: Walk Up Mt Tolmie with Brenda Beckwith: It was the second official day of Cascadia Field School 2012 and in the calm, warm weather we eagerly started off on our very first field trip! We were happily guided by the charismatic and knowledgeable Brenda Beckwith from the Environmental Studies Department at Uvic who walked us up Mt. Tolmie (or more accurately Hill Tolmie) to share with us the cultural and historical context of the regional ecosystem. With colourful flowers blooming everywhere and the Garry Oak trees just beginning to turn green, it was a vibrant and colourful introduction to a Victoria that we may not have noticed before.Brenda introduced many different plant species that were either native or introduced to the region but the most notable species was the native Camas flower that speckled the hill with shades of purple-blue.  

The Camas flower acted as symbolic connection between the historical natural ecosystem that once existed in the region, tended and maintained by First Nations women through flash-fires and cultivation, to the marginalized flower we see today that is highly limited to the remaining hill-top Garry Oak ecosystems where invasive and introduced species are less prominent or effectively managed. The widespread integration of introduced grasses on Mt. Tolmie was a humbling reminder of how much the regional ecosystem has changed and how difficult it will be to regain a somewhat native ecosystem. 

The field trip concluded on the top of Mt. Tolmie with an inspiring view over the Victoria area and a new appreciation for the unique ecosystem that it was built upon (and a lesser appreciation for introduced English Bluebells!).

Wed, May 9th: Island Transformation Organization Presentation 

On Wednesday afternoon the class visited Island Transformations, an advocacy group for the development and implementation of light rail transit as a transportation mode for commuters and visitors in the Greater Victoria region, with emphasis on a line that would connect Downtown Victoria to Langford and Westhills via Douglas Street and the Trans-Canada Highway.

The presentation that was given as well as the vision on their website is clearly articulated: the need for innovative and cost-effective solutions to alleviate our region’s transportation woes. It is the view of Island Transformations that a light rail transit system connecting the Westshore to Downtown is the best way to achieve these goals, a view that is echoed by many throughout the region.

The main speaker, Rob Wickson, offered a unique perspective on why a rail transit system is the best option. As a lawyer that has worked with automobile collision victims in the past, Mr. Wickson is very aware of the financial implications of single-occupant-vehicle (SOV) use. Not only are the costs of settling legal disputes astronomical, but the cost of building and maintaining roadways, parking lots and its associated infrastructure is almost never taken into account by the average taxpayer or driver. Parking and road space typically do not have user fees, while transit users must pay a fare upon boarding, so the public perception is that using transit is more expensive than driving, and that it requires extensive subsidies because the fare does not cover the full costs. The current system makes it very difficult for the average ratepayer to realize that SOVs are actually subsidized far more than public transit. This brings to light that if all the subsidies on the private automobile were dropped, public transit would make far more sense than it currently does.

The economic costs of SOV usage is often neglected in public transit debates in favour of environmental and social arguments for the provision of public transit. Mr. Wickson’s presentation offers a solid reason why high capacity mass transit is a necessity for the Greater Victoria region; one that may be more palatable for individuals and groups that may not be supportive of transit for environmental or other reasons. One of the main messages from today was that in order to have success you must take a multi-faceted approach that considers all sides of an issue, in order to get as much support for your cause as possible. 

Thurs, May 10th - Meeting with the Mayor and City & Regional Planners 

Employing our knowledge of Victoria’s transit system we made our way down to Centennial Square. Our first stop was Victoria City Hall where we were introduced to the City’s sustainability outlook by none other than the Mayor himself, DEAN FORTIN, his Sustainability Director, ROY BROOKE, and Assistant Director of Community Planning, MARK HORNELL.

Fortin knew his audience cracking a number of college-student appropriate jokes about his “bling” and commenting on his research as a geography undergrad studying the distribution of late night establishments. He talked about the huge potential to reduce carbon emissions at the citywide level and the positive economic impact of the growing green sector. Roy pointed out that creating a sustainable city is not purely a technical challenge but one that involves many human dimensions relating to culture, history, economy, religion and psychology. To address all these facets of sustainability Victoria has a new strategic framework – the Official Community Plan.

This new plan focuses on (1) Reducing waste and emissions (2) Transforming run down and decrepit areas, and (3) Creating a thriving city for everyone. To meet these goals Victoria will be investing in more affordable housing, green renovations, and further developing their reputation as a highly walkable and bicycle friendly city. Some notable green projects mentioned were the new gold-standard Atrium building at Blanchard and Yates that boasts an innovative water filtration system using plants and the regenerative Dockside green development. Next, we walked across the square to the headquarters of the Capital Region District to gain a better understanding of the region’s approach to sustainability. With the floor to ceiling windows overlooking breath-taking views of the region, the long curving desks, and personal microphones, it was obvious that the CRD had done this before. City planners SARAH WEBB and MARG EVANS gave us an informative introduction to the region's sustainability. Marg pointed out that one of the major challenges facing the CRD over the coming years will be the lack of space of accommodate the growing population in terms of housing and transportation. To combat this issue, the CRD plans to focus on affordable and dense housing, as well as increasing transportation access. With these growing numbers she noted that it is also important to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Sarah gave us some good examples of sustainable (and often ground-up) solutions that are currently being implemented in the CRD, including the Regional Parks Acquisition Fund, Affordability Housing Trust Fund, source control and marine monitoring projects, Bowker Creek Bluepoint Action Plan, Saanich Peninsula Waste Water Treatment Plan, Climate Smart Business Program, and the City harvest. During the question period Sarah was asked what do you think is inhibiting the application of sustainable practices in Victoria? “It’s too cheap” she said, “It is too cheap to drive, to waste, and to consume energy.” With that very real comment fresh in our minds we walked out onto the balcony to look down upon the rush hour traffic and bustling streets below.


Centennial Square
Victoria, BC


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