Gil Kelley, General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability for the City of Vancouver, explores the role of sustainability and social infrastructure in driving Vancouver’s prosperity.


Mediaplanet: What’s the importance of infrastructure in facilitating Vancouver’s prosperity and growth?

Gil Kelley: In Vancouver, we’re just now launching a citywide regional growth strategy. This is an opportunity to think about the role of infrastructure in continuing to make Vancouver a livable, sustainable, and prosperous place. We must consider the role of housing affordability and livability, economic development strategies, and our continued work on climate action, as they all come together to create a long-term picture for Vancouver.

"We must consider the role of housing affordability and livability, economic development strategies, and our continued work on climate action, as they all come together to create a long-term picture for Vancouver."

We’re a growing city that’s an attractive market for talented workers and for capital investment, which has been driven by real estate investment. However, when thinking of Vancouver’s future, we must think and plan for what the next city economy will look like, who those workers will be, and how they’ll afford to live here. These are the big topics that must be acknowledged and can be served through intelligent infrastructure investments. With that said, we see the infrastructure piece as being integral to the next city plan for Vancouver.

What are the roles of long-term planning and future-proofing in making Vancouver a global leader in sustainability and green living?

The role of planning is key to the success of cities in the 21st century. A third of the world’s population is becoming increasingly urban, living in cities. Cities really are the drivers of innovation and change, more so than provincial or national governments. Cities must be living laboratories for planning. That means being able to take stock of trends and critical information and to project out into the future with a set of choices that the public, as well as decision-makers, can embrace and that include a continuing commitment to innovation. 

Where are the main opportunities for increased sustainability, affordability, and inclusivity?

What’s old is new again in a way, in that humans like to live in compact urban settlements, where they can have a rich life that involves many activities within the same day. So, we’ve agreed to focus on building the next 21st century neighbourhood. That involves choices around mobility, reducing energy use and consumption, developing joyful places for people to gather in small public spaces, and being able to walk or bike to most of your daily or weekly needs.

We’re trying to push Vancouver, into that new conception of what the urban neighbourhood looks like. Underneath that are difficult choices around what it means to really be sustainable and what it means to preserve affordability and a diverse population through that affordability and housing. Otherwise, you see a drive of lower-income residents to further reaches of the metro region, which then continues to expand outward without the kind of complete neighbourhood context. Even then, we’re finding some people just choosing to leave urban regions because of housing prices.

For us, that investment in housing and infrastructure, and not just in the commodity market but for actual social infrastructure that’s needed to keep cost of living healthy and prosperous for the workforce is a key piece in thinking about infrastructure.