Does Living in Vancouver Make You Greener?

I have lived abroad for years at a time, and traveled frequently. No matter how many times I do it, looking out the airplane window as the flight descends over the blue waters of the Vancouver coast and the lush, deep green trees that grow so thickly, I get a lump in my throat. It is stunning, and I am so grateful that this is the home I return to.

The opening event of the Spur festival last night explored where social change happens. One of the threads of conversation pursued by the panelists was the significance of location and geography in influencing our behaviour. The role of the climate in shaping our outdoor activities (including community activities and demonstrations) and the extent to which we get out and feel connected to the physical features of our environment was mentioned in passing. But there was a deeper suggestion: that the landscape of the city has an influence on our politics. It makes us greener.

I don’t know to what extent this is true, but I vividly remember my return home after a year living in Beijing. Like Vancouver, it is a city surrounded by mountains. As an avid hiker, I was eager to explore them. Unfortunately, when I went hiking there I found the mountain covered in litter, and the view of the city below completely hidden by a sheet of smog. During my travels to other parts of China I saw heavily polluted rivers in some areas, and deep cracks in the earth where groundwater had disappeared in others.

I came home with a sense of the fragility of our natural resources and their beauty. They can be used up, or polluted beyond recognition. The lump in my throat as I flew over Vancouver’s water and trees was partly due to the realisation that this place might not always exist as I saw it. That its splendor required preservation—and that depends on us.

To return to the discussion last night, the question of where social change happens depends on what type of change we are willing to make in the place we live—and what changes we are willing to allow others to make to this city of ours. How much does the landscape matter to you?

Eva Sajoo is a Research Associate at the SFU Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures, and a PhD Candidate at UBC, with a particular interest in how diaspora communities evolve and contribute to civic life in Canada. She holds a Masters degree in International Development and Education from the University of London, and her research won first place in a 2010 competition sponsored by the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (Geneva).  She is currently writing a chapter on education, religion, and values for the forthcoming book Education and International Development: Practice, Policy, and Research (Continuum Books, 2013).  In addition to her academic work, she is a regular contributor to the news media, with a lively interest in gender and Canadian policy.

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