Here are 7 things experts say could make BC cities more climate resilient

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After a year of cascading climate disasters in the province, experts call on the BC provincial government and other authorities to strengthen long-term housing and urban design strategies to ensure they are climate resistant.

British Columbia experienced a series of disasters in 2021 and the provincial government has faced criticism both for its short-term contingency plans, as well as for systemic issues that critics say exacerbated the impacts.

Experts say there are many issues with the way homes and cities are built that the province could address to mitigate climate impacts going forward.

But one expert has warned that there is no one approach that will solve B.C.’s problems – new plans will need to be well-balanced and incorporate all aspects of climate change.

“The tragedy around the two [climate] adaptation and mitigation is that there is no silver bullet – there are a lot of silver buckshot, ”said Alex Boston, executive director of the Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University . “We just have to charge and keep shooting. “

1. Fewer single-family homes

Land use is one of the main determinants of climate change and, according to Boston, should be a priority for the province.

Marc Lee, an analyst with the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, said the province’s housing stock is largely made up of single-family homes located away from construction sites.

Neighborhoods full of single-family homes are one of the main drivers of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Boston and Lee. More people living far from their workplace means more people driving instead of walking, cycling or using public transport.

Lee said the province should focus on non-market housing and encourage local governments to rezone the land so that up to six houses can be built on a single lot.

Aerial view of homes in the Burnaby Heights neighborhood, with rows of single family homes. Experts say neighborhoods filled with single-family homes are the primary driver of greenhouse gas emissions. (Gian Paolo Mendoza / CBC)

2. Connect vulnerable people at home

According to Boston, there is also an important social element to be built more densely: connecting vulnerable seniors with young people in an emergency.

This is especially important given the disproportionate impact the heated dome has on people isolated in city apartments, according to Boston.

Boston says older people would be more often connected to younger ones in more densely built communities, reducing the risk of isolation in an emergency.

A large umbrella blocks out the sun of a woman sitting on the sidewalk in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson / CBC)

3. Improve emergency shelter systems

Lee says the province should improve province-wide emergency systems to be more proactive before and during natural disasters and extreme weather conditions.

More importantly, Lee says the province should mobilize emergency shelters in advance if severe weather conditions are forecast, and make sure those in need of shelter from cold or heat get it.

“I think there is a really big burden [with shelters] it has to be the responsibility of the provincial government, ”he said.

4. Increase in the number of urban trees

The number of trees that grow in a city – known as the canopy – should also be a priority for city planners, Boston said.

More trees in urban areas provide cooling effect for quarters, mitigating the impact of “urban heat islands” created when some communities have fewer trees than others, he said.

Urban trees also act as a buffer during flooding, creating permeable ground surfaces for rainwater drainage, according to Boston.

Alex Boston, director of SFU’s Renewable Cities program, says the urban canopy provides shade and coolness during heat waves, and also helps provide permeable soil and act as a buffer against flooding. (David Horemans / CBC)

5. Insulation and cross ventilation

Instead of focusing on air conditioners during episodes of extreme heat, Boston says homeowners should focus on insulation and cross ventilation in their homes.

This is especially important because of how the climate in British Columbia is changing, with more extreme weather conditions, according to Boston.

“If you have really good insulation in the building, you can keep the heat outside and you can also keep the heat inside, depending on the time of year,” he said.

6. Modernization of current infrastructure

Lee argues that existing buildings need to be upgraded to less depend on fossil fuels, which are used heat many houses in British Columbia

“I think there is a [provincial] role there, for example, in modernizing buildings and moving from the heating and cooling systems we have to heat pump systems, ”he said.

Heat pumps run on electricity, which is largely derived from renewable energy in British Columbia, and they can also be used as air conditioners during heat waves.

Heat pumps can be up to 300% more efficient than electric baseboard heaters, according to BC Hydro. They can also be used to cool homes during heat waves. (SRC)

A spokesperson for BC Attorney General David Eby, who is responsible for the province’s housing strategy, said the government is currently providing heat pumps and other climate change-related discounts to homeowners. as part of the provincial program of CleanBC Strategy.

“As of September 2021, more than 27,000 rebates had been awarded to households in British Columbia. Additional incentives are available from participating municipalities,” said an emailed statement.

7. Regulations imposing climate protection

While the province offers many incentives for homeowners and homeowners to protect their homes against the weather, there is no law requiring them to do so.

This is particularly problematic for cities like Vancouver, according to Lee, where basement apartments are one of the main sources of affordable housing and are also subject to flood damage.

Boston said regulations should be introduced to ensure homeowners are climate resistant, which would include raised basement suites.


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