The former mayor of Vancouver, alumnus Gregor Robertson ’86, spoke at Colorado College this past block on his work in turning Vancouver into one of the greenest cities in the world. His progressive policies focused on renewable energy, reconciliation with indigenous populations, and improving the overall well-being of citizens.
Robertson commented on how he “never imagined being in politics.” However, life after CC brought him the opportunity to serve as mayor from 2008 to 2018, the longest term in Vancouver history. His goals of turning Vancouver green have been influential around the world, and he explained how, “It’s the Scandinavian cities who we are chasing.” With every city projected to roughly double in population over the next 30 years, Robertson finds it essential to create a sustainable foundation prepared to take on this massive growth. His ultimate goals are zero carbon, zero waste, and healthy ecosystems.
Even with these utopian goals, Robertson still understands that “We can’t do a big, green agenda if we’re not connecting it to reality.” Affordable housing, increased and improved public transportation, and combating inflation associated with sustainability are all issues that Robertson sees as needing immediate attention. The only big city in North America without a major freeway, Vancouver has had to seek alternative forms of quick transportation, while simultaneously avoiding greater increases in a carbon footprint.
Robertson also hopes that these environmentally friendly changes will facilitate a huge reduction in overall costs for the city. According to him, homes and businesses save $44 million from energy-efficient building policies. In addition to being the first city in North America to implement an “empty-home” tax, Robertson also hopes to move the entirety of the population off the streets in the winter months.
Another core issue that Robertson attempted to tackle was the process of reconciliation. Vancouver is the third most diverse city in the world, which means, as Robertson explained, they addressed the deeply racist history of colonized lands. Through organized walks and attempting to foster a greater understanding of Indigenous People’s cultures, he hopes to not only educate people, but to make genuine reparations.
Coming off the tail end of Vancouver’s worst wildfire season in history, and one of the worst winters, Robertson commented how, “This is the reality, and it’s horrific.” He has found that the majority of the population is in support of his progressive policies, but that there are still challenges, such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline going through First Nation territory and emptying out into Vancouver’s English Bay. He hopes that by creating deadlines to end the use of fossil fuels by 2050, making all new buildings carbon neutral, and ensuring residents have equitable access to nature that change is inevitable.