Fernie 2020: A Whole Systems Approach to City Planning By Ben Horowitz

The Corporation of the City of Fernie has committed itself to achieving carbon neutrality, joining the droves of other municipalities in British Columbia striving for similar targets. Of course emissions reductions initiatives are hardly an isolated phenomenon confined to B.C. alone. Moves to become climate neutral are widespread throughout the realms of higher education, the corporate world and elsewhere across the global public sector. It is a long-term mission, whose end result is nothing short of a revolution. Changes like these don’t happen overnight.

Transforming the City’s buildings, vehicle fleets and operations to net-zero emissions is a serious pledge, one that requires tireless dedication to a most sensible outcome. Such is true too for many of the other guiding principles of the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP), particularly the “Smart Growth” section, which outlines a comprehensive agenda for moving forward with area-development in mindful and sustainable ways.

The City’s OCP Implementation Committee (OCPIC) is the body charged with the task of staying the course, monitoring progress and ensuring the fulfillment of desired OCP results. Towards this end, the OCPIC has unquestionably been doing a fine job moving forward while listening to and reconciling diverse community values and interests. Yet in combating business as usual and bringing to fruition the guiding principles of this document, there is only one way to move from the symbolic to the substantive, and that is through unwavering advocacy. Because the sustainable underdog isn’t going to win the fight alone. Support on the ground is needed from anywhere and everywhere it can be attained. Resident coalitions, businesses, and, of course, our elected officials - they’re all critical players in the move towards a sustainable future.

In picking up from last month, the question remains: by allowing the Highway 3 Improvement Project to be carried out in a business as usual fashion, did the City of Fernie miss a golden opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to carbon neutrality and a diminished ecological footprint? To reiterate: The world’s leading asphalt recycling company is Fernie’s own Green Roads Recycling, which stood by as the $1.3 million Highway 3 “mill and fill” contract went to Okanagan Aggregates Ltd, a conventional paving firm out of Armstrong, B.C. As was discussed in detail last month, when compared to conventional asphalt paving techniques, by all measures, the Green Roads difference is profound. By way of “hot in place” asphalt recycling (HIP), Green Roads’ jobs account for 60 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, are completed 60 percent more quickly, 20-30 percent more cheaply and require an input of 80 percent fewer resources such as costly oil and engineered aggregate mixes.

Viewing these matters through a lens of sustainability makes clear the measurable benefits of HIP and Green Roads. But ultimately, was HIP the right tool for the Highway 3 project? Jason Jackson is manager of the surfacing program for the Southern Interior Ministry of Transportation and “called the job” in Fernie. It should be noted here that provincial highway projects are just that, provincial! The City of Fernie has no formal jurisdiction in “calling” these jobs. However, the aforementioned value of unwavering advocacy in matters like these stands firm. Provincially spearheaded or not, when it’s happening inside city limits, it’s city business.

“A lot of thought goes into this (calling the job), a lot of hemming and hawing,” says Jackson. “HIP is incredibly important to our program; it has its place, has its use. But there are very few silver bullets in this world.”

Though the cleaner-faster-cheaper method, in opting against recycling and renewing the road, Jackson points to the fact that the Highway 3 asphalt aggregate was in markedly poor shape. “Do you really want to grind up a road you’re not happy with and put it back down? Why would it last longer the second time?” he says.

In the end the difference here was a judgment call from the engineering professional on the ground; a technical barrier that simply could not be overcome - pretty straightforward, no sinister motives present. After all, Stothert will be the first to acknowledge that HIP is best suited for certain, but not all jobs. Had he been aware of the poor quality aggregate, likely he too would have found the scenario far less objectionable.

Unfortunately this particular case study does nothing to account for a larger and more disconcerting trend: That even when the job is primed for HIP, asphalt recyclers are being severely underutilized, operating at only 60-80 percent, according to Stothert.

“It has a lot to do with educating the people who make the actual decisions,” says Stothert. “We’ve been around for 20 years now, so it’s hard for people to say, ‘well, we don’t really know, we don’t really know if it’s going to work’. Twenty years of proven success - 150 km per year - we work! It works! It’s successful!”

When attempting to overcome the rigid confines of industrial BAU there will always be barriers to change. Yet it’s the bigger picture that’s most troubling still: that as a society we settle for the wasteful, the inefficient and the polluting practices when the sustainable alternative is sitting right there, ready to go. How long before sustainability comes to define BAU? How long before planned obsolescence becomes..obsolete? Where are the advocates? As Stothert noted, education is key.

Understanding what is at stake, then critically engaging such complex issues is the first step in becoming an advocate – an advocate for change, an advocate for sustainable smart growth - the kind of which human welfare is now unmistakably dependent upon. Because the world needs them (advocates). The City of Fernie needs them! Especially if we’re striving to “walk the talk” of the OCP (Smart Growth and carbon neutrality).

In terms of whole-systems city planning, every piece of the puzzle counts. Each opportunity to move the needle in the right direction is significant and no contribution is too small. This is true too on the global scale as well. In addressing these ever mounting socio-economic and environmental issues, time is of the essence. Both locally and globally, making these sustainable leaps simply cannot happen fast enough, with the Natural Capitalism trio reminding us: “we’ve reached an extraordinary threshold.” As well, the year 2020 is approaching; it’s not all that far off. Will the principles of Fernie’s OCP come to fruition? What about the City becoming a sustainable model for others to replicate? “We can either lead the change or follow it.” Let us lead!