In recent years, Vancouver, B.C., has provided Seattleites with eco-friendly examples of sustainable, compact communities. As recently as the 1990s, Vancouver's walkable neighborhoods accounted for 67 percent of the population, enabling broad use of bicycles and public transportation. British Columbia also has ambitious goals for addressing climate change and recognizes the painful inconvenience of rising gas prices. The cities of Vancouver and North Vancouver are listed as having the highest percentages of compact communities.
However, these numbers are slipping. A recent analysis [report, map] by the sustainability-focused, Seattle-based Sightline Institute reveals that 45 percent more land was converted into suburbs from 2001 to 2006 than in previous census periods. The cities are spreading out to accommodate more housing, creating more and more suburban area. Not that suburbs are bad, but it deters commuters from riding their bikes longer distances or changing bus routes an extra two or three times.
"This is more of a warning signal than an alarm bell," says Clark Williams-Derry, the Sightline research director who authored the Vancouver analysis. If Vancouver didn't have an outstanding previous record of fostering sustainable, compact communities, it would be much harder to boost the numbers back up. According to Smart Growth B.C., a non-governmental advocacy group, the city should focus resources less on highway expansion (and subsequent rising fuel emissions and gas prices) and more on fuel-efficient transportation.