When you drop a pebble in a pond, you can see the ripple effect immediately. But when you install triple glazing in your home or plant a tree in your yard, how do you measure the impact on your carbon footprint? And how do you figure out if it’s better for the climate to encourage similar behaviours in your neighbours, or get your municipality to switch out the bulbs in the streetlights?
Professor Stephen Sheppard and his team at the Collaborative for Landscape Planning in the Department of Forest Resources Management, are seeking the answers to these and other important questions in a multi-year research project supported in part by the Neptis Foundation and the Vancouver Foundation.
“Carbon dioxide and energy are largely invisible, and the prevailing imagery of climate change is often remote, such as ice floes melting, or abstract and scientific,” says Stephen Sheppard. “In this project we want to produce compelling graphics and interactive tools – we call them digital stories in data – that help people see the implications of local energy use for climate change, and explore new community options for land use, energy supply and energy demand.”
The key objective of the tools is to help local decision-makers and citizens visualize alternative low-carbon future scenarios, examine the relative merits of different strategies for urban development at regional and neighbourhood scales, to inform better decisions about things like densification, neighbourhood retrofits, and renewable energy production.
“We want to put user-friendly tools, backed by sound data, in the hands of a broader audience,” says Stephen Sheppard.
There’s a critical gap in public awareness of how community energy strategies can impact local neighbourhoods, and how those neighbourhoods can help mitigate climate change.
The cities of Richmond and Surrey, along with Metro Vancouver, are partnering in this project, with representatives acting as advisors and co-developers in the process. Richmond and Surrey represent a spectrum of city centre to rural/suburban communities, all facing the twin challenges of continuing growth while meeting targets of reducing greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050.
The project was launched in 2011, and to date team members have completed an extensive literature review, developed active relationships with partners, and conducted both regional and neighbourhood case studies involving energy modelling, web-mapping and 3D urban form visualization. The end product will be a digital Primer on Community Energy that practitioners and communities can use to build understanding of unfamiliar local energy options, ahead of sometimes controversial planning decisions in tackling climate change.
Funding support for the project has been provided by GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence, Neptis Foundation, Vancouver Foundation, and Metro Vancouver, with in-kind support from the cities of Richmond and Surrey.
“This project aligns strongly with our aim of supporting informed public decisions and fostering understanding of regional issues,” says Marcy Burchfield of the Neptis Foundation. “We are excited about the potential of using technology to deliver research to people in a meaningful and actionable way.”
For more information about this project and additional opportunities for support, please contact Emma Tully, Director of Development, at email@example.com or phone 604.822.8716.