How Do We Galvanize Local Climate Action?

Cheryl Ng, Cindy Zhaohua Cheng, and Dr. Stephen Sheppard
Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning, University of British Columbia 

Uncertainty, denial, pessimism. These are the words commonly associated with climate change today, especially as news headlines reveal devastating stories about wildfires, heat stress, and other climate-related disasters across the world.

How can we turn the conversation around, to include messages of hope for the future instead? How can we bring climate change and its solutions down to the local level where people care the most? How can we encourage friends & neighbors to take collective action against one of humanity’s most pressing problems?

These are the questions that the Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP), a research unit led by Dr. Stephen Sheppard at the University of British Columbia (Canada), hopes to answer. Through its Cool ‘Hood Champs program developed in 2019, CALP aims to support community-led urban greening projects in order to build engaged, low-carbon, resilient and healthy neighborhoods.

The Cool ‘Hood Champs program will recruit, train & empower local champions using the Citizen’s Coolkit – a visual and fun one-stop toolkit developed by CALP for neighbors and friends to engage one another on issues and solutions related to urban forestry and climate change. The Coolkit provides a step-by-step ‘do-it-yourself’ guide to help budding climate champions with starting a conversation, visioning and mapping their neighborhood,  crafting an action plan, and finally,  implementing that plan by taking concrete actions.

How do we galvanize local climate action Cheryl Ng_local climate champions
Local climate champions doing a climate change exploratory walk in Kensington Cedar Cottage neighborhood (2018 summer)

Previous research by the CALP team, working with communities and schools, has shown that climate projects need to be fun, engaging, and local if the general public is to get on board. Thus, participants of the Cool ‘Hood Champs program will have the opportunity to try an array of interactive mapping and visualization activities in the Citizen’s Coolkit, specially tailored for block-level climate action (Fig 1).

Urban forest quest conducted by residents of Kensington Cedar Cottage neighborhood (2018 summer)

For example, the Urban Forest Quest enables participants to estimate their canopy cover in the neighborhood through a fun outdoor walk (Fig 2). At the end of the program, champions will have learned about their neighborhood and know how to engage their neighbors, local government and support organizations in local green projects such as tree-planting, rain-gardens, and community gardening.

Cool ‘Hood Champs will first be piloted in Vancouver’s Killarney neighborhood in Spring 2020, with support from the Vancouver Park Board’s Neighbourhood Matching Fund and representatives from the Killarney, Champlain Heights and Hasting-Sunrise Community Associations. Thereafter, CALP plans to expand this program across more neighborhoods in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, partnering with municipal staff and community organizations.

Such engagement programs can contribute to building more resilient communities, reducing air-conditioning needs, etc., in line with cities’ canopy targets, carbon emission reduction targets, and adaptation strategies. CALP is also exploring opportunities to establish a collaborative network of schools and local service hubs (e.g. community centers, libraries, and parks) where neighborhood champions, teachers, high schoolers, and parents can work together in urban greening, stewardship, and climate action (Fig 3).

Research has shown that social cohesion is key to sustaining a community’s resilience against future uncertainties. Through Cool ‘Hood Champs, CALP aims to empower future climate champions, foster greater neighborliness, and make our neighborhoods more climate-friendly.

The REACH (Resilience through Education, Action, and Capacity-building in the ‘Hood) model designed by UBC CALP, which aims to connect neighborhoods, schools, and experts in the fight against climate change