My Social Capital

The Social Capital that I have, that is to say the strength of my social relationships and the breadth of my networks are, from my perspective, very strong and vast and frequently deliver opportunities to me.

For starters I have a larger-than-life family who are great ‘networkers’ because they develop strong bonds to almost anyone they meet.  In addition to this, I grew up on a small island where I made many lifelong friends that I regularly re-connect with. I have also travelled extensively creating close relationships with locals of the many Countries I visited or lived in.  I have gone to school and made a few close connections from classes while also networking with professors and using extra-curricular activities and sports as my entertainment in lieu of television. My professions have introduced me to some amazing people I would never have crossed paths with and allowed me to spend many hours getting to know them in camp settings.

This topic is strangely related to an article I was reading in Monday Magazine, the local Victoria free paper.  It was about how technology is ruining us, I couldn’t agree more.  The more time I have to spend on a computer in this program, the more impatient I get for the days when I am not tied to this mesmerizing computer that will have stolen countless hours from me by August of this year.  Basically, screen time is killing our relationships, making us dumber, less creative, and boosting depression rates.  Computers need to stay at work and school as far as I’m concerned television is out as well, besides a movie now and then.  There is so much more outside of the virtual world than in.  I mean so much more that has real, tangible meaning and feeling.  It doesn’t surprise me in the least that countries with low social capital have the highest screen time.  It is very obvious to me that a sustainable community, one that is adaptive and resilient will be a community with high social capital and true community.

The nature of my networks is personal, and I wouldn’t want them any other way.  This way both parties (myself and others) are comfortable with asking for favors.  I will go out of my way to help anyone out, because I know that someday I may need him or her to do the same for me.  I understand that I have gotten some incredible opportunities because of my social capital, and that of others so I am always looking to make new connections.  I am also happy to connect people who could help each other out, in that way I could in a way expand someone else’s network drastically, given the size of mine.

I believe that a community with strong and trusting connections can accomplish almost anything, even sustainability.Image

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Community Vitality : a conversation

Community Vitality

A vital community is one that thrives, not just survives – communities with adaptive qualities and innovative capacities will become the resilient communities in the face of change.Image


The Vitality index (Vt) encompasses the many components that every community has:

Vital space + Dead Space+ Connectivity+ Diversity + Community Capitals+ Accessibility = A measure of community vitality.

All of these contribute positively to vitality, except for dead space, which has negative impacts.


I was interested in how a community’s vitality can be measured, as it would obviously be a very subjective measurement; based ultimately on people perceptions.  The direction that the Vitality project ( is taking is very well thought out and with time I believe will become an assessment tool for communities around the world. 

I tend to agree with this measurement that takes into account the above components and I think the current measurement of Canadian community vitality measured using the Canadian Index of well-being ( needs revision.  It shows that Canadian communities report/show a 10.3% increase in community vitality: the strength, activity and inclusiveness of relationships between residents, private sector, public sector and civil society organizations that fosters individual and collective wellbeing.

Due to their methods I feel the newer Vitality Project represents a truer vitality measure because it has built on those components that the current index includes; crime rates, participation in organized activities, voluntary engagement, feelings of belonging to the local community, feeling of trust, % with 6 or more close friends. Although I think these factors play into a vibrant community, the measurements are too focused on objective evidence when really the community vitality is a more intangible aura that a community possesses.  This doesn’t mean that the measurements must be completely subjective but a medley of methods must be used in order to capture the big picture I think.

The current index has a sustainability component in the Vt index developed by the Vitality Project. After all, if a community is going to be resilient and adapt to change, climate change is the current over-arching issue that ‘threatens’ the current way of living.  I say ‘threatens’ with quotations because it is the inconvenient truth that will demand a plethora of changes both big and small, that the majority of people will need time to accept.

Some things I might consider to be included in a vitality index would be:

Screen time, it needs to be measured as factor playing into human relations, does it decrease or increase the useful and meaningful connectivity between community members? Democratic involvement would also be an interesting and easy statistic to include; such as how many community members are voting and believe they can make a difference?  Are public spaces being used, revamped or forgotten? Are dead spaces being revamped and are they allowed to be revamped by the community? More & more often, creative residents are claiming dead spaces as community garden space; the laws should allow this



Community vitality is a great measure to develop, which will give us clues as to how to make our communities more successful, sustainable and bountiful.

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Waste Audit…my consumer waste

Waste Audit: Consumer waste
The landlords who live upstairs made an effort to inform me of the garbage and recycling pick-up days upon moving in to their basement. They even provided a calendar with the Fridays and Tuesday marked with a legend.
I was disappointed when I brought up compost pick-up, when they said it hadn’t been started yet for this area. Luckily I found a nice cliff just behind the look-out nearby where I can toss my compost every other day under the disguise of darkness.
Two weeks went by and I visited them upstairs for a separate matter and they wasted no time in asking me if I had forgotten the days for trash pick-up. Two of us downstairs had not created enough garbage to make it worth the garbage-mans time to stop the truck, get out, and dump our regular sized garbage can. The same goes for my recycling, two of us that eat the way we do, and consume less junk than the average person just don’t create enough recycling to fill the blue box every week. I took their concern as a compliment, and understood that as a family of five, living in the suburbs of Langford, they create an obscene amount of waste.
I see it every Tuesday, not one blue box per driveway but up to 5 or even 6 blue boxes, crammed with packaging from food and other items. I see 2-3 garbage cans at the ends of most driveways in this area. At first I was thinking, it was because of the holidays, or the house had been saving up in the gigantic garage for a few weeks. No, this happens every week. My neighbours need their own landfill. But is it their fault entirely? Depending on how a family eats, they might have pizza boxes, or fast food containers within other containers, within a paper bag. Or they might have a healthier diet with abundance of fruits and vegetables, therefore creating compost as waste. Remember that the compost would have to be put in the garbage as well.
Victoria’s Landfill is currently phasing out kitchen scraps from the ‘accepted’ list in a few years citizens could be fined if they send compostable scraps to the landfill. This is a great step forward, that will push the municipalities like mine to adopt a compost pick-up to diver that compost to a digester somewhere.
Two of us live in my basement suite and we definitely couldn’t cut our waste down much more. Typically the meat my boyfriend eats once or twice a week comes with some Styrofoam and plastic wrap, we recycle a lot of yogurt containers since we forgot our homemade yogurt maker in Revelstoke. It takes us over a week to fill a small grocery bag with trash….and usually we just take it out because it got stinky. The majority of our waste is compost that fortunately ends up over the cliff nearby. Obviously it would be preferable to use this compostable material to make a nutrient rich soil, but living in this part of town makes that impossible. Therefore we can only refuse to send it to the landfill wrapped in plastic.
We are very conscientious consumers, avoiding excessive packaging 90% of the time, and when those choices are combined with our lifestyle and diet, a small waste stream is the bonus.
The waste that we do produce, cannot be composted, and cannot be recycled, so what is it? It’s packaging. Usually pointless and encouraged by our government with laws a regulations for goods to have a label:
Guide to Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act Regulations
The “dealer” is the person who is a retailer, manufacturer, processor or producer of a product, or a person who is engaged in the business of importing, packing or selling a product.

The above act covers the utmost detail on label sizing, necessity of labeling, and packaging of non-food products unless they fall under exemptions – our government has made goods require labels and packaging.
With respect to Packaging in particular within the above Act, the requirements are fill level, package design and display (with regards to misleading consumers on fill level) and standards to package sizing only for a few items.

One would think that with the widespread knowledge of the vortexes of plastic in our oceans and the accumulation of trash in landfills – packaging legislation such as the one above, would offer within it a requirement of biodegradability, or at least minimize the pure quantity of allowable packaging of every product.

The packaging in the grocery store (depending on where you shop) can be ridiculous, as well as the bagging habits of the cashier. No thank you I don’t want the already packaged soap, in a double mini-bag to keep my canned goods from tasting soapy….no thanks again.

If you can’t live off your land, you are a victims of the packaging Canada demands and that the ‘dealer’ creates to make the good seem “safe”. In many other countries, a market place often lacks packaging of any sort, though plastic bags are handed out like candy.

Our society needs to engage in making better consumer decisions for items with minimal packaging. The Guide to Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act needs to be proactively reviewed, and the manufacturers need to be held accountable for distributing masses of use-less, one-time use items wrapped in one-time use packaging that is accumulating in our oceans and backyards.

The Guide above was retrieved from this website.

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Walkable Talkable Economical Ecological Neighbourhoods

Walk Score
Urban design is being rethought, rather than catering to the automobile, more and more modern (progressive) cities and towns have been designing their layout a little bit friendlier. By friendlier I mean cities like Portland, Oregon with design up-dates that incorporates multiple modes of transport such as the cycling, walking, and everything in between. We’re talking wider side-walks and more business variety so within a city, multiple villages exist. The idea is to provoke pedestrian traffic to and from businesses and this requires areas that are self-contained with all the necessities for locals: groceries, hardware, restaurants, cafes. The vast majority of cities were designed for cars, wide roads with skinny sidewalks and there is no desirable way to avoid driving. But cities have been changing. We don’t – and certainly can’t start from scratch. We can look to cities like Portland that have focused on alternative transit by introducing ‘light-rail’ and extensive bike path networks. Curitiba Brazil also has one of the best transit systems in the world, so commuters are less likely to drive. Also, cities have focused on greens space such as the big city of Malmo, Sweden known for their parks, has been transforming neighbourhoods making them environmentally friendly. Mexico City even shuts it’s major streets down on Sundays giving way to tens of thousands of cyclists.
The way of the future, and we have begun to see this in more conscious urban design as of late, is to promote healthier lifestyles. Whether the objective is on reducing noise pollution, congestion, average weight of the population, air pollution, or even just to create a stronger sense of community – design matters. It also works, William Mcdonough the author of Cradle to Cradle, opened everyones eyes to the limitations we have created within our cities and products just by their design flaws. He has captured international attentions and has some amazing projects underway delivering conceivably simple answers to societal faults.
What concerns me about the topic of re-designing our cities, most of the sources used in lectures are very utopian and not practical. What vexes me most is when the opportunities are not seen in the architecture existing today. I read somewhere that the greenest brick is the one that’s already in the wall and I think this is very important for our utopian designers to focus on. By destructing current infrastructure and replacing it with state of the art green technology – we are defeating the purpose of saving our resources, reducing and reusing! I’m glad the utopians dream big, they are lovely ideas, but I am also glad that cities have limited funds and are making the most of what is already standing.
Here is North America we have not only the biggest ecological footprints in the world, but also the biggest asses. The past decade has exposed an obesity epidemic never before seen in human history. Right now 1 in 4 Canadian children is obese ( Screen time is upwards of 42 hours a week for the average Canadian kid versus 8.7 hours exercising ( The simplest and cheapest answer is to rely on active transport instead of automobiles to get off the couch. Since most cities are virtually un-walkable, meaning there is nowhere to walk safely and/or errands are not within walking distance, we can see a direct connection with city planning to our reliance on cars and fossil fuels. We will be healthier, happier, and more sustainable if we change our existing urban areas with poor walkability to support active commutes.
In an effort to draw citizens and municipalities attention to this fundamental issue, a tool on the website has been developed as an aid. In this respect, it is a similar tool to an ecological footprint calculator. Walkscore is a little rough around the edges an could be imporved but it is a great tool for travellers or locals looking for a destination that has amenities within walking distance. However, it is fairly limited to well-known, high-density places due to a lack of information it holds. This tool may fall short for rural towns and small neighbourhoods within cities. Also the amenities my not be relevant, as your neighbourhood may receive a high score but you likely can’t eat at Serious Coffee for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Another option that would be great to include in the index, is terrain as this would be helpful for cyclists and those not suited for aggressive hill hiking. For locations in Canada a seasonal warning would also be a bonus, since temperatures drop below zero quite often and snow drifts may hinder travel on foot. For the small towns I entered into the walkscore, the answers were very hit and miss. I would like to see cycling options available, since the simplistic rating system can be very discouraging. When the rating is 7/100 where 100 is very walkable and amenities are in the immediate vicinity, there could be another element where cycling would be very encouraged.

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Huge Ecological Footprints!

The sum total impact that a person, organization, product, or nation has on the environment…everyone has one but is it within your means?

This is a very pressing matter, why isn’t this the subject on everybody’s mind?  We as Canadians have massive ecological footprints.  In fact, we have the 8th largest footprint per capita  according to the World Wildlife Fund in 2012.  As a high-income country we have a footprint 5 times as big as a low-income country, that saying it would require THREE and a half planet Earths to support our standard of living (WWF).

Why is it that in a Victoria coffee shop, people are chatting about everything BUT how huge our personal ecological footprints are. And how little responsibility we are taking to reduce the environmental costs of our luxurious lifestyles.  We are guilty.  Was it not a slap in the face when an ecological footprint calculator broke down your personal lifestyle and told you that YOU are part of the problem. 

What I wonder is “why didn’t the remainder of our day change?” We still forget to turn the lights off before hopping into the car, SUV, or truck to run that 5-minute nearby errand that could have been walked or cycled.  Why are these shocking results not triggering us to forever change our ways?

Our footprint is generally being ignored and excuses are made everyday.

We blame the science: For instance this calculator I used ( had only one location, Calgary AB, this skewed my results since that city isn’t mine.  It runs on roughly 19% renewable energy, well in BC we are mostly using hydro – that’s clean power isn’t it? Well, I have to have a car because in Canada distances are so great between places….and public transit is terrible outside of city centers.  Excuses excuses

These are beside the point, an ecological footprint calculator is such a fantastic tool.  It was designed with the input of professionals and delivers a clear result.  The result may not be to the utmost accuracy that we each crave if we are at blame; however it is ingenious in my opinion.  If we were to fuss over the inaccuracies of the tool, the solution would mean the quiz would require more time to complete – this means significantly less citizens would take the time to complete it.  I think it delivers a precise enough calculation and illustrates it in a visual way that a result is easily processed by adults and children.

 When I, an environmentally conscientious individual who makes all the best choices I can, get my results it does feel like a slap in the face.  Inevitably I go back and tweak my answers to a seemingly less demanding lifestyle, it makes no difference to the amount planets I require.  It’s awful, because I know the majority of our nation isn’t buying locally  isn’t vegetarian, isn’t commuting using car-pooling, cycling or public transit, and they aren’t avoiding purchases of excessively packaged goods.  What I’m getting at, is that the small choices I make feel futile, I feel outnumbered by those who simply disconnect from the issue.

We need to use this powerful tool, maximize it’s potential for changing our average citizens behaviour.  There are nations working on this today, there is one initiative that stands out called, Ten-in-Ten Initiative (Global Footprint Network), which is a movement to make the ecological footprint a globally accepted metric.  It could be as prominent as GDP one day, as it should.  Natural capital has become a leading competitive factor in global affairs.  So far 57 national governments have engaged with the program, 20 have reviewed it, an 7 nations have formally adopted it (

Hopefully in the future with initiatives such as Ten-in-Ten, this topic will be on the tips of everyones tongues as they adapt to more manageable lifestyles within the ecological limits of a sustainable economy. I found the sequel to The Story of Stuff, it’s the Story of Change and I think it compliments the ecological footprint calculator by inspiring consumers return to a community of citizens each with responsibility to the sustainability of their community. These days social media offers the luxury of making public statements every minute without requiring anyone to put their proclamation into action. A good example of this is Ghandi’s amazing quote “Be the Change” because it is posted everyday and the majority of users mean little by it. Our youth today needs a jump start into action and completing an ecological footprint is a good place to start the wheels turning.

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How complex is Sustainable Development?

How complex is Sustainable Development?
Sustainable Development is a term that seems to reveal multitudes the more you contemplate it’s meaning. It’s a great idea that is fairly open for interpretation. Just how sustainable can development be? Even after an hour and a half in class discussing the term, I don’t feel competent in concisely including every aspect it deserves. It would require careful planning, taking into account the environmental implications, the impacts on people society (benefits would have to outweigh costs), economic viability making the development profitable and sustainable (long lasting), it would have to be personalized to the community and would be dictated by it’s location, the list goes on… the whole life-cycle of the product and it’s effects would need to be taken into account, the reusability, the endurance, the creativity to design or develop any sort of product or industry that is ultimately sustainable would seem to threaten economy and trade….would money be as important I wonder? We will need to gain knowledge from the past to acquire skills that are worth trading….like darning socks maybe? The term always drags me into a full-blown daydream of an awesome healthy future that is so unlike our western societies today (except for those European gems that have embraced change) I love the daydream. Returning to the term sustainable development, where this progressive daydream spawns from and I’d like to touch on the key elements of the classic diagrams that appear on google when you type in the two words side-by-side.

Below is an attempt at compiling the most important aspects from the best definitions I’ve read, into my own words.

Sustainable development is holistic progress towards a future that encompasses the health of the environment first and foremost and supports cultural vitality, reinvests social capital, and from this a thriving economy will ensue. The key to all of this is to stop the main focus on the growth of economy right here and now. A sustainable economy can provide prosperity with innovation and balance. A shift to a sustainable economy where needs are met and any exploitation of natural resources is replenished or avoided and where social responsibility is first and foremost for all enterprises.

The reason I chose the four tiered graphic above is because ancient cultures around the globe (aside from a few who have ‘won’ Darwin Awards) have realized the importance of environmental respect and it really is fundamental in rituals, daily harvests, and developments. With the English language spread far and wide and the western world promoted globally via commercialism, culture is fading from our world. I think it’s of utmost importance to instead nourish cultural vitality to guard the strongest spiritual connections we have to the earth. Without diversity of cultures worldwide our chances of recalling how to live within our own means will become a meaningless saying. Without the wisdom of these cultures the simplest most effective solutions we will need may be lost.

At the same time I slightly am in disagreement with the diagram above, because it, like many demonstrates fails to depict Environmental Health as the foundation and the priority. You must admit that without an an agreeable environment, the other spheres simply do not exist.

So, may I suggest a slight alteration to the image above- without discounting any sphere. I suggest a larger foundation sphere representing Environmental Health with smaller three over-lapping spheres of Cultural vitality, Social Equity, and the Economic Prosperity. This prioritizes the essential element and recognizes the secondary ingredients to form community well-being.

I think it is very appropriate that this term has had a variety of definitions depending on the dialogue since it a very complex term that seems to be misused more often than used suitably. This term is often used by corporations to green wash operations, has been trashed by conservative governments, and frequently reinvented by many ecologists to encompass issues of the day. It also shows that this idea of sustainable development will require refining and input from everyone to be succeed.
Lets get to it!

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