Mark Roseland was walking through his Vancouver neighbourhood two years ago when an unusual piece of graffiti posted on a telephone pole caught his eye - the words "Imagine No Cars"; were scrawled on a homemade sign.

The timing couldn't have been better. Roseland, as associate director of SFU's Community Economic Development Centre, had long been mulling over how to make environmentalism "sexy"; and "cool"; to the broader public.

Later that evening Roseland sat down and tried to imagine no cars. "I scribbled down a few thoughts, then wrote the lyrics to the tune of John Lennon's song 'Imagine,'"; says Roseland, who took his guitar to the next meeting of Vancouver's Eco city Network and sang his version of the song. In the audience that evening was a member of the Vancouver Bicycle Choir who asked for the lyrics.

A month later, Roseland was the final speaker at a national conference on sustainable transportation. He put the lyrics to his song up on the overhead and was astonished when "a woman from the Bicycle Choir leaped out of the audience with a guitar and the somewhat astonished plenary [mostly in suits] sang along.";

Since then the lyrics have been photocopied, faxed, e mailed and published "in more places than I can keep track of,"; according to Roseland.

The story of Roseland's song represents the "think globally and act locally"; paradigm which encourages individual action to achieve community goals.

Roseland subsequently edited Eco City Dimensions (New Society $19.95), a compilation of essays from around the world about creating ecologically sound cities. B.C. contributors include Donald Alexander, William Rees, Jennie Moore, Kelly Vodden and Lyle Walker.

An eco city is a concept rather than a definition, according to Roseland. "Streets for people, not cars. Destinations easily accessible by foot, bike and public transit. Health as wellness rather than as absence of disease. Restoration of damaged wetlands and other habitats. Affordable housing for all. Food produced and consumed locally.

Renewable sources of energy. Less pollution and more recycling. A vibrant local economy that does not harm the environment. Public awareness and involvement in decision making. Social justice for women, people of colour and the disabled. Consideration of future generations.";

Roseland was first introduced to the idea of eco cities when he met Richard Register in Berkeley, California in 1979. Register proudly displayed a large, older model car which he had gutted, filled with dirt and planted with vegetables.

Register was active in the "car wars"; campaign of the time, which gave "tickets"; to cars for consuming nonrenewable fossil fuels, producing pollution, endangering civic life and uglifying the landscape.
A co founder of the non profit organization Urban Ecology, Register had helped bring back part of a creek culverted and covered eighty years earlier. He had planted and harvested fruit trees on city streets and designed and built solar greenhouses. He had also helped pass energy ordinances, established a bus line and promoted alternatives to automobiles.

The notion of eco cities started to gather real momentum with the publication of Register's seminal Eco city Berkeley, published in 1987. According to Roseland, it was "a visionary book about how Berkeley could be ecologically rebuilt over the next several decades.";

The momentum grew when the organization held the First International Eco city Conference in Berkeley in 1990. More than 700 people from around the world came to discuss urban problems and submit proposals for shaping cities on ecological principles. Since then, two more international conferences have been held, one in Adelaide, Australia in 1992 and another in Yoff, Senegal in 1996.

Cited by the Vancouver Sun as one of British Columbia's "top 50 living public intellectuals," Mark Roseland has since become Director of the Centre for Sustainable Community Development at Simon Fraser University and Professor in SFU's School of Resource and Environmental Management.

As a Research Director for the City of Vancouver's Clouds of Change Task Force in 1990, he led one of the first comprehensive municipal responses to global atmospheric change. Having edited RAIN magazine, he also served as North American editor of the international journal Local Environment from its inception in 1995 until 2002.

In addition to Eco-City Dimensions: Healthy Communities, Healthy Planet (New Society 1997), he has possibly been most influential for producing Towards Sustainable Communities: Solutions for Citizens and their Governments (New Society $34.95), newly released in its fourth edition since 1992 when it was subtitled A Resource Book for Municipal and Local Governments.

The new version of this landmark volume provides new case studies and expanded treatment of sustainability, in rural as well as urban settings, as well as contributions from a range of experts around the world. The volume demonstrates how "community capital" can be leveraged to meet the needs of cities and towns for energy efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, water, sewage, transportation and housing, climate change and air quality, land use and urban planning.


Towards Sustainable Communities: Solutions for Citizens and their Governments (New Society 1992, 1998, 2005, 2012) 9780865717114 $34.95

Eco-City Dimensions: Healthy Communities, Healthy Planet (New Society 1997)

[BCBW 2012]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Second Growth: Community Economic Development in Rural British Columbia