In 2006 I was hired by the BC Ministry of Economic Development to develop and deliver a green building tour for a visiting delegation from Austria. They were a consortium of architects and green business leaders. One of the delegates owned a timber construction company specializing in building without glue and other chemicals. Another produced ecological windows for low-energy and zero-energy housing. Still another designed ventilation systems for passive-houses or ultra-low energy buildings.
For the tour, I selected two sites, a green retrofit of an historic building on Water Street in Gastown and the National Works Yard. I also arranged two excellent guest speakers, Vladimir Mikler, an associate partner at Cobalt Engineering for the first, and Brian Landels, Engineering Yards Superintendent for the City of Vancouver. Knowing that the Austrians were miles ahead of us, I was feeling a bit insecure about what we had to show them. As we were driving from the Pan Pacific Hotel through Gastown, our Star Limo van driver began to narrate, pointing out some of the historic spots. He was lively and interesting and the group was obviously enjoying the sight seeing. Good thing, because during the first stop, I could tell the delegation wasn’t all that impressed. They were pointing out things to each other and exchanging “oh brother” glances. Okay, on to stop number two.
As we drove through Chinatown I pointed out my favourite haunt for coconut buns. None of them had ever eaten one, so I had the driver screech to a halt. I ran into The Boss Bakery to get some very impressive coconut buns for everyone, which they happily munched en route to the National Works Yard. The van driver continued with his extraordinary tour guide routine. He knew many fascinating details about Vancouver. A good thing because, if possible, the group seemed even less impressed with the works yard, even though it was a LEED Gold certified building, one of the earliest in the city.
Back at the hotel, just before everyone piled out of the van, I asked what the highlight of the tour was for them. “Coconut buns!” they all cried in unison. Never underestimate the effects of food and good old-fashioned sight seeing, especially when you’re failing to impress with your city’s green-ness.