Whitehorse is playing second-fiddle to Yellowknife when it comes to sustainability.
Excessive water use, urban sprawl and fewer green transportation options left Whitehorse trailing its northern neighbour in a recent survey of Canadian cities.
For the fourth year in a row, Corporate Knights, a Toronto-based magazine, has rated cities on a number of environmental, social and economic indicators.
Whitehorse landed second place in the small city category, bumping itself up from fifth place in last year’s survey.
Yellowknife, on the other hand, has retained first place for the last three years.
One reason is because the layout of the city encourages people to use more active forms of transportation, said Corporate Knight managing editor Michelle Shin.
Far more people walk, cycle or take public transit in Yellowknife – 32.5 per cent compared to 17.1 per cent in Whitehorse.
It’s Whitehorse’s sprawling infrastructure that is the culprit, said Shin.
Whitehorse has 147 kilometres of roads to connect all of its scattered neighbourhoods. That’s twice as much pavement as Yellowknife, a city that has only a few thousand fewer people than Whitehorse.
And almost a third of Yellowknife’s roadways include signed bicycle routes. The city also recently passed a regulation that all new commercial developments must include cyclists and pedestrians, in addition to vehicles, into their design.
Yellowknife might be more compact, but the city is also better at encouraging citizens to leave their cars at home.
Last year, Yellowknife invested $1.4 million into its bus system, $55,000 more than Whitehorse did.
They’re also investing more in green buildings and alternative energy. The city set up a tax rebate program to encourage developers to use environmental LEED standards in their buildings. They also worked with the territorial government to dole out cash for solar panel and biomass heating systems.
And Yellowknife is developing a geothermal district heating system for its downtown core, an energy option that was recently abandoned by Whitehorse for the first two phases of its Whistle Bend subdivision.
Yukoners’ unquenchable thirst for water is another reason why the city fared worse than Yellowknife in the 2010 survey, said Shin.
A study released by Environment Canada last December found Yukoners consumed the most water per capita than any other area in Canada. Compared to other provinces and territories, we sucked back an average of 934 litres of water per person daily. People in the Northwest Territories only used 440 litres while those in Nunavut used 134 litres, the lowest in the country.
The city’s aging infrastructure is to blame for that one, said city engineer Wayne Tuck.
Whitehorse has a number of dead-end water mains that it needs to bleed each winter so other city pipes don’t freeze. That means a lot of water is flowing, but isn’t being used by citizens.
The city also doesn’t have a water metering program, a system that has been shown to drastically reduce water consumption.
Whitehorse is planning to bring that online in 2011, said Tuck.
Whitehorse might be behind Yellowknife, but the good news is that the city is catching up quickly and may even surpass Yellowknife in the future, said Shin.
“There’s a healthy rivalry there that can be fostered,” she said.
Where Whitehorse scored particularly well was on indicators related to social well-being, said Shin.
Whitehorse has been able to attract and retain more family physicians than Yellowknife.
The city also boasts more public arts events and lower obesity rates.
You can check out the survey results at www.corporateknights.ca.
Contact Vivian Belik at