Creating Our Future: The Natural City Vision



Note to Reader:

“The Natural City” is a transformational document for local government created by Vic Derman. Well-versed in a water-centric way-of-thinking, he is a visionary elected representative from Vancouver Island. A retired educator, he was one of the founders of The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, and has been on District of Saanich Council since 2002.

Vic Derman chaired the organizing committee and was the driving force behind the highly successful 2006 Water in the City Conference, held in Victoria.  He is a Director of the Capital Regional District; and is Vice-Chair of the Capital Region Water Commission.


Vic derman - the natural city

A Call to Action

Penticton forum - vic derman(160p)In his blueprint for action, Vic Derman points the way to a more sustainable future. “The Natural City challenges traditional approaches and sets the goal of creating a region that is environmentally sustainable, socially equitable and economically sound,” he states. Vic Derman calls the project “THE NATURAL CITY” to reflect the dramatic shift in direction it demands.


Three Lenses Shape ‘The Natural CIty’

In the opening paragraph of his treatise, Vic Derman writes that: “Past practices have produced a myriad of outcomes such as loss of open space, environmental Vic derman - 3 lenses (360p)degradation and choking congestion that are unsustainable and inconsistent with citizen’s hopes and expectations.”

He then introduces three lenses to change course and shape the future of an urban region, namely:

  • Regional Growth Strategy
  • Climate Change
  • Quality of Life and Place

“The three ‘lenses’ are offered as a way to scrutinize and direct the choices we make.”

“Collectively, the three lenses bring our future into focus. The picture they define is one of environmental, social and economic sustainability. It portrays a new approach that cannot be accomplished with tinkering and incremental change. Instead, bold and visionary action will be needed.”


British Columbia’s Competitive Advantage

Vic derman - why not build (360p)Living Water Smart creates a water-centric vision that responds to this challenge: What we want British Columbia to look like in 50 years and beyond. Achieving the vision depends on the cumulative decisions that British Columbians make now and over time.

The Natural City provides a roadmap for creating the desired future as envisioned in Living Water Smart.

The Natural City is the desired outcome of a layered design process, one that aims to shape and ensure the future wellbeing of an urban region by viewing development and redevelopment opportunities through the three lenses.

Vic Derman’s key message is that Quality of Life and Place is BC’s competitive advantage; thus, it is in our best interests to create a legacy for future generations whereby settlement is in balance with ecology.


Link to YouTube Video:

YouTube - vic dermanTo view Vic Derman describiing the three lenses, click either on the adjacent image or on this link to YouTube . “Let us set a goal of building the world’s most attractive, most liveable, and above else, sustainable medium-size urban area,” stated Vic Derman.


Lens #1 – Regional Growth Strategy:

The first lens is the Regional Growth Study (RGS). According to Vic Derman, it has offered a call for local sustainability for some time but leaders have not always listened. Now, he says, we must ask without fail:

Penticton forum - three lenses #1


Lens #2 – Climate Change:

This ‘new’ issue is the most critical problem of our time and is arguably the greatest threat humanity has faced,” writes Vic Derman. “Its potential consequences range from severe to apocalyptic and add a particularly urgent reason to rethink our direction. Everything we do must help to address climate change and address the question:

Penticton forum - three lenses #2


Lens #3 – Quality of Life and Place:

“The third lens centres around our economic future, continues Vic Derman. “It makes the argument that we are in a growing competition for wealth, talent and skill with urban communities around the globe. It also asks: “What advantages do we have in this intensifying competition?” and comes to the conclusion that quality of life and quality of place provide our outstanding edge.”

“We must hold on to that ‘economic ace’ and build on it. Create the world’s most attractive, liveable, equitable and sustainable medium sized urban area and we can: guarantee our economic future, contribute to climate change solutions and deal with local sustainability. The synergies are tremendous. Invariably, we must ask:

Penticton forum - three lenses #3

“The Natural City document offers: additional principles for sustainable development, a list of attributes for our future region and a “turned upside down” design process to help reach our goals. It offers prospects of critical and spectacular results and a vision of hope and promise for a future that begs to be embraced!”


Design with Nature

Vic Derman defines a set of ten principles that provide a planning framework for The Natural City. One of these is a ‘design with nature’ way-of-thinking and acting.

“Integration with nature and minimal interference with the natural environment are at the core of The Natural City,” writes Vic Derman. “The urban area must exist harmoniously with the surrounding environment. Key systems should mimic natural processes and integrate with them to the highest degree possible.”

Surrey wbm forum - design with nature

Climate Change Adaptation:

Lynn kriwoken (120p)The ‘design with nature’ paradigm captures the essence of climate change adaptation. “Adaptation is about responding to the changes that will inevitably occur. Adaptation is at the community level and is therefore about collaboration. If we can show how to get the water part right, then other parts are more likely to follow,” states Lynn Kriwoken, Ministry of Environment.


A Design Process to Achieve the Vision

Vic Derman advocates application of a layered design process and demonstrates how conventional approaches to urban design could be modified to meet the goals of The Natural City. This process does not differ greatly from traditional approaches with one exception, he emphasizes.

“The usual approach is to acquire land, decide what will be placed on it, then go about making it sustainable as possible,” writes Vic Derman. “The layered Penticton forum - vic derman(120p)approach effectively turns this upside down. Rather than being ‘fitted into the project’ after key decisions have been made, elements such as sustainability, amenity and social equity become the drivers of development outcomes.”

“By putting them first, the layered approach has the potential to drive a paradigm-shift in urban design. Like all dramatic shifts, it will meet with resistance and will require strong leadership and commitment to succeed.”

“Accomplishing The Natural City will not be easy but the rewards will be worth the effort,” concludes Vic Derman. “Getting even close to The Natural City would: fulfill the vision of the Regional Growth Strategy, help meet the challenge of climate change and all but guarantee our future economic success. Can we afford to do anything else?”


To Learn More:

To download a copy of The Natural City by Vic Derman, click here.

And then click on The Natural City Vision: Three Lenses to Shape the Future of Urban Communities in British Columbia to read about Vic Derman’s presentation at the University of Victoria in October 2008.

In addition, click on Vic Derman publishes a “call to action” – implement an integrated approach to urban watershed restoration! to access a set of video clips of Vic Derman’s presentation.

Penticton forum - the natural city - layered process

Originally posted on the Convening for Action Community-of-Interest in March 2009 as part of the 4th story in a series that foreshadowed the Penticton Forum. This stand-alone feature was extracted from Story #4 and posted in August 2011