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Chicago mayor's whiz kid becomes Gregor Robertson's Add to ...

The Chicago Blackhawks stole a chance at the Stanley Cup from the Vancouver Canucks back in the spring, but now Mayor Gregor Robertson has retaliated, stealing one of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's most promising deputies.

Sadhu Johnston, a 35-year-old whiz kid who helped transform Chicago's image from gritty industrial town to leading green city, has been hired as Vancouver's new deputy city manager.

That bureaucratic post normally wouldn't merit even a line of media coverage. But Vancouver's unusual move to hire a renowned innovator from the third-largest city in the United States speaks to the new Vision Vancouver council's desire to brand the city as a green leader. It also marks a radical shift from the policy under the previous council and city manager, which resisted having a prominent sustainability advocate in the senior management team.

"We're thrilled because it's a tremendous step forward in building a green economy and he's one of the world's leading experts," said Mr. Robertson's chief of staff, Mike Magee.

Mr. Johnston, who will start work on Nov. 2, said that although Vancouver has a great reputation as an innovative city, he's hoping he can take it to the next level. He's also hoping the coming Olympics Games will help do that.

"With the city being on the world stage, it's important that we communicate what's been done and Vancouver's leadership position. Green jobs and green economic development could build off that position to get additional market share," Mr. Johnston said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "Chicago is a larger city, but I feel like Vancouver's really poised to move the sustainability agenda forward."

He is also hoping that his links with American environmental leaders in business and government will help "bring some awareness in the U.S. about what Vancouver's up to." He founded and still leads the 44-member Urban Sustainability Directors Network and is the chair of the Star Community Index, a group working to establish common measurements of urban sustainability.

During Mr. Johnston's time in Chicago, the city put a green roof on its city hall, introduced a special permit program for builders of green buildings that put them at the head of the line and waived fees, attracted the headquarters of nine international wind-energy companies to the city, and installed 12,000 bike racks. In a Chicago Sun-Times article about his departure this week, he was called the "whiz kid who spearheaded Mayor Daley's greening of Chicago."

Like many young city bureaucrats these days, he rides his bike to work - 16 kilometres in Chicago - and plans to continue doing so in Vancouver.

But he said it's important to make environmentalism easy, not a chore, for people.

"I work at trying to find ways to make it easier and convenient for people to adopt an environmental lifestyle," Mr. Johnston said. With both businesses and citizens, he said he'd rather not mandate what they have to do.

"Developers are our partners in improving the quality of life in the city."

Mr. Johnson has dual U.S./Canadian citizenship and spent several summers in Vancouver visiting his father, who worked as a carpenter here. Although he is Caucasian, his parents named him Sadhu as a result of their extended stays in India in the 1960s and 1970s to immerse themselves in alternative spirituality and yoga. He ended up living in many cities around the world with his mother, a psychotherapist originally from South Africa.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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