By Riley Syjuco…
As discussed in the previous two articles, land development and construction has become commonplace among suburban communities. Developing outwards and away from the original settlements also has now become second nature. This has various adverse effects on both the environment and our society. Growth in the city of Vancouver is inevitable, but growing outwards may not always be the solution. The solution can be found in developing denser suburbs, in the right locations, and with the right mind set.
In February 2007, the City of Vancouver launched a new initiative called “EcoDensity” which proposed a new solution to growth. EcoDensity is meant to carve a path for future development that encourages density while cutting down on the city’s ecological footprint. The vision for EcoDensity targets development typically in low to medium density areas where patterns have typically favored a smaller number of houses per square kilometer and areas that have not already been densified. The idea of EcoDensity benefits not just the growing population, but also the goal of a more sustainable city.
The City of Vancouver’s goal is to become the world’s “greenest city by 2020”. This goal is bold, but can be met with careful planning. Densification not only means more houses per square kilometer but also means less greenhouse gas emissions per square kilometer. Amenities are placed within reach of the area and accommodate more families than before densification. This means more places within walkable distance and fewer cars on the roads to get to different amenities, as well as fewer places for public transit to reach out to. The buildings themselves become less of a burden on nature as increasing household density through multi-story, multi-use buildings provides an opportunity to reduce the output of GHG emissions.
Where the annual GHG per capita floor decreases with the more floors you add to a building; close to 9 tons of annual GHG tons/capita for 9+ floors and 3 tons of annual GHG tons/capita for detached homes. The amount of annual GHG/capita for 9+ floors may be three times as much as the detached home, but the amount of density that comes with it outweighs the increased GHG emissions. Currently the number of Canadian households is largely dominated by single detached home according to a study done by Statistics Canada 2006 Census, which raises questions of the sustainability of current planning.
The concept of EcoDensity seems to be perfect in ideals and outcome, but doesn’t come without its problems and issues that need to be solved. Some can be found in the current implementation of the idea. At times, public outcry determines that the idea of EcoDensity is being used as a façade for developing more than what the community can handle or pushing the limits of what’s allowed in certain areas. With such a radical proposal there needs to be an equally radical approach. Public input should be a huge factor in designing EcoDensity areas where the proposal is transparent to the public eye. Also, there needs to be a certain attention to detail in the development so that the ‘Eco’ factor makes it into the densification plan. Places like green spaces, and amenities are needs of the growing community and the focus should be on those needs. Even when extra amenities are provided there can still be problems where the whole spectrum isn’t covered. Such examples would be the public spaces that were created in Yaletown or Cole Harbor. For example Stanley Park has the Seawall as a plus, but childcare in that area hasn’t fared so well.
EcoDensity is not a simple solution, but it does have great potential for creating a greener city. There is a great need for care and attention to detail during the development of the EcoDensity plans. Public input needs to make it into the review of these plans to satisfy the community as well as improve the planning.
Riley Syjuco is a third year Architectural Science student with a diploma in Building Technology and Engineering at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.