EcoDensity Initiative - City of Vancouver

May 05, 2008

Arbutus Walk and Collingwood Village

EcoDensity and where we live, work, and play.

All cities devote certain parts of their land to certain uses: separate areas for people to work, live, and play.

Vancouver, like most cities in North America, has grown up with large areas being devoted to single uses. Much of this land has low density development. Other areas are mainly business or industry, providing employment and services for Vancouverites. Up until a few decades ago, there were even small farms within the city limits.

This type of land use worked when Vancouver was still a small city. However, Vancouver is undergoing tremendous growth, and there is no new land on which people can live. How can we accommodate this growth in population? Through EcoDensity, the City wants to explore how to accommodate growth in ways that reduce our ecological footprint, while improving affordability and livability.

What to do?
Clear new land? One solution would be to put new homes outside of Vancouver, in municipalities where there is still available land. Greater Vancouver, however, doesn’t have unlimited land. Our growth to the north is blocked by the mountains, to the west it is blocked by the sea, and to the south by the U.S. border.

This solution gives more people land for single-family homes, but available land would run out fast. And it would be terrible for our ecological footprint: more forests and farmland would be cut down to clear way for roads, parking and houses for very few people.

Build houses where there are businesses and green space? Another solution is to build new housing on land that is currently used for business, industry, or green space. Vancouver’s farms, for example, have mostly been replaced by housing, and our food now has to be delivered from farther away. Today, even as far away as Abbotsford, there is pressure to change land from farming to residential.

If we convert business and industrial lands to residential, it means more people travelling longer distances to workplaces outside of Vancouver. Also, it would mean fewer business services to meet the day-to-day needs of Vancouverites. And most people want to see Vancouver have more green space, not less, for us to enjoy nature with enhanced habitats for birds and other wildlife in the city.

Or, build higher density communities that can reduce our footprint? If we keep spreading out, or make way for houses by relocating workplaces outside of the city, we will spend more time travelling, going further distances with more people on the road. We’ll also spend more money on fuel, cause more air pollution, and suffer more traffic accidents.

But there is another way: putting jobs, shopping, and recreational opportunities closer to where we live. This creates a lively, pedestrian neighbourhood and makes other green initiatives possible. For example, dense areas can have district-wide energy utilities to provide heating and cooling, with much less wasted energy, reduced greenhouse gases and at a lower cost.

The initiative needs to include ways to make these areas enjoyable for living. People need to get around on streets that are safe, pleasant, and interesting to walk along. We need green space and recreational facilities. Children need schools, playgrounds and access to nature.

So it isn’t just about adding density alone. It’s about adding density in a high quality and ecologically sensitive way along with services and amenities. This is EcoDensity.

Vancouver today: Three zones of land use.

How is Vancouver doing right now in terms of concentrating growth? Very well, actually! Vancouver is part of the area in which the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) has agreed to concentrate new residences and businesses.

Twenty per cent of the GVRD’s growth is in Vancouver, and our city now has 575,000 out of the 2.1 million people in the region. But we aren’t done yet – the city is continuing to grow rapidly, and we have to plan ahead to see how we can grow in a more ecologically friendly way. Simply adding more housing units won’t be enough.

Vancouver’s neighbourhoods currently fall roughly into three types, forming a centre core, an inner ring and an outer ring.

The Core: dense, mixed use The downtown core is very dense. There are about 85,000 people living there now with potential for another 30,000 or so in the next 25 years.* Office towers provide many jobs in a relatively small space. Compact buildings have made walking the most popular way to get around the downtown core. Growth planned for around Chinatown will accommodate about 10,000 more people.

When Southeast False Creek is developed after the 2010 Winter Games, the area will provide homes for up to 14,000 people. New parks, schools, and other facilities are being created to serve these populations.

The Inner Ring: medium and low-density residential, some other uses The neighbourhoods of the inner ring feature medium-density housing like duplexes, townhouses and many apartments of five storeys or fewer. Such neighbourhoods include Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant, and they support vibrant shopping districts like West Fourth Avenue and Main Street. This area is home to about one-quarter of Vancouver’s population.

Many jobs are also located in the inner ring, but not as densely developed as in downtown. Transit is popular in these neighbourhoods, and the inner ring is home to the region’s most frequent and also most congested transit services.

The Outer Ring: mostly low-density residential Neighbourhoods in the outer ring are mostly large areas of single-family houses, many with suites and built at low densities. More than half of Vancouver’s population lives in this outer ring, which accounts for almost 70 per cent of the city’s land area. Some low- density neighbourhoods have relatively small lots, typically 33 by 122 feet; others have larger lots that make for even lower densities. Some areas, for example Kerrisdale and Marpole, have concentrations of apartment buildings.

There are also many mixed use areas along arterial roads that allow housing above shops, and could accommodate around 30,000 more people in the next 25 years. This outer ring supplies about a third of the city’s employment.* Many of these jobs are in the mixed use arterial areas and the city’s southern edge, below Marine Drive.

The relationship between EcoDensity and our existing plans.

CityPlan: city-wide land use planning For most of its history, the city did not have a comprehensive plan. This changed in 1995 when the CityPlan consultation process asked people what kind of city they wanted Vancouver to become. The most popular option was to save Vancouver’s employment areas for jobs, and to create neighbourhood centres where new housing, shops, and services would be concentrated and well served by transit.

Community Visions: neighbourhood planning To bring CityPlan to local areas, the City consulted neighbourhoods about how they wanted to see communities grow over the next 20 years. This program is called Community Visions, and the last vision will be completed this year.

Vancouverites want neighbourhood centres and housing choices Through CityPlan and Community Visions, residents have said they want more choice in housing, especially smaller and more affordable options for seniors or young adults who don’t need large houses or yards, but want to stay in their neighbourhoods. They suggested that neighbourhood centres could have new, denser housing choices like duplexes and rowhouses near to shopping streets with transit.

Vancouver residents have identified 17 neighbourhood centres they would like to see developed. This kind of mixed use, medium-density development already helps reduce our ecological footprint by using less land and shortening travel distances. Over 40,000 more people could be housed in and around these centres in the next 25 years. This puts us on the path towards EcoDensity. But is this enough to reduce our ecological footprint? What else do we need to do to create greener and more affordable neighbourhoods everywhere?

Communities also asked the City to explore housing choices outside of neighbourhood centres. Some suggestions included denser forms of housing in single-family areas, and new housing along some main streets. The EcoDensity Initiative provides an opportunity to further develop these options.

Examples of neighbourhood centres in Vancouver.

Knight and Kingsway (Future King Edward Village)

The first of the new neighbourhood centres at Kingsway and Knight will accommodate up to 3,000 people in the next 25 years. It has been designed as a mixed use development with a library, public art, street trees, and other community facilities. The shopping street will be surrounded by medium-density townhouses and rowhouses, providing a transition from the neighbourhood centre to lower density housing further away.

Arbutus Walk

The Arbutus Neighbourhood in Kitsilano is an example of how townhouses and mid-rise apartments can blend in with a well established single-family neighbourhood. The site of what used to be a brewery and factories has now been transformed into a vibrant medium-density residential area housing over 2,000 people. A neighbourhood commercial ‘main’ street along Arbutus provides shops and services, and a greenway serves as a linear park. Ten per cent of the total units on the site are non-market units.

Collingwood Village

Not everyone can live close to work, so it makes sense to help people live and work near transit. The new neighbourhood of Collingwood Village has about 5,000 residents and was built on a former industrial site. It was focused around the Joyce Street SkyTrain station so people could more easily get to work without fighting traffic or adding to air pollution. The Collingwood Village experience, which benefited from much public consultation, could give us ideas for how to develop in an environmentally friendly way around other existing SkyTrain stations and future Canada Line stations.

Planning for a green future.

Knowing that we are adding density and creating mixed use communities, however, isn’t enough. EcoDensity is a new way of adding housing and planning communities that put the environment first. For example, could we plan for neighbourhood centres and further reduce our footprint with energy sharing, rainwater harvesting, urban agriculture and better connections to transit?

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