The Built Environment in BC

In 2015, the Real Estate Foundation of BC began a research study on the state of built environment sustainability in BC. Our research – including an examination of current trends, a poll to gauge public opinion and consultation on strategies for improvement – is summarized in our 2017 report, Building Change.

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What is the built environment?

The built environment includes all the “physical stuff” a community is made of, including homes and buildings, energy systems, transportation, infrastructure and public spaces.

In our research and grant-making, we look at four overlapping areas of the built environment:

  • Integrated community planning
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Buildings, energy and infrastructure

Sustainable built environments enable people to enjoy a high quality of life without undermining the natural systems that support us. These communities respect nature’s limits while responding to residents’ diverse needs and values. 

What does a sustainable built environment look like?

  • Inclusive, accessible, walkable, age-friendly and safe.
  • A mix of housing choices for all household sizes and incomes.
  • Efficient, affordable, healthy and eco-friendly homes and buildings.
  • Access to a range of services, recreation, cultural and economic opportunities.
  • Protected green space and natural environments, with limits on urban sprawl.
  • Compact development - supported by renewable energy and transportation systems - that lowers infrastructure costs, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and makes it easy to get around on foot, by bike, or on transit.

Preliminary Research

In 2015, we partnered with MODUS Planning, Design and Engagement to learn more about the state of built environment sustainability in BC. Our research included a literature review, interviews with experts and professionals, and focus groups to delve deeper into subject matter areas.

Our “big picture” look at built environment sustainability included an honest assessment of BC’s communities, as well as an examination of current trends, drivers and barriers.

The research produced two reports:

Public Opinion Poll

To build on our research, REFBC commissioned a public opinion poll on sustainability and the built environment. McAllister Opinion Research polled 1,701 of BC residents and asked for their opinions on the communities they live in, their attitudes towards sustainable practices and their preferences for a community’s built form.

The poll results are available in two formats:

Accelerating Progress

a group pf planners sitting at a round table In the spring of 2016, REFBC and MODUS invited leaders, planners and experts from all four sectors of the built environment to a half-day workshop in Vancouver, BC. We shared our research in advance and asked participants to prioritize interventions and strategies that will lead to a more sustainable built environment for BC. Participants also gave input on ways to build a collaborative movement that draws on the strengths of diverse organizations to accelerate progress.

Following the workshop, REFBC and Modus produced two reports:

The workshop was filmed and the videos are available on our YouTube channel:

Building Change

Our 2017 report, Building Change, summarizes two years of research, makes a case for sustainable built environments and outlines six strategies for accelerating progress.

Six strategies to accelerate change in the built environment:

  1. Align financial rules with sustainability objectives to reflect long-term costs and benefits in government pricing/fees, tax levers, accounting and asset management.
  2. Support and coordinate with NGOs and other change agents through funding, shared research, monitoring and collaboration.
  3. Lead with First Nations peoples.
  4. Make a clear case for government investment in sustainable development: transit & active transportation, green building and infrastructure, affordable housing, climate action.
  5. Support smart growth by integrating land use and transportation to achieve co-benefits.
  6. Build public awareness and support for sustainable built environments.

For its part, REFBC is:

  • Supporting the Smart Growth Task Force, which is examining policy ideas and planning practices to connect land use and transportation planning in urban communities.
  • Implementing our findings and recommendations through strategic grants, sponsorships and working groups.
  • Continuing to facilitate discussions between leaders, experts and decision makers.
  • Supporting future research on indicators and baseline data monitoring.


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