UBC Design Centre for Sustainability

To create and distribute tools to help BC municipalities develop visions and policies to achieve low-carbon, sustainable development.

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Sustainability by Design

With populations on the rise and aging infrastructure struggling to meet the demands placed on it, sustainable design has become a necessary part of community and regional planning. It’s certainly important in Greater Vancouver, where the sea and mountains — key reasons why this area is so desirable — limit the amount of land available, calling for high-density housing and planning that will serve the region for years to come.

Spearheading this movement in the Lower Mainland is UBC’s Design Centre for Sustainability (DCS). To further their mandate of fostering collaborative research on sustainable design, the DCS created the multi-year Sustainability by Design (SXD) project in 2005. The purpose of the project was to work with communities and their stakeholders to create visualizations of what a sustainable region would look like. This process included charrettes (intensive design workshops), educational events, community workshops, exhibitions, and publications. Municipal officials, researchers, citizens, and local advocates were among the stakeholders involved, helping the DCS to create new concepts, research tools, and community processes related to sustainability. All work done within the SXD project followed six sustainability principles, which when employed, lead to more complete communities:

  1. Jobs: good and plentiful jobs close to home;
  2. Corridors: mixed use corridors accessible to everyone;
  3. Walkability: community amenities within a five-minute walking distance;
  4. Green space: access to natural areas and parks;
  5. Infrastructure: lighter, greener, cheaper, and smarter infrastructure;
  6. Housing: an array of different housing options/densities.

Among its outcomes, the first phase of the project, SXD 1.0 (2005-2006), displayed an overall plan, produced on a 50 square metre map, detailing visual representations of a more sustainable and liveable Greater Vancouver. With the current population of two million expected to increase to three million in 2025 and four million in 2050, this phase offered decision makers in the region a vision of what was possible and ideas of how they might plan to accommodate the projected population growth and its attendant changes, at neighbourhood, district, and region-wide scales.

The second phase, SXD 2.0 (2007-2011), took this idea to the next level by focusing on specific communities. The two main plans created were for the City of North Vancouver and the Lynn Valley Town Centre. To celebrate the City of North Vancouver’s 100th birthday in 2007, city council, in conjunction with the District of North Vancouver, decided to create a Sustainable Vision Plan for the next 100 years. The main goals of the plan were “to achieve zero net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2107,” and “to reduce GHG by 80% below 2007 levels by 2050.” The DCS proposed additional green corridors, higher residential density, and new transit connections/options in order to achieve these goals.

The main goal for the Lynn Valley Town Centre plan was a safe, vibrant, and accessible main street that reflects the beauty of its surroundings. By creating a vision of the Town Centre as pedestrian friendly, green, and reliant on geothermal energy instead of conventional electricity, the DCS has helped the District of North Vancouver progress towards achieving its goal of Lynn Valley becoming one of the most sustainable communities in the world by 2020.

In addition to their work for the City and District of North Vancouver, the DCS also hosted an educational event called “2020 Vision: Young Environmental Activists Share Their Vision for An Environmentally Sustainable Future.” Eighty students between the ages of 13 and 18 had the opportunity to participate in the workshop and create their vision of sustainability for UBC and the surrounding neighbourhoods.

“The multi-year Sustainability by Design project has changed the ways that communities plan,” says Patrick Condon, UBC James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments.  “Since 2005, six different lower mainland communities have been directly engaged in planning efforts to advance the long term sustainability of the region…the 100 year plan for the City of North Vancouver…is already guiding the revision of that City's Official Community Plan and has provided an example for the province and the country. Proof of [the projects’ success] is the national award from the Canadian Institute of Planners and an international award from the American Society of Landscape Architects for the plan.”

From 2005-2007, the Real Estate Foundation approved three grants totalling $360,000 for the Design Centre for Sustainability’s Sustainability by Design initiative (1.0 and 2.0). This program aligns with our mandate to support research and education that enables more sustainable real estate and land use practices.