Land Use PlanningLand Use Planning
Case studies in sustainable land use planning.
Long-Term Planning InitiativesLong-Term Planning Initiatives
Published on January 4, 2007
Boom and bust cycles of economic growth, as evidenced recently in Alberta and Fort McMurray demonstrate the need to anticipate future development needs and to respond with the supporting critical infrastructure. Other communities face other infrastructure challenges, limits to growth, such as Okotoks. A further challenge is to support this growth, but not at the cost of a community’s current and future ecological capital. The most critical tool a community can have in place to proactively implement sustainable development is integrated community sustainability plans, and in particular, long-term planning.
This case study examines three cities with different approaches to long-term planning. Edmonton has a fiscal approach, considering the costs associated with the replacement of current infrastructure and setting out strategies to manage the replacement over time – this raises the question of how to incorporate a holistic systems approach to sustainable development in the context of a largely economic strategy. Ottawa and Calgary both start from a vision document for the city involving community participation and long-term planning horizons using the principles of Smart Growth as a framework for development (100 years in the case of Calgary and initially 20 years in the case of Ottawa although this is expected to be expanded to a considerably longer period). Calgary additionally uses Triple Bottom Line accounting (Elkington, 1997) to link short-term policies to the overall sustainable development vision.
Sustainable Development Characteristics
Sustainable development is a process of reconciliation of three imperatives—the ecological, the social, and the economic (Dale 2001; Robinson and Tinker 1997). In communities where an ad hoc reactive planning process is the practice, this is hard to achieve as the long-term big picture is difficult to see if decision-makers are focused on individual land units and individual land uses. Consequently, decisions are often made that appear adequate in the short term, and may provide economic and social benefits in the short term, but seldom address long-term development, that is, community sustainability.
The advantages of a long-term planning horizon are that decision-makers within a municipality have a reference document against which decisions are made and against which progress can be measured. The long-term perspective of the planning policy enables planners and decisions-makers to advocate against short-term gains that any given development may offer, if it is likely to act against long-term sustainability, and similarly, anticipate longer-term development needs in an integrated framework. Without these long-term perspectives set in a policy framework, the long term is in danger of being missed in the face of the short-term perspective. This reduces the ability of developers to argue in favour of such short-term development that may, in the short term, provide income, jobs, and development opportunities, but in the long term does not reconcile the three imperatives, putting undue strain on the viability of a community. The long-term holistic approach to planning is better able to provide real and sustainable benefits (Clayton and Radcliffe, 1996).
The approaches to long-term planning described are contrasted with an example of where a lack of long-term planning exists and where past decisions with a short-term focus created problems. The example used in this case is Fort McMurray (The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo). The short-term horizon has led to a shortage of housing, a lack of personnel for essential services and an infrastructure that services neither the business community, the citizens of the town, or ultimately the landscape adequately.
Other comparisons are made in this case. There is an examination of largely economic considerations of infrastructure replacement and management in Edmonton with its goal to ensure that:
“infrastructure assets continue to meet the needs of Edmontonians in the future” Edmonton City Council (2006)
This is considered a weak approach to sustainable development as opposed to the more holistic and systematic approaches taken in Ottawa and Calgary. Ottawa’s approach is based on two documents. The city's visioning process created Ottawa 20/20, supported by a detailed and comprehensive Infrastructure Master Plan. The vision document began with a Smart Growth Summit in 2001 and then used the results of the summit to inform a city-wide citizen’s consultation exercise to produce the strategy. This is supported by detailed and comprehensive Infrastructure, Greenspace and Transportation Master Plans as well as plans for all aspects of service delivery in the city, allowing all imperatives of sustainable development to be considered in an integrated framwork. The Infrastructure Master Plan, for example:
“provides strategic directions and an integrated infrastructure planning and policy framework which will direct the City’s continuing efforts to maximize value, including the role infrastructure plays in protecting the natural environment. The Infrastructure Master Plan plays an action role by presenting those priority short and medium term infrastructure opportunities considered to effect the greatest increases in the value of the services provided.” (City of Ottawa, 2003).
Building on Ottawa 20/20 and the city's conference hosted in 2004 (Choosing our Future: Planning for Long-term Community Sustainability), the City of Ottawa is now in the initial phases of beginning a new project, Beyond 2020: Building a Resilient Sustainable Community. This project blends long-term emergency planning initiatives with the preparation of an integrated sustainability plan to address long-term planning, and will incorporate timeframes ranging from 40 to 100 years.
Calgary is as well extending the boundaries of long-term planning. The basis of long-term planning here is the 100-year horizon of Imagine Calgary. The city's vision document, developed through consultation with over 3,000 Calgarians, is a statement of what the residents of the city would like the city to be like in a mutigenerational timeframe. This document is supported by a series of 30-year target documents towards which it is practical for city operations to work. Budgets and operational activities are tied to a three-year business cycle using the Triple Bottom Line accounting method for budgeting and monitoring. This again provides a holistic framework for the integration of the imperatives of sustainable development.
The questions raised then, are concerned with focus – from Edmonton’s fiscal approach to Calgary and Ottawa’s holistic, inclusive approach. Another is an issue of scale: what is the more effective timeframe for a visioning document – the reactive nature of development in Wood Buffalo to the 100-year multigenerational visioning exercise in Calgary? Another is the question of methods – what are the best tools and operational mechanisms for delivering sustainable development in the long term?
Critical Success Factors
Competent staff – change in management process that is required if long-term visions are adopted, this means municipal staff need to be well trained and supported in the acceptance and adoption of new integrated approaches.
Top down support for grassroots initiatives – while many initiatives are initially developed at the grassroots either within or outside of the municipal organization, they will likely fail if support from a council member is not achieved. The senior individual is then best placed to drive the initiative into the operation of city and ensure it achieves lasting presence within the operational facets of the municipality.
The recognition that energy costs are going to become hugely expensive – this will impose greater strain on unsustainable infrastructure.
Strong links between vision and policy and service delivery.
The sharing and development of best practice across, between and within municipalities.
Community Contact Information
Director, Office of Infrastructure and Funding
Strategy at Edmonton.
Ph: (780) 496-5579,
Manager, Corp. Asset Management
Infrastructure Services (#224)
The City of Calgary
PO Box 2100, Stn M., Calgary, AB, T2P 2M5
Ph: (403) 268-5746
Fax: (403) 268-2066
A significant degree of community participation in the development process. These plans are more robust as they have community support from the start, and as a result it is politically harder for the municipality to adopt contradictory policies and ignore the plan process. Similarly, public support for the tenets of the plan will be greater and as a result programs that are included in the plan have a smoother delivery.
Institutional linkages from decision-makers to grassroots and from policy through programs to projects.
The use of sustainable development tools to provide a guidance framework for infrastructure management and development.
The use of Smart Growth and community planning to guide the visioning process.
Two speed approaches with vision documents linked to planning documents containing practical action steps.
Linking the concept of sustainable development to better provision of services as a communication tool, both for citizens and to service delivery staff.
Leading by example – for instance the adoption of LEED standards for municipal buildings in Calgary, and the creation of pilot and demonstration policies by Ottawa.
What Didn’t Work?
The impact of surrounding municipalities and provincial strategies on the demand and pressure on infrastructure in major urban centres makes adhering to a long-term vision potentially difficult.
Reactive approaches to infrastructure provision make thinking in the long-term impossible and create a provision of infrastructure based on short-term pressures, crisis management, and ultimately create barriers to sustainable development.
Trying to implement new ways of operating, such as Triple Bottom Line, or budget competition and working to long-term strategic documents is not possible without adequate training for staff, and adequate operational linkages between policy and practice.
The language and jargon of sustainable development creates a barrier of understanding for the operational application of principles and policies.
Financial Costs and Funding Sources
In 2005, the capital budget of the City of Ottawa was $612,298 million; the value of residential starts was $1,146,564 million and non-residential starts $553,436 million. If these levels of activity were to continue for fifty years, the capital assets in the City of Ottawa would approach $112 billion. Assuming that half, or even one third, of these capital assets are redeveloped or replaced to create sustainable infrastructure, the price tag of making an Ottawa-sized community sustainable will be in the neighbourhood of $30 to $50 billion in 2005 prices. An effort of this size and its financing can only be done within the confines of a well-thought out long-term plan. It is simply too big for an ad hoc approach.
The City of Edmonton estimates that the lifecycle of its infrastructure is 50-years: Is this an appropriate time frame for long-term planning? It certainly allows for planning strategies to consider the whole life-cycle of current infrastructure.
Table 1 breaks down the asset value of infrastructure in Edmonton, the total of which is $20.2 billion.
Table 1: Value of Edmonton’s infrastructure
Sanitary, storm and combined sewers (includes manholes and catchments), and wastewater treatment.
$ 8.41 billion
Roads (arterial, collectors, local; curbs and gutters), sidewalks, bridges, gates, streetscapes.
$ 6.37 billion
Horticulture, trails, hard surfaces, playgrounds, sports fields, parks and associated infrastructure (climbing gyms, etc.).
$ 1.48 billion
Transit facilities and equipment
LRT system facilities and equipment, transit centres, bus equipment and systems, trolley system.
$ 1.02 billion
Civic offices, public works yards, emergency response and police buildings, and libraries.
$ 0.67 billion
Transit buses, city vehicles and automotive shop equipment.
$ 0.61 billion
Traffic control and lighting
Traffic signals, signs, street lighting and parking meters.
$ 0.54 billion
Non-profit housing, community housing, and seniors’ lodges.
$ 0.22 billion
Arenas, leisure centres, swimming pools, Fort Edmonton, Valley Zoo, etc.
$ 0.53 billion
Waste management facilities
Administrative facilities, transfer stations, processing facilities, landfill operations.
$ 0.19 billion
Servers, networks, all communication equipment.
$ 0.11 billion
Emergency response and police equipment, library contents.
$ 0.09 billion
Total replacement value
$ 20.2 billion
Source: Edmonton City Council’s Infrastructure Strategy, 2006
The annual revenue available to the city for infrastructure rehabilitation or replacement is $260 million – meaning the city would be able to replace 1% of infrastructure each year; this suggests there is a shortfall of 44% of the required funds. These funds either have to come from other sources, or a significant reduction in infrastructure provision is inevitable.
In Calgary, the city manages over $28 billion of infrastructure (City of Calgary, 2005). Maintenance and growth of this infrastructure is projected to cost $10 billion over the next 10 years, although some savings are also projected over this figure by moving towards infill development rather than the construction of new infrastructure to greenfield development. In common with Ottawa and Edmonton, this is not a figure the city can adequately cover without long-term planning and the identification of savings.
The number of cities in Canada for which this is going to become a major consideration is likely to increase significantly as Canadian Municipalities begin to adopt Tangible Capital Assets accounting (see for example the Public Sector Accounting Board’s website), which will provide an increased requirement of municipalities to consider their capital infrastructure and the costs that it imposes upon them. This means that long-term management of infrastructure will increase in importance and that best practices for the development and replacement of infrastructure in a sustainable way needs to be disseminated now. There are two main sources of support for city infrastructure managers in the development of long-term plans – the principles of Smart Growth are widely adopted across Canada, and a substantial source of best practices information is available from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Government of Canada’s InfraGuide website.
This is without considering sustainable development – but a simple replacement of existing infrastructure. The adoption of Smart Growth or other holistic approaches to infrastructure provision and management will alter the degree to which the economic bottom line will drive management decisions. The goal will be that the development of sustainable infrastructure will reduce maintenance costs and, through the use of long-term plans based on sustainable development, these future savings can be costed to offset upfront investment.
Long-term planning allows municipalities to assess current assets, future needs and allow for provisions to be made to set aside resources to move a city in a more sustainable direction over time. Large-scale change is only achievable over time, and planning for this means it is more likely unsustainable growth will be prevented, and change can be initiated. A long-term plan does not automatically lead to sustainable development, and the vision and strategy needs to have some guiding principles – most often in Canada these are Smart Growth strategies and the participation of community groups and residents. The vision also needs to be strongly underpinned with short-term objectives, targets and deliverables that are directed by the strategy and monitored and evaluated accordingly.
Functional city regions make it easier to deliver systemic and holistic sustainable development. While municipalities within regions can clearly work together, where city regions are present the uncertainty and pressure felt, particularly by downtown cores, is reduced and long-term planning for sustainable development stands a greater chance of success. This broader scale focus is also important for smaller communities impacted by fast changes for which they lack the resources to deal with – support for long-term planning for sustainable development must be present at the provincial and federal levels of government – this means both financial resources, and the dissemination of best practices and training.
Training is vital. It helps service delivery personnel get to grips with the often jargon rich and ‘fuzzy’ planning and strategy documents. It is crucial that service delivery personnel, not to mention the wider community, understand the linkages between these long-term strategies and the day-to-day, year-on-year management of infrastructure. Properly resourced and trained operations staff working in the short term is a vital part of delivering long-term strategy, and if adequate links are not made then a strategy will fail. This is also vital for the implementation of interdisciplinary collaboration within the municipality, across departments and with community partners.
Detailed Background Case Description
Calgary is the 1stcertificated municipality in North America, and recently won an award for being the best in environmental achievement of any municipality in the world. There is a policy of excellence in engineering design: new municipal buildings must be of silver standard, and they are trying to for mandatory gold or even platinum design working with the . This legacy has led to a culture of due diligence that has put pressure on the city to maintain their position as world leaders.
Imagine Calgary: A consultation process involving 3,000-4,000 citizens produced a 100-year vision of Calgary as a community. This was then supported by a 30- to 40-year program of targets for each infrastructure sector. The aim is to align legislative policy, the sustainability agenda, and on-the-ground delivery. The delivery process has been designed to remove the budgetary decisions and maintain the long-term perspective severed from the political cycle. This culturally embeds the strategy and vision, making a success delivery more likely. The delivery process is based on competitive tendering of operational units for a share of city budget. The tendering competition is based on the degree to which operations for the next three-year business cycle move infrastructure towards the 30-year targets, and delivers maximum benefits to the triple bottom line of the city. In this way, more expensive short-term investments can be offset against gains in social or ecological capital in the future.
Each infrastructure sector has a 10-year asset management plan and a 3-year business plan. Budgets are not fixed – and this is a recent change brought in to create a mechanism to put sustainability principles into business units in the corporation, unit budget holders compete using value gained across the Triple Bottom Line in the long term.
The process involves a number of assessment stages:
- What are the long range life cycle requirements?
- What is the social impact?
- What is the cost if the investment is not made?
The infrastructure coordinating committee makes the final decision – this is then moved to council and city management for approval. This whole process contains elements of performance measurement, transparency and accountability of the managers to the infrastructure committee, the council and the citizenry.
The process is further strengthened by having a robust process for disseminating ideas and initiatives through the municipal structure. Typically, initiatives are developed at the grassroots, either within or outside of the organization. Ideas are then communicated up the hierarchy – council and senior management support is vital to the success of initiatives as it is they who have the ability to champion proposals and ensure the whole organization is informed and incorporates the ideas. The residents of the city are crucial to the process and there are formal partnerships with the city-wide community associations, which receive operational funding from the city.
Ottawa 20/20 is the City of Ottawa’s long-term, 20-year growth strategy, the first step to achieving a multigenerational vision and strategy akin to that adopted by Calgary. It uses the tenets of Smart Growth as the basis for policy development and involves significant community consultation. This led to a series of guiding principles for the city's long-term development:
- A caring and inclusive city
- A creative city rich in heritage and unique in identity
- A green and environmentally-sensitive city
- A city of distinct and liveable communities
- An innovative city where prosperity is shared among all
- A responsible and responsive city
- A healthy and active city
This vision is supported by a comprehensive official plan, and component infrastructure, greenspace and transportation plans, and a variety of other service delivery master plans for the same period. These plans were developed after the visioning exercise to create solid strategies and short- and medium-term action plans to achieve the vision.
Community participation is important in the plan as the focus on sustainable development requires changes in service provision and community behaviour if it is to be successfully implemented. Community participation in this process enables these changes to be discussed by and with the community and acceptable strategies to manage the change proposed and developed.
Change in behaviour is not restricted to the community; operational changes and the municipal culture also have to change to ensure that the necessary policy integration and collaborative requirements of sustainable development in the long term are implemented. Sustainable development in the long term and across the scale of the city region requires interdisciplinary, collaborative approaches to deliver, within the municipality and between the municipality and community partners. One way in which this change must be manifested is that the city must lead by example and demonstrate possibilities and concepts for others to follow. Of course, all this is set against the need to move the city in the right direction through a process of monitoring and evaluation of short-term projects in the context of their contributions to the long-term goals.
The disadvantage of long-term planning, however, is that strategies are harder to deliver and to break down into short- and medium-term projects, easy to deliver. Longer time horizons are better for sustainable development, but the management process also needs detailed short-term actions. Forman’s paradox of management applies as well to time scales as it does to spatial scales when it comes to the delivery of sustainable development in a city region.
“We are left with the paradox of management. One can more likely cause an effect at a fine [short time] scale, whereas success is more likely to be achieved at a broad [long time] scale.” Forman (1995)
Edmonton’s long-term strategy for infrastructure provides a detailed breakdown of existing assets, their project lifespan, and replacement cost. This approach to sustainable infrastructure is top-down, concerned with asset management. Sustainable development is a policy goal, but in the context of infrastructure in Edmonton seems to be largely concerned with long-term funding. What community involvement is incorporated is largely one-way with the city communicating and informing citizens, rather than with citizens being actively engaged with the city authorities in the development of the plans as in Ottawa and Calgary.
Edmonton’s strategy is also very concerned with the impact of 100,000s of commuters coming in from surrounding municipalities, putting pressure on Edmonton’s infrastructure without Edmonton having much control over the future development of these infrastructures. This is in contrast to the situation found in Ottawa and Calgary where amalgamation of the surrounding municipalities into a functional city region seems to have created a critical mass to address infrastructure concerns on a systematic basis.
The primary goals of Edmonton's strategy are:
- Evaluate and report the state of infrastructure needs.
- Implement sustainable infrastructure asset management practices.
- Ensure adequate fiscal tools and resources to fund infrastructure assets.
Although the three imperatives of sustainable development are nominally part of the infrastructure plan, these three main goals suggest the focus is really on the continued management and support of existing infrastructure proposals.
Clearly, the infrastructure strategy does not work in isolation, and is supported by a 10-year Municipal Development Plan. In addition, the infrastructure strategy has a continuous biennial review process attached to it, identifying needs, assets and condition of the infrastructure as it stands. This process is the adaptive component of the strategy and allows for change to the policy in the future based on adequate delivery of infrastructure services.
The Municipal Development Plan links with the infrastructure strategy primarily by addressing the expected rapid growth of the city over 10 years and the demands this will place on that infrastructure. The strategy aims to reduce the impact on infrastructure development in the medium term by encouraging infill development and also provides the necessary intra-municipal linkages between service delivery areas, and inter-municipal linkages providing the opportunity to create more city-region scale development decisions. Sustainable development, however, barely features in the plan. The exception is the section of the plan referring to the delivery of sustainable infrastructure, but how can the infrastructure be sustainable if the plan which it serving is not?
There has been much journalistic reporting in recent times, based on concerns in both the public and private sector, to the effect that Fort McMurray in the Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality is expanding in an unsustainable way as a result of the growth of the oil sand industry. Despite rapid growth and development in the region, the provision of infrastructure has been left to the municipal region and to the private sector wishing to expand operations in the region.
The Premier of Alberta is quoted as stating that:
“government intervention is not an option. The market must prevail. If we tamper with the marketplace, it's hard to undo what's been put in place by legislation or policy.” (Premier Ralph Klein quoted in the Province, Vancouver, BC Aug 29 2006).
This is despite both the private sector and the public sector recognizing that more investment is required to support the planning process.
“Industry needs to play a bigger role in addressing concerns that infrastructure in northern Alberta lags far behind the pace of oilsands development.” (Charlie Fischer CEO of Nexen Inc, quoted in Peace River Block Daily News, July 14 2006)
“I have to come up with $814-million I need over five years for infrastructure. I can tell you it's going to escalate. I can tell you I can collect a certain amount in taxes, but there is definitely a gap that I can't cover. I can't do it on my own.” (Mayor Melissa Blake quoted in National Post Aug 16, 2006)
It is likely fair to say this problem has arisen from the sheer pace of economic development, but the lack of adequate forward planning by all levels of government has created the infrastructure problem. Such problems are more likely to create infrastructure that is not sustainable in the long term as it has been created under pressure, without adequate time to plan, and consequently decisions are likely to have a short term frame of reference.
What is the best scale to enforce strategic planning decisions? Currently the power rests with municipalities yet the system in which they are operating is frequently larger than that. In Edmonton the surrounding municipalities have a significant impact on the city services.
Is the scale of the city authority the best for carrying out this scale of policy? In Ottawa and Calgary, municipalities have amalgamated creating functional city regions allowing a more systematic approach to planning. Does amalgamation make sustainable development more possible?
The scale is also important over time. What is the best time horizon for different levels of detail and strategy? What is the best balance between detail, flexibility and the reality of delivery?
Similarly, the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo is struggling to provide infrastructure in the short term for fast economic growth. Would a long-term strategy have foreseen this fast growth or been able to adequately provide for it. The province is unwilling to support the municipality. What is the best response for the provision of sustainable infrastructure in areas which are affected by external forces? Are they better handled at a higher level of government?
Resources and References
Clayton, A.M.H. and Radcliffe, N.J. 1996. Sustainability: A Systems Approach. London: Earthscan.
Dale, A, 2001. At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Elkington, J, 1997. Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Chichester: Capstone Publishing.
Forman, R., 1995. Land Mosaics: the ecology of landscape and regions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Robinson, J. and Tinker J, 1997. 'Reconciling Ecological, Economic, and Social Imperatives: a New Conceptual Framework' in Surviving Globalism: Social and Environmental Dimensions, T. Schrecker (ed.). London: Macmillan p 71-94.
Triple Bottom Line in Practice: From Dockside to Dockside GreenTriple Bottom Line in Practice: From Dockside to Dockside Green
Chris Ling, Katherine Thomas and Jim Hamilton
Published March 22, 2007
This case study explores the planning process that has led to the development of the Dockside area of the City of Victoria. The adoption of a tendering process for potential developers based on Triple Bottom Line (TBL) methodology has meant that smaller, more progressive development companies were able to compete for the land. It has also meant that developers were given the flexibility to offset a lower bid for the land in favour of social and environmental benefits.
Two Canadian companies, VanCity and Windmill Development, partnered to design and develop a $600M bid for the development of the 15-acre Dockside Green site, which will incorporate remediation of contaminated land and the ultimate development of a green community. The completed site will consist of residential, office, commercial and light industry buildings, and public spaces that are greenhouse gas positive from an energy perspective and will be substantially built to LEED Platinum building standards.
The development is currently being built and, therefore, it is hard to say exactly what will be successful or not for the community that eventually lives there, but the foundation for a sustainable community has been put in place.
Sustainable Development Characteristics
Sustainable development is a reconciliation of environmental, social, and economic imperatives (Dale 2001; Robinson and Tinker, 1997). Possibly nowhere is this more important than in the design and construction of the neighbourhoods and developments that make up our human habitat (Register, 2006). Many innovative developments are made more difficult through the planning and governance regimes of our municipalities that can work against progressive solutions to development problems (Moore, 1996). It is vital, therefore, that ways of encouraging and supporting, rather than hindering innovative design and sustainable buildings are incorporated into municipal decisions.
This case study demonstrates one such decision-making technique that was used by the City of Victoria. The method used a decision matrix of criteria representative of local environmental, social, and economic concerns. This allowed potential developers to discount environmental and social benefits from the price they were prepared to pay for the land. In addition, the bid process set minimum sustainable development standards. These standards included financial capacity for the project, knowledge to deal with the contaminated land found on the site, a commitment to at least LEED silver standard development, and a commitment to partner with local community associations in the design of the site.
The criteria matrix follows Triple Bottom Line principles (Elkington, 1998): an accounting mechanism that allows environmental and social components of business activity to be considered alongside economic considerations. This was used as a basis for a list of criteria developed by the City of Victoria in collaboration with cross disciplinary and cross institutional partnerships including the local community and the developers interested in bidding on projects. What resulted was an opportunity for developers genuinely interested in sustainable development being able to compete on an even footing with more traditional single bottom line developers. What has resulted is development with as small a footprint as technically feasible, and an opportunity for the introduction of state-of-the-art environmental technology. With the Dockside Green site, what has happened is the full integration of all local partners, including the developer, community associations, and the City of Victoria, in the conceptualization, design and ultimate development of a significant public amenity on what was previously a derelict and dangerous site. Both the city and the developers have, or are on track to receive a profit from their investment.
The attempt in the development stage of the project is to create a sustainable community that, through integrated design, is cheaper and more energy efficient in which to live, offsetting any increased development costs through the use of green technology and system thinking. It could be said that the development is a sustainable community using green buildings – if it is considered that a green building is one that adopts energy technology without considering the economic and social component, a sustainable building being one that also incorporates social and economic components (Dale and McDonald, 2004). This development had the increased costs of the technology offset in the early stages by an acceptance of a lower purchase price for the land, which was compensated for in a holistic way by gains in social and environmental benefits.
Critical Success Factors
Transparency – the Triple Bottom Line criteria were publicly published so that prospective developers and the community knew what was being asked for.
Partnerships – At all stages of the project, interdisciplinary and open partnership were developed. Some of the key ones include:
- Interdepartmental partnerships within the City of Victoria
- the City of Victoria and British Columbia Building Corporation (no longer in existence)
- the City of Victoria and the Vic West Community Association
- VanCity and Windmill Development
- Dockside Green Ltd and the City of Victoria
- Dockside Green Ltd and the Vic West Community Association
Every one of these partnerships was vital in the development of the project. Initial partnership with the city provided necessary real estate and inter-disciplinary expertise that enabled the creation of a valid and sustainable business plan for the site. Later partnerships with the Vic West Community Association enabled local needs and requirements to inform the design and build process. Finally, the partnerships during development helped ease some of the institutional difficulties inherent in the implementation of a novel and progressive development.
- Windmill Development as a company had the necessary flexibility of operation and sustainable development knowledge to take the Triple Bottom Line bidding mechanism and make the most of the opportunities presented. Joe Van Belleghem's leadership throughout the process meant the developers were more innovative than the city required, leading to a more sustainable development than the minimum asked for.
Community Contact Information
Joe Van Belleghem
101-1117 Wharf Street
Victoria, BC V8W 1T7
Director, Community Enterprises
Vancity Enterprises + Dockside Green
3075 Douglas Street, Victoria, BC, V8T 4N3
Kim Fowler (Formerly of City of Victoria)
Director of Development Services
City of Port Coquitlam
The TBL bidding mechanism enabled added value development without compromise for financial gain.
Involvement of community associations and other groups allowed the concerns of the community to be fully incorporated into the development process.
Incorporating a full range of environmental, social, and economic concerns into the development and the master plan.
What Didn’t Work?
Subsequent conditions added to the bid process have frustrated development. For example, the initial proposal from the city was that the social component of the Triple Bottom Line approach would be met by public amenity open space and general neighbourhood and social space improvements in the area; this was in agreement with the Vic West Community Association. Due to political concerns raised on city council, a social housing component was added to the development bid. This was not integrated in a way that made it fully workable, and has proven to be one of the biggest challenges to the development.
There has been a lack of understanding in the city of the complexity involved in creating a novel development. On occasion, this has led to frustrations on the part of the developers with the amount of time taken for city approvals involving novel techniques and technology.
Financial Costs and Funding Sources
The Dockside site was initially sold to the city by the province for $1 due to the environmental liabilities on the site. The city invested a significant amount into site remediation prior to development, and as a minimum, had a requirement to recoup these investments and did not want to take any loss on the transaction.
The city's break-even point on the sale was slightly less than $6 million, although the market value of the land was likely higher. So with this as its baseline, the TBL approach allowed added value from the proposed social and environmental benefits to offset the financial payment for the land itself.
The actual cost of the development for Windmill/VanCity is estimated at $600 million, of which $8 million is slated for the purchase of the land. The Windmill/VanCity proposal represented the lowest of the received bids in terms of what was offered for the land, but included significantly more environmental and social benefits.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities made $350,000 available to support the development of innovative sustainable infrastructure. These funds were used in part to offset the costs for documentation, the processing costs for the sewage treatment infrastructure, and to help address the costs associated with developing and obtaining approval for the treatment system, which required amendments to the Waste Management Act.
Development charges within the City of Victoria are uniform, and do not vary according to the impact that a particular development may have on existing infrastructure. This can be perceived as a disincentive for developers to implement sewage and storm water treatment systems that minimize water use and the city's costs. However, the development charges are an order of magnitude lower than what provincial auditors recommend, and consequently any review by the city could result in a large hike in development charges across the board. It should be noted that in some Canadian cities developers’ charges for contaminated sites have been rescinded to encourage brownfield recycling, for example, in Kingston, Niagara Falls, and Ottawa.
Part of the partnership process between the developer and the city has involved the sharing of administrative costs for the Dockside project. The City of Victoria provided a dedicated staff member for the development and Dockside Green Ltd pays for part of the costs of that position.
The TBL mechanism used to deliver a sustainable masterplan for the city's Dockside lands resulted in an innovative and successful development that would otherwise likely not have been possible. The development gives clear indications of being environmentally and economically sustainable. What differentiated this development from other similar developments, such as South East False Creek in Vancouver, is that the city did not intend to simply award to the highest bidder for the land and, therefore, the winning bid was able to offset financial costs with the potential non-economic benefits the proposed development would provide; these being judged through the decision matrix in the RPF.
The one possible shortcoming of the development is the social component to the project. The final master plan incorporated a social housing component that appears not as well integrated as it could have been. As to whether the difficulty with incorporating the housing has compromised the sustainability of the project is moot. The social housing component was not requested by the local community association, and it was not originally part of the city’s business plan, which saw the social component coming from increased public amenity and the creation of a walkable neighbourhood.
There were many challenges faced by all partners in the development process. Nevertheless, the project has provided profist for the city, potential profits for the developers, and significant environmental improvements to the Dockside site. Included within this has been the creation of a state-of-the-art sustainable development, which minimises energy consumption and incorporates other ecologically-friendly systems into the site up to LEED Platinum standards. There are internal elements of social sustainability, with a walkable design and public transit solutions for transport from the development, as well as significant public amenity. There are many proposed community design elements in the project that will provide these benefits including:
- First ever master planned neighbourhood to reach LEED Platinum status
- Fresh air ventilation systems
- All appliances and fixtures and fittings designed to be low energy
- Neighbourhood heating provided by a wood gasification plant
- On-site sewage treatment and heat recovery
- Grey water recycling systems
- Permeable surfaces to improve water drainage
- Car sharing program and integrated transport planning with a shuttle bus serving the community and harbour ferry terminal
- Public amenity open space
- Working relationships between the community association and First Nations
Details of these can be found on the Dockside Green website.
These innovations happened despite the inertia of the city’s development by-laws and the attitude of the utilities; it is a testament to the strength of the partnerships involved in the development that, by and large, the combined effort of the stakeholders worked through the problems.
At the root of the project is the use of the TBL criteria matrix in the Request for Proposals (RPF), with respondents encouraged to offset the maximum bid price with social and environmental benefits. The city then chose the bid which had the highest value to the community rather than the highest monetary offer for the land. This, along with strong leadership within the city and Windmill Developments ensured that the sustainability of the project was assured.
Detailed Background Case Description
For many years, the abandoned Dockside site has been a problem for the City of Victoria. Initially owned by the Province of British Columbia, the province sold the site to the City of Victoria for $1. Environmentally damaged, the site had seen previous failed attempts at remediation, mainly for light high-tech redevelopment. These failures, combined with general dissatisfaction with respect to other redevelopments in the area, had drawn the concerned attention of the local community associations as well as other interest groups. The reasons for failure are various, but a critical factor was the lack of strategic planning to guide such a process and the absence of a “champion” committed to leading the redevelopment of the site.
In 2001, another attempt was started to redeem the site, and generate new vitality in that part of the City of Victoria. The approach this time, however, was to first form key partnerships to assemble the knowledge and experience required and to keep front and centre the desire to create a sustainable development on the site.
The first partnership of note was with the British Columbia Building Corporation (BCBC). The City of Victoria had a memorandum of understanding with BCBC to support each other when appropriate. This partnership was activated for the Dockside project in order to bring significant real estate experience to the project, a set of skills lacking within the city's administration. BCBC was able to provide the necessary skills to assess site development risks, to address preliminary archaeological and heritage concerns, and to manage the site prior to sale to a private-sector developer.
Next, the City of Victoria created an interdisciplinary project team, deviating from the city’s standard operating procedures, which like most cities are highly “silo-ised” and hierarchical. This internal partnership brought together planners, development economists, engineers, financial personnel from within the city as well as representation from the local community associations. A steering/management group directed the development of a business case to include an analysis of contamination on the site, an exploration of development options, and proposals with respect to land-use and design.
The Vic West Community Association was particularly concerned about the site as it had serious reservations about other recent developments in the same area, both in the way in which they were managed and the resulting outcomes. The city project manager ensured that the community association was involved from the start in the development of the business case and design parameters for the project, and that community association representatives were integrated into the project’s management and steering committees. As a result, from the start the community association was in a position to veto the development and to be fully engaged in the decision-making process at every stage. The city, however, also took a policy decision to only involve the community at large at key moments in the process to avoid consultation fatigue.
The tendering process
It was during the initial business plan development phase and development of the partnerships that the city made the decision to employ a fully sustainable approach to the project using a TBL methodology. In the words of the city’s project director:
“Why wouldn’t you? If you can sell the land for $12M then fine, but if you can sell the land for $8M and can get $6M of public amenity developed for you then even better.”
The design of the evaluation grid permitted the awarding of additional points for proponents' bids which exceeded the minimum environmental standards, set at LEED Silver, and encouraged the winning developer to put forward a proposal based on achieving Platinum standards for most buildings. Interested proponents were informed as to the general nature of the contaminants within the soil, and were required to include appropriate remediation in their development proposals.
The second stage of the process was the creation of the development context. There was a strong desire to avoid focusing on zoning because of the perception that it tends to preclude flexibility and ,therefore, innovation and, by extension, sustainable development. Instead, a ‘sandbox’ approach was taken, whereby the zoning was applied to the desired masterplan, rather than set up in advance, therefore limiting the final proposal.
The main financial requirement from the ity was that the development should at least pay back the city's costs of remediation and other works already carried out on the site. Two general approaches to the site were developed: a high-tech light industrial development, which the city preferred; and, a mixed use development, which the project team backed. Both options were considered commercially feasible and within the city’s risk tolerance limits in that they would enable the city to at the very least break even – meaning the site needed to be sold for at least $6 million.
These two options were then presented to the Vic West Community Association. The light industrial option retained the current density of development and was the city’s preferred option. The second option was a mixed use development with residential, office and light industrial elements – and a significant public open space amenity and storm water management. This option represented an increase in density from the previous use of the site of 2:1. The city project manager would have preferred an increase of 3:1, but this was considered too much by the Vic West Community Association and the city council. The mixed use ‘New Urbanist’ style development was the one chosen by the community, and was also the preferred option of the city’s multidisciplinary project team.
Planning guidelines were then issued to seek expressions of interest from interested developers. These guidelines included the TBL assessment grid against which all expressions of interest and tender were going to be assessed. The assessment process and the scoring mechanism were made publicly available online for full transparency.
The assessment grid was based on a total of 300 points, with 100 points allocated to each of the three components - economic, environmental, and social elements – in accordance with typical TBL methodology. The method encouraged a holistic approach to building and infrastructure design and the provision of public space. In essence, the grid would place the emphasis on sustainability, and sustainable land use planning. Interested parties had to fulfill two mandatory criteria: the demonstrated capacity of the developer to finance the project; and, demonstrated capacity and knowledge necessary to address the environmental remediation requirements of the site.
The criteria and weighting for the evaluation were determined by the project steering committee and included recommendations from the community, from the business development process, and the various members of the transdisciplinary project management group. Expression of interest respondents were also asked to comment upon the criteria and suggest improvements that would lead to a more sustainable project.
The process returned five short listed expressions of interest and a number of suggestions to the TBL criteria. Modification to the criteria, largely limited to a movement between categories and to the weighting, was then carried out and the RPF distributed to interested parties. One part of the bid process was for developers to present proposed development plans to an open meeting of city council. This fostered an openness and transparency in the bid assessment process, and also allowed council members to gauge the reaction of the general public to the bids. By this stage, three of the bidding developers had withdrawn from the process. The reasons are unclear, but it is suspected that the TBL approach proved to be too progressive for some larger more established development companies – meaning that the risk involved with the process meant that the development was not a priority for them in a very vibrant development market in British Columbia. The eventual winning bid – that of VanCity and Windmill Development for Dockside Green – was awarded a standing ovation when the formal presentation was made to council.
Despite the increased complexity of the tendering process, selection of the successful proponent was gained in a shorter time span than typical for a project of such a scale.
The developer’s perspective
Windmill Development has experience and expertise in developing environmentally responsible ”green” building projects in various sites across Canada; Dockside Green, which will cost approximately $600M is the largest and most ambitious project to date. Capital for the project was raised through a partnership with VanCity Credit Union, split 1/3 for Windmill Development, and 2/3 for VanCity. Windmill Development brought the environmental expertise to the project, while VanCity provided the expertise related to the social aspects of development. Both organisations have significant development expertise and both have a commitment to sustainable development.
VanCity is the largest credit union in Canada with 325,000 members and encompasses a number of subsidiary companies, such as VanCity Capital Corporation and VanCity Enterprises, which have different areas of expertise and have participated in different aspects of the project. For example, VanCity Capital Corporation provided funding for investments in alternative sources of energy (biomass heating system) for the project.
VanCity Enterprises has expertise in developing innovative and affordable housing as well as working with NGOs.
With its focus on sustainability, the Dockside Green project fits with the VanCity brand, its reputation, and interest in social issues. VanCity will also have an opportunity to potentially leverage its investment in Dockside Green by developing financial products tailored to meet the needs of Dockside Green businesses, residents and workers.
Joe Van Belleghem, partner in Windmill Development and the public face of Dockside Green is one of the founders of the Canada Green Building Council. He became interested in environmentally sustainable development and realized that to achieve the most benefit and the most sustainable systems, it was necessary to work with large scale projects, which, because of size, can incorporate features supportive of sustainability.
Windmill Development found the collaborative and iterative planning process based on the TBL to be a very positive feature of the process, and welcomed the opportunity to bid on a project using these principles. In addition, the transparency of the process made the City of Victoria’s TBL-based process easy to work with. The rating criteria and points allocated within the grid matrix were published on the city website and available for all to review upfront, a mechanism existed to facilitate proponent responses, and a fairness advisor was engaged during the process to ensureall developers were treated appropriately.
The part of the project that has proven the most difficult is the provision of social housing. Within the grid on which the RPF’s were evaluated, affordable housing was awarded proportionately few points, notwithstanding the political pressure to include social housing within the project. Social housing was not a major part of the city's nor the community association’s initial aspirations for the site, but emanated from a subsequent decision of city council. In alignment with VanCity’s interest in affordable housing, Dockside Green will include a contribution of $3M towards providing approximately 50 rental units and 26 ownership units geared towards families with incomes in the range of $30,000-$60,000.
It should be noted that the affordability of housing is a major issue in Victoria, which is one of the most expensive cities for housing in Canada. The project's critics have found the housing component of the development an easy target in that the number of affordable units is lower than originally suggested, and the majoritiy are small, one- or two-bedroom units, and not larger dwellings more suitable for family use.
During consultations with the community, the developers addressed concerns that included sightlines, architecture and pedestrian-friendly design. For the developer, working with the community was a positive experience, involving regular meetings, which started at the beginning of the process, and were ongoing. The process started with consultations over a largely blank canvass, rather than a set model around which details were discussed. The general attitude was to explore issues until a solution evolved that everybody could accept. The main concerns of the community were sightlines and the appearance of the architecture as the community felt that previous developments in the area had not provided an attractive environment. Meetings occurred bimonthly and involved 15 members of the Vic West Community Association and the developer’s staff. The community association has a long history of local activism, and is considered to represent the local population.
One challenge faced by the Dockside Green partners has been the difficulty of managing expectations. The Dockside Green development is innovative and has generated considerable publicity, as well as support, and has been perceived as a vehicle to resolve a number of the City of Victoria’s problems with respect to housing, social issues, business challenges, and the environment. Throughout the evolution of the project, it has been necessary to reconcile financial management imperatives, which are typically conservative and risk adverse, with the desire to test new technologies and complex approaches.
The Dockside model and TBL assessment mechanism has not been used for subsequent City of Victoria developments. A contributing factor is that the personnel that championed the method have departed. As a consequence, there appears to be little interest or expertise to apply sustainable development approaches to planning decisions. The model has been exported to the Municipality of Port Coquitlam by Kim Fowler, the former city project manager for the Dockside Green project.
- Is there any way to embed the learning from novel development projects into changes to the municipal by-laws, zoning and so forth?
- What sustainability assessment mechanisms are best suited to tendering processes?
- Can inter-disciplinary working practices be institutionalised?
Resources and References
Dale, A, 2001. At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Dale, A and McDonald, R. 2004. The Economics of Green Buildings in Canada,. E-Dialogue held on October 7th 2004.
Elkington, J. 1997. Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Chichester: Capstone Publishing.
Moore, J. L. 1996. "An introduction to what is stopping sustainability, part three." New City Magazine, Vol. 17. No. 1, p 24.
Robinson, J. and Tinker J. 1997. 'Reconciling Ecological, Economic, and Social Imperatives: a New Conceptual Framework' in Surviving Globalism: Social and Environmental Dimensions. ed. T. Schrecker. London: Macmillan p 71-94.
Insight on social sustainability within Dockside GreenInsight on social sustainability within Dockside Green
Published January 24, 2012
Kathryn Lange, MA in Intercultural and International Communication candidate, Royal Roads University
Robert Newell, CRC Research Associate, Royal Roads University
Created as LEED-ND standard community development, Dockside Green (Victoria, B.C.) aims to be a model of environmental sustainability. Dockside Green employs innovative, state-of-the-art green development practices to achieve sustainability, and the community is regarded as Victoria's first environmentally sustainable community. However, to comprehensively and functionally become a sustainable community, a community must achieve sustainability on social and economic levels as well as the environmental.
This case study examines the social aspects of Dockside Green. Through narrative and community interaction, the article aims to construct an image of lifestyles within Dockside Green to determine how environmental innovations influence social sustainability. The case study provides further research and different perspectives to the Triple Bottom Line Practice: From Dockside to Dockside Green case study, contributing to a fuller picture of how Dockside Green is operating as a sustainable community development.
Download the article here.
What makes a city liveable?What makes a city liveable?
Chris Ling, Jim Hamilton and Kathy Thomas
Published December 19, 2006
Many aspects of urban design and new approaches to city form are based on the concept of liveability. These approaches recognise that design and structure can be very influential in the life of a town or city and indeed to the building of community in and of itself. They also create novel contexts for a community to develop in a more sustainable way. This case study looks at two communities of very different size, the Town of Okotoks and the City of Vancouver, both of which, for a number of years, have been attempting to implement development based on quality of life and sustainable development. The case study considers the different challenges faced by implementing liveability in these two contexts, and the degree to which a liveability agenda has contributed to sustainable development in the two communities.
The Town of Okotoks considers the sustainable development of the community to be about liveablity.
"The subtle shift in mindset that has taken place in recent years is that today, there is less concern about attracting growth and more concern about managing growth toward a positive and proactive vision we have for the community - an end state that preserves the enviable lifestyle we have come to expect in Okotoks."
Over time, the City of Vancouver has moved from liveability issues towards sustainable development in response to grassroots pressure and changing global concerns. In both contexts, market forces, in particular development interests and typical planning design paradigms, have made it difficult to fully implement the ideals of liveability, but in both cases, grassroots community support has made the challenges easier. Also, in both cases the adoption of a liveability agendaarose from the recognition of limits to growth. In Vancouver, it was a result of transportation limits, and in Okotoks, it was a result of limits to the ecological capacity of the watershed.
Sustainable development is the prime human imperative of the 21st Century (Dale, 2001). In the Town of Okotoks, sustainable development has been embraced, both politically and throughout the community. Liveability came first in the City of Vancouver, however, and there is some degree to which the city needs another shift in thinking to fully integrate the two agendas.
Sustainable Development Characteristics
Liveability is critical to the establishment of a sustainable community, if for no other reason than if it is not present people will not stay in the community. But 'liveability' as a term is exceedingly difficult to define. For some, it is intrinsically tied to physical amenities such as parks and green space; for others to cultural offerings, career opportunities, economic dynamism, or some degree of reasonable safety within which to raise a family. Where liveability is linked to sustainability and infrastructure issues it is normally as an alternative development model to the expansion of sprawling suburbs with low densities of both population and services and where infrastructure provision is costly to ecological, economic, and social capital (Kunstler, 1993): see for example the Federal Transportation Livability Initiative in the US (Fischer, 2000).
The definition of liveability appears without limit; yet, somehow it forms part of the sustainability equation. In Canada, the liveability agenda cannot be considered without reference to the City of Vancouver, which is frequently described as one of the most liveable cities in the world (see for example the Economist Intelligence Unit’s livable cities survey reported by CNN.) In 1976, the city developed a liveability agenda when quality of life and environmental concerns won out over a city model based on a highway network. The city recognized the need to compete against expanding suburbs to maintain a vibrant downtown, to avoid the decay of the urban core seen in many North American cities. Although its policy has clearly been successful in many respects the liveability of the city, even the downtown core is not without its critics particularly with reference to service provisions for families that wish to live in the downtown core and the residents who cannot afford to live there. (Where’s liveability without schools? Vancouver Sun, July 6th 2006). The Downtown Eastside community highlights that not everyone has the access or the opportunity for liveability, and homelessness continues to be a major policy issue. This case study examines the degree to which to the City of Vancouver has the capacity to tackle 21st Century concerns and wider issues of sustainable development.
In its key sustainability document the Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, the Town of Okotoks addresses liveability through the use of overall themes in establishing planning priorities: demographics (integrating generations), leisure (giving individuals and groups recreational opportunities), and cocooning (to redefine and strengthen the sense of community). In 1997 and 1998, community-wide surveys assisted in the preparation of the 20-year legacy plan, a relatively long term in the context of municipal planning in Canada. The surveys defined a set of desirable futures for Okotoks that went well beyond just issues of physical sustainability. Proposed futures included improved life-long learning opportunities, provision of active and passive recreational and cultural activities, a holistic approach to community well-being, and a place where spiritual, artistic and aesthetic values are respected and encouraged. Of course, the degree to which the legacy plan has been successfully implemented is open to discussion, and the town reviewed its progress after five years and identified areas of concern.
A complementary case study of the importance of using transit-oriented sustainable development principles as exemplified by the town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire (just south of Montreal) and the development of Village de la Gare's concept of liveability not dissimilar to that of Okotoks is considered in more depth as a stand alone case study for this project.
The wider theme of what constitutes liveability remains undefined. A team of researchers at Queen’s University joined a multi-university group to address this. The team will focus on three themes that, while not directly related to sustainability, seem to significantly impact liveability within communities. These themes are:
- social space;
- talent attraction and retention as well as economic dynamism; and,
- the overall amenability of local governments to the development of a progressive economy.
The components of liveability as seen in the City of Vancouver are:
- protection of the environment;
- maintenance of a diverse economy;
- provision of accessibility through land use;
- delivery of services for residents and businesses;
- housing choices;
- balanced city budget; and,
- the involvement of citizens in planning and delivery.
There are certainly frequent parallels between the liveability agenda and the agendas of choice and New Urbanism approaches to development, often linked to the development of sustainable community. It has to be said that the aims of a liveability policy on communities are focused on quality of life, rather than implicitly on sustainable development, but there are inevitable improvements for sustainable development through reduced car transportation, increases in greenspace and opportunities for social capital and participative planning regimes.
Critical Success Factors
Critical success factors in the identification and implementation of liveability as an integral part of sustainable communities are:
the value of liveability as an overall theme, among others, in the development of a community’s sustainability plan;
the overarching role of public engagement in the articulation of what is meant by liveability;
an acceptance that liveability may differ significantly from community to community;
a recognition that liveability extends to economic dynamism and career opportunities as well as recreational, aesthetic, cross-generational and cultural activities;
the ability to embed liveability concerns into the culture of the municipality rather than politically motivated short-term initiatives; and,
the recognition that the provision of a diverse residential community with a full complement of services, means that a system approach to both the city region and the individual neighbourhood is required. This will ensure that individual neighbourhoods do not become liveability ghettos, but have a real and vibrant place within the whole city region context.
Community Contact Information
Manager, Sustainability Group
City of Vancouver
1800 Spyglass Place
Matters of liveability need to be addressed early within planning processes so as to reconcile the imperatives of sustainable development. These imperatives can obtain legitimacy if they are explored and integrated within the participatory planning process.
Community involvement and support, combined with a willingness of municipal officials to accept and work with the grassroots means the question of liveability in the local community is better understood, and the concept is more integrated into policy, planning and political will.
Ensuring that, in large residential developments, developers are required to incorporate sufficient service provisions for the people living there. This means that there is concrete provision of services for communities within walking distance – a key component of liveability. Mixed use buildings and development is encouraged as the development of residential capacity is intrinsically linked with the development of commercial capacity.
The key elements of the planning process are leadership at multiple levels with political, bureaucratic and community leaders developing strategic alliances between the grassroots, community leaders and bureaucratic leaders. This needs to be supported by policy diffusion, education and training within municipal authorities, and a system perspective that looks at relationships between municipalities.
What Didn’t Work?
Although early in their study, researchers at Queen’s University suspect that liveability within communities will suffer if they do not:
offer sufficient social space so that effective innovative-based networks develop that support the overall themes of the community e.g. the research networks found within the Silicon Valley or the sport training networks resulting from the extensive Olympic and other training facilities at Canmore, Alberta;
provide an economic dynamism with a critical mass of entrepreneurs, diversity and creativity, sufficient to attract and retain talented people;
encourage a culture within local governments to support innovation both in economic and cultural matters; and,
recognize that if a city is focused around a particular large institution or industry sector, e.g. a university, resource extraction then sufficient consideration needs to be made for service and employment provisions for spouses and family members of those employed by the institution.
In short, liveable communities have to provide meaning to people’s lives beyond just being a point of residence.
In Vancouver, the liveability agenda is at risk of becoming stale. The questions and issues, which created the movement are now largely answered and resolved. There are new issues and questions now for which planning is needed planning. There is a risk that the city will rest on its reputation and fail to act in a timely and innovative manner. This is a form of inertia, normally seen in less progressive environments, but is nevertheless a growing concern in the city.
The Greater Vancouver Regional District is also a significant player in the liveability agenda, but through political changes in the region as a whole, its contribution has become recently muted – stressing the importance of embedding liveability and sustainable development principles within the operation of the municipal structure and to some extent removed from political change in the short term.
The challenge is that liveable communities become concentrated in the downtown and wealthier areas of a city, with fringe areas and less affluent suburbs left with lowest cost development leading to highest long-term costs to the triple bottom line, despite it being easiest to implement liveability into new development. Retrofitting liveability, if this is at all possible, is much harder based on the design of existing infrastructure and the use of mixed use planning regimes – building this into an existing car-focused infrastructure and mono-functional planning zones is problematic. Why, therefore, does liveability in Canada seems to be largely integrated into downtowns and infill developments, and not in expanding suburbs?
Financial Costs and Funding Sources
The choice regarding the costs of infrastructure is twofold:
increasing costs to provide services and infrastructure to increasingly sprawling and lower density suburban residential communities with both market forces and zoning policies restricting the degree to which services can be located near people, or
increasing density and multi-use zoning to allow for a more efficient use of resources and the provision of services near the people that access them.
A liveable community is also an efficient community, and will cost less to maintain in the long term. For example, green building programs in Vancouver from the 1990s have shown that there are real economic and sustainability benefits to such design. Unfortunately, residential developers are behind in adopting such technologies (www.e-dialogues.ca).
Although both the concepts of liveability and sustainable development can be difficult to define, both are crucial to the well-being of communities, that is, their resilience, their stability, and their future. These concepts, therefore, need to be defined, and continually refined, by each community and embedded in a dynamic planning process. There is clearly an accepted general conceptual definition in the planning and academic milieu, but it is not a straightforward concept to communicate. Everybody would agree that ‘liveability’ is a good thing, but are unlikely to agree to what that means. For some it would be choice, for others new urbanism style development, for others perhaps urban forms that would be the antithesis of sustainable development – large house, large lots, large cars. Similar problems are faced with other, certainly positive, but nebulous concepts such as quality of life. For the delivery of sustainable infrastructure, it is the components of liveable communities that support sustainable development that should be encouraged, other components of ‘liveability’ such as those espoused by the City Vancouver and the Town of Okotoks, will develop as the result of public participation in the planning process. Tthis means that liveability should be seen as a policy of participation and inclusive planning rather than any preset physical infrastructure goals.
If this policy is implemented on a neighbourhood scale, it will also ensure a development of local distinctiveness, a sense of place and community identity. These are important components of sustainable communities (de Figueiredo, 1998).
Many case studies, including this one, show that real success in delivering liveability and sustainable development requires both grassroots activism and political leadership. What then should be proposed for those communities where neither or only one of these is present? Perhaps liveability is a suitably all encompassing term that can win the necessary support for a more progressive urban policy?
Detailed Background Case Description
Town of Okotoks
Okotoks is facing a period of growth, which for many communities would mean the growth of car-orientated suburbs and a steady decline in the vibrancy and vitality of the downtown core. This would lead to a lower quality of life or a decline in liveability, for the town as a whole. The challenge for the municipality is to put in place an urban growth policy that allows for controlled development of the town, expansion of the population, and economic opportunity without reducing the social and natural capital that gives the town its competitive edge and character.
In 1998, in its Municipal Development Plan the community set limits to growth of:
“a Sustainable Community of no more than 30,000 citizens.” (Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, 1998)
This is based not on economic or social limits, but on the carrying capacity of the watershed. Thus, its future development uses a framework or principles of ecological limits to growth.
Combined with this has been a long standing realisation that the key to a successful and liveable town is the downtown core:
“The business districts of our towns and cities, with their shops, services, civic functions, and cultural opportunities, historically have been the magnetic centres of towns, places where people are drawn to do business, shop, visit, spend money, wine and dine themselves, and just watch other people. Main Street is the core of a community, a place that sets the tone, creates the identity and personality that makes the community memorable. We can perceive its roots in the style of buildings and the layout of the streets and public spaces. We can see the current level of community interest and pride reflected in the development of amenities to attract people, and in the care shown for everyday upkeep” (Downtown Idea Exchange, 1993 cited in Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, 1998)
The focus of the community, therefore, has been the development of good quality of life over unlimited economic growth, based on ecological limits and principles of quality urban design. As the plan states:
“Neglect of the downtown core would be like creating a heart without a soul.” (Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, 1998)
The Town of Okotoks displays the characteristics of full community engagement in the planning process found in many examples of sustainable infrastructure development and sustainable communities detailed in the various cases studies on this website. This strong linkage between the community and the municipality delivers an urban form that agrees with many of the concepts detailed in such planning and design philosophies as Smart Growth and New Urbanism. These types of communities are what people want, and that is what makes for a liveable community. The challenge is providing a mechanism that delivers this type of development without stifling the ability of the private sector to work in partnership with the community to create a diverse economic base upon which the community will depend. This has been a concern in Okotoks:
“In the past, revitalization efforts have largely failed due to lack of grass roots and resident business community support and initiation of revitalization ventures.” (Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, 1998)
In 2003, Okotoks' development plan was reviewed to assess the progress against the plan. Overall, the plan delivered an improvement in liveability and the degree to which Okotoks was becoming a sustainable community whilst incorporating growth within the ecological limits of the watershed. There were, however, some shortcomings in implementation (Okotoks MDP Review 1998-2003, 2005).
Industrial assessment growth is lagging behind residential and commercial assessment growth and must increase to meet the MDP target of 22% commercial-industrial assessment by build-out.
There remains considerable work to be done within the river valley and escarpment areas to restore disturbed natural areas.
There has been virtually no mixed-use development outside of the downtown.
The improvement of 32nd Street, including the critical link across the Sheep River, is absolutely vital to ensure the development and viability of existing and planned industrial areas.
The majority of local roads continue to be developed with mono-sidewalks rather than the separated sidewalks suggested in the MDP.
There is almost no development-ready industrial land in Okotoks.
Architectural regulations have not yet been developed and implemented for the Downtown.
A gateway features for Downtown has not yet been developed.
Public art in the Downtown is encouraged, but few examples exist to date.
A site for a community Transit Hub (preferably in the core of the community) has not been established.
Of these shortcomings, possibly the most crucial for sustainable development would be the lack of economic diversity represented by points 1 and 6, and problems with transport represented by points 4, 5 and 10, as well as the lack of delivery in ecological improvements in degraded areas, point 2. They all represent ways in which the town could become more liveable. Many of these issues reflect the difficulty of getting the local business community on board with the sustainable development agenda. Businesses, particularly industrial ones, find it challenging to shift thinking to a more long-term, holistic approach where economic activity is intrinsically linked to liveable and sustainable communities.
City of Vancouver
In the 1970s, the city's planning process was strongly influenced by the City of Vancouver's response to vocal opposition to the routing of a freeway through the city. This led to a generation of planners focused on liveability and secondarily sustainability. This has strengthened over the last few years as the popularity of greening and sustainable development has grown in the community at large, nationally and globally.
The highway proposal in the 1970s was designed to keep people in the suburbs coming into the downtown in order to maintain the thriving commercial and economic core of the city. Suburban development in the surrounding municipalities led to the need to attract people into the downtown otherwise the centre of the city would die. The city did this by promoting and implementing self sufficiency – in effect saying to suburban municipalities that they should provide for themselves, while at the same time providing new opportunities for living in the downtown – rather than accepting that people will move to the suburbs necessitating providing transport for them to get to the downtown, a model adopted in many other North American cities. Instead, Vancouver started building residential development in the downtown core to ensure the vibrancy was maintained, partly triggerd by the need to revialtalise the downtown core to complement the development taking place for Expo 1986 at the edge of the downtown core.
In many ways, now the liveability agenda is actually holding back sustainable urban development. It is the new inertia and to some extent the city is coasting on its successes of the past, and not addressing the newly identified issues of the near future. The frame of reference has not adapted or evolved to respond to new challenges and changing contexts.
As a concept, sustainable development has been entrenched deeply within the senior management levels within the city and, to date, has little transformational impact. It has been left at the level of urban form and design and often limited to the downtown core. Inertia is deeply ingrained as a result of the past self-sufficient approach taken to counteract the expansion of the suburbs. As an extreme example, the municipality even has its own asphalt plant developed to insulate the city from cost shocks. Development like this creates a huge capital inertia to overcome, the existing infrastructure choices shape future decisions.
The question, therefore, is how does the city shift from the current generation focused on liveability, which is limited in its impact and not necessarily sustainable to a position focused on sustainable development and making real advances in infrastructure and sustainable communities?
Fundamentally, there must be a move to multifunctional / interdisciplinary approaches within the municipality and a shift in functional alignment. What this means is to recast engineering services as ecosystem services. For example, back lanes are currently used for garage access and emergency access and garbage collection. It could be argued that these represent municipal subsidies for motorists wishing to store their vehicles off the road. Should the municipality subsidise single occupancy vehicles? Should the municipality be, in fact, utilising these spaces multifunctionality and bringing ecological, and social uses into these spaces in the form of urban agriculture, composting and community gardens? For other considerations, see the Downtown Eastside case study on this website.
Pressures to change are again coming from the very motivated and activist grassroots of the city. This, in turn, is reaching the attention of politicians, who see the rewards of pursuing such an agenda at council. This is a similar cycle of change that was observed in the 1970s and as such is a positive sign for future development, and supports evidence from many of the case studies considered in this project that grassroots and community initiatives, combined with senior city-level champions are frequently the driving force behind the development of sustainable community.
Meeting regional concerns is also a challenge for the City of Vancouver city council. Translink, the regional transit provider, is looking at the regional perspective for infrastructure development. The city has lobbied for increases in Translink's services to keep up with in-city demand, while Translink is focused on the wider region. The region as a whole recognises that road building is not the answer although there is pressure from the provincial level to further develop the highway system. In the past, the regional partnership within the Greater Vancouver Regional District was very proactive in driving a liveability and sustainable development agenda, but the GVRD is constrained by its mandate and the municipal politics of the region. In the 1990s, the GVRD had good ideas supporting planning for sustainable development, but new elections changed the board and the GVRD focused less on sustainable development, and the sustainable regional plan lacked any real application. In reality, low density suburban development is still the norm in almost all new subdivisions across the region. Suburban sprawl is starting to be addressed, but it is a slow process.
Signs of change and progress is the city instituting a framework based, in part, on the Natural Step (primarily for internal communication as it is rather overly technical for use in community engagement.) and partly on See-It, a software framework tool developed by Visible Strategies to link all aspects of the policy for which the City of Vancouver has influence to the Triple Bottom Line. These approaches all consider the importance of a long-term integrated perspective to planning and management, and can help to create a common framework for moving forward. Then, a consensus or consent needs to be built around these sustainable development principles – all conflicts can then be referred back to these principles. This process in Vancouver can be built on existing strong foundations already in place from decades of progressive urban policy provided the inertia of existing policy can be overcome.
The danger is that liveable communities become concentrated in downtowns and wealthier areas of a city, with fringe areas and less affluent suburbs being left with lowest cost development leading to highest long term costs to the triple bottom line. This is despite it being easiest to implement liveability into new development. Retrofitting liveability, if this is at all possible, is much harder as it is so based on the design of existing infrastructure and the use of mixed use planning regimes – building this into existing car-focused infrastructure and mono-functional planning zones is problematic. Why, therefore, does liveability in Canada seems to be largely integrated into downtowns and infill developments, and not in expanding suburbs?
How can plans and planners for that matter, avoid becoming static and realize the dynamic nature of the planning process, that is, adapt and evolve over time as the community itself evolves and yet, shape that course sustainably?
One question that evolves from is case study is a question of spatial scale. Is there a threshold of community size that is too big to create a sustainable downtown at the expense of other regional centres? Okotoks, a relatively small community is based around a sustainable downtown. Vancouver, a large city-region, has tried to develop liveability around a sustainable downtown, yet the city has serious transport problems and could certainly not be described as sustainable in its current form.
To what extent can planning impact the development of a sustainable community? In both Okotoks and Vancouver, there are many ideals in the planning documents and urban policies affecting the communities, yet delivery seems problematic.
Resources and References
Dale, A. 2001. At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press.
de Figueiredo, P. 1998. Local Distinctiveness Strategies to promote economic competitiveness, in Context, Vol. 60, on-line edition.
Fischer, E. 2000. 'Building Livable Communities for the 21st Century.' Public Roads. May/June, pp 30-34.
Kunstler, J.H. 1993. The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape. New York: Simon & Schuster.