Land Use Planning

Land Use Planning

Case studies in sustainable land use planning.

admin Tue, 2006-09-05 15:58

Long-Term Planning Initiatives

Long-Term Planning Initiatives

Chris Ling
Published on January 4, 2007

Case Summary

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. The recognition that energy costs are going to become hugely expensive – this will impose greater strain on unsustainable infrastructure.

  4. Strong links between vision and policy and service delivery.

  5. The sharing and development of best practice across, between and within municipalities.

Community Contact Information

Konrad Siu
Director, Office of Infrastructure and Funding
Strategy at Edmonton.
Ph: (780) 496-5579,

Steve Wyton
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

What Worked?

  1. 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.

  2. Institutional linkages from decision-makers to grassroots and from policy through programs to projects.

  3. The use of sustainable development tools to provide a guidance framework for infrastructure management and development.

  4. The use of Smart Growth and community planning to guide the visioning process.

  5. Two speed approaches with vision documents linked to planning documents containing practical action steps.

  6. Linking the concept of sustainable development to better provision of services as a communication tool, both for citizens and to service delivery staff.

  7. 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?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

Asset Class


Replacement Value


Sanitary, storm and combined sewers (includes manholes and catchments), and wastewater treatment.

$ 8.41 billion

Road right-of-way

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

Affordable housing

Non-profit housing, community housing, and seniors’ lodges.

$ 0.22 billion

Recreation facilities

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

Technology equipment

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.

Research Analysis

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 1stISO 14001 certificated 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 LEED silver standard, and they are trying to for mandatory gold or even platinum design working with the Canadian Green Building Council. 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:

  1. What are the long range life cycle requirements?
  2. What is the social impact?
  3. 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:

  1. A caring and inclusive city
  2. A creative city rich in heritage and unique in identity
  3. A green and environmentally-sensitive city
  4. A city of distinct and liveable communities
  5. An innovative city where prosperity is shared among all
  6. A responsible and responsive city
  7. 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:

  1. Evaluate and report the state of infrastructure needs.
  2. Implement sustainable infrastructure asset management practices.
  3. 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?

Fort McMurray

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.

Strategic Questions

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

chrisling Thu, 2007-01-04 14:17

This particular case study was interesting to me as I happen to spend a lot of time in these cities as well as live in Edmonton and work in Fort McMurray my focus will be on those communities. The first thing that came to mind in this case study for me was how different the communities actually were, from an economic perspective to an environmental perspective which may make long term planning in all cases difficult, though very important.

Many people may not think of Edmonton as a green community, however many forget that it currently has North America’s largest urban green space (the River Valley) and a state of the art waste management facility long with a waste management centre of excellence (EWNCE). Their composting facility alone has allowed Edmonton to divert up to 60% of residential waste for the land fill and 20% of waste is recycled (including bio solids) (Edmonton 2013). Edmonton is currently struggling with aging infrastructure especially in regards to sewer lines. As well, Edmonton is struggling to keep up with increasing population and public transit (Light rail). Throughout this Edmonton has made some strides at being a greener city, more sustainable city with different forms of infrastructure.

Based on the reading it is questioned whether Edmonton is taking the right steps, using an economic based approach instead of a more holistic view, that is a hard question to answer. Edmonton is economically more focused on long-term funding as it does not have the same benefits that Calgary or Ottawa has, nor in the past did Edmonton plan its infrastructure in an efficient manner as Calgary. Calgary also has potentially funding from oil companies supporting the city, while Ottawa is the capital of Canada and has a reputation to withhold along with funding from the Federal government. IN the past Edmonton has not focused on the feasibility and utilization of the infrastructure, but more as a reactive situation to its ever growing city (similar to Fort McMurray now). At this point in time it is hard for the city to not focus on the economic side of things, as the planning in the past has made long term planning now much more difficult.

Fort McMurray does struggle. And still to this day, the provincial government will not step in. Accordingly funding is allocated based on the population census of the city. However in Fort McMurray many will crowd themselves into a house to lower costs of living, but for fear of being hit harder with taxes extra will lie about the number of people in the house. This lowers the census numbers for Fort McMurray. The population of Fort McMurray was 76,797 according to the R.M. of Wood Buffalo's 2010 municipal census, which included a shadow population of 1,539 residents. However, the 2011 Municipal Affairs Population List published by Alberta Municipal Affairs presents Fort McMurray's population as 64,773, which includes a non-permanent (shadow) population of 2,184 and its 2007 permanent population of 62,589 (Wikipedia 2013). This struggle alone makes it difficult for the city to create the sound infrastructure the booming town requires. I don’t believe that planning was a ever a factor since the population is continually increasing in the north, and the city is struggling as we speak to even provide housing. They are currently trying to get more land from the provincial government , which is a fight in itself as those lands had been allocated certain oil companies already.

Throughout writing the above I realized and the point I am trying to make is that that the cost of infrastructure is not just an economic or social decision. In order for a systematic approach to planning to work best, there needs to be input from all levels, starting with the higher government (Federal and Provincial) and then the municipal governments making sure to involve the citizens of the city. In the situation of Fort McMurray, they currently do not have the governmental support they need, and though many believe that the oil industry should be fitting the bill for the infrastructure, in the end the economic shortfalls are due to poor planning from above.

The Strategic Questions:
As I eluted to already, strategic decisions should not only fall on municipalities. Edmonton short falls with the surrounding areas is due to ‘greed’ from other municipalities as they too are struggling finically to meet their budgets and sustain their communities. For instance, the County of Leduc near Edmonton actually receives the taxes from the Edmonton International Airport as it is on their land. Edmonton in the past has tried to buy it, but if they did the County of Leduc would lose out on a lot of revenue they need for infrastructure. This to me shows that the Federal/Provincial governments are not making it a big enough priority of infrastructure. The National Post (2013) noted in April of this year that ‘The Parliamentary Budget Office shows the federal government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars less each year on infrastructure than it has planned, with only half of the $8.8 billion from the “Building Canada Fund” projected to be spent over a seven-year period. The Budget Office report shows the government isn’t meeting its planned annual infrastructure spending commitments due to ongoing expenditure delays.’ With our federal government also not planning for the long term how can we expect the municipalities to be able to cope?

If Edmonton amalgamated with surrounding communities, it would definitely help make a more sustainable developed area. Earlier I noted that the City of Edmonton composts 60% of its waste, therefore lowering the amount that goes to the landfill. However Edmonton shares its landfill with other surrounding communities, whom have chosen not to contribute to the Waste facility and therefore all of their waste goes directly to the land fill. Using that as an example I think if these communities started to work with Edmonton more, there would be the ability to create infrastructure that could serve the Capital region as well as provide a more sustainable area.

From reading these case studies I think having a long term goal and initiative is important, like Ottawa and Calgary, however as they noted management need short term actions. Optimistically medium-range planning would be the best possible outcome, however realistically each short-term government focuses on one or two things, which may not be the goals of the next government. Edmonton’s economic based initiative, has its merits, however without communication with other municipalities and governments, they will constantly just be trying to keep up with the Jones’s.

This topic was more difficult than I expected as infrastructure planning, is not just a planning exercise. There are so many components, and politics and economics sadly are the drivers. It is hard to think sustainability when in many cases to be a sustainable community you need the money to create sustainable development. If a community is already struggling from that front, how do you find more money to focus on the future and not on the right now. In the case of Fort McMurray I am not sure if long-term planning would have helped the infrastructure problem. It may have relieved it, however a boom of that magnitude is hard to predict. At this time I think all levels of government need to focus on some forward planning to create better long term budgets to assist communities with their growing infrastructure needs and aiding in progressing to more sustainable communities. We all have to do our part, from recycling etc, and in order for a city to aid in a more sustainable future, they need the support and financial backing of their governments and citizens.

Wikipedia. (2013). Fort McMurray. Retrieved on May 21, 2013.

City of Edmonton. (2013). Edmonton Waste Management Centre. Retrieved on May 21, 2013.…

Edmonton waste management centre of excellence

National Post. (2013). Canadian Politics. Retrieved on May 21, 2013.…

Triple Bottom Line in Practice: From Dockside to Dockside Green

Triple Bottom Line in Practice: From Dockside to Dockside Green

Chris Ling, Katherine Thomas and Jim Hamilton
Published March 22, 2007

Case Summary

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

  1. Transparency – the Triple Bottom Line criteria were publicly published so that prospective developers and the community knew what was being asked for.

  2. Partnerships – At all stages of the project, interdisciplinary and open partnership were developed. Some of the key ones include:

    1. Interdepartmental partnerships within the City of Victoria
    2. the City of Victoria and British Columbia Building Corporation (no longer in existence)
    3. the City of Victoria and the Vic West Community Association
    4. VanCity and Windmill Development
    5. Dockside Green Ltd and the City of Victoria
    6. 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.
  1. 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

Detlef Beck
Director, Community Enterprises
Vancity Enterprises + Dockside Green
3075 Douglas Street, Victoria, BC, V8T 4N3
T 250.519.4249

Kim Fowler (Formerly of City of Victoria)
Director of Development Services
City of Port Coquitlam

What Worked?

  1. The TBL bidding mechanism enabled added value development without compromise for financial gain.

  2. Involvement of community associations and other groups allowed the concerns of the community to be fully incorporated into the development process.

  3. Incorporating a full range of environmental, social, and economic concerns into the development and the master plan.

What Didn’t Work?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Research Analysis

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:

  1. First ever master planned neighbourhood to reach LEED Platinum status
  2. Fresh air ventilation systems
  3. All appliances and fixtures and fittings designed to be low energy
  4. Neighbourhood heating provided by a wood gasification plant
  5. On-site sewage treatment and heat recovery
  6. Grey water recycling systems
  7. Permeable surfaces to improve water drainage
  8. Car sharing program and integrated transport planning with a shuttle bus serving the community and harbour ferry terminal
  9. Public amenity open space
  10. 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.

Strategic Questions

  1. Is there any way to embed the learning from novel development projects into changes to the municipal by-laws, zoning and so forth?
  2. What sustainability assessment mechanisms are best suited to tendering processes?
  3. 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.

chrisling Thu, 2007-03-22 15:22

Kristi Peters Snider

Thu, 2008-02-21 18:25

From Dr. John Robinson's video shown Monday morning on barriers to achieving sustainability:

The most important issue to deal with lies in governance - all of the big collective decisions based on land use need public and community involvement - there needs to be a focus on collective decision making. This is characterized in the Dockside Green project through addressing institutional barriers, encouraging public support,and creating partnerships between private and public sectors.

Often the context of current issues is very normative. Dockside Green is no exception. The fact that the City of Victoria, specifically the planning department, valued the social and environmental benefits was instrumental in implementation of the project.

Furthermore, current sustainability issues are often beyond any one sector to solve. This was clearly evident in the Dockside Green. The City alone did not have the real estate expertise to assess and develop the site. The developer alone would not have been able to build the project without the financial support from the lender and concept and administrative support for the City of Victoria.

Sustainable development demands collaboration from many partners. In Dockside Green the multiple internal and external partnerships and networks were instrumental.

Scientific uncertainty, incomplete information as well as impossibility of predicting an outcome are also common to the context of sustainable development. To what degree do you think these were a factor in the Dockside Green case study?

In Dockside Green many common barriers to sustainable development were overcome. For example, some solicitudes, silos, stovepipes were addressed through creation of internal partnership of various departments within the City of Victoria.

A lack of shared meaning, which is another common barrier, was articulated by the City through publicly posting TBL criteria, being open to proposals, rather than unilaterally creating a zoning policy and master plan, as well as transparent discussion of development option with the Vic West Community Association.

Similarly, a technological lock in was avoided through being open to proposals and not identifying any particular technology. Instead, the City of Victoria and the Vic West Community Association provided guidelines and TBL criteria.

Furthermore, in Dockside Green a piece-meal approach was overcome through the use of comprehensive TBL criteria. Even social housing, which was initially left out, was latter added to the project requirements.

Among other barriers to sustainable development are the mismatch between political and ecosystem boundaries and multiple jurisdictions in a given area. The fact that these barriers were not an issue in the Dockside Green is a factor that assisted with the implementation of the project.

Do you see any other barriers that were overcome in this case?

Several barriers were encountered on the front of permitting/approval throughout the development. One such barrier identified was the sewage treatment system and necessary ammendments to be made to the waste management act. Costs associated with the development and approval of this system were in part supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

There are several critical factors that can foster innovation, creativity and competitiveness. Among them is rapid knowledge diffusion. Posting TBL criteria on the website and making it publicly available was the first step in achieving it. However, dialogue and contact with community association as well as establishing relationships with developers was more important for rapid knowledge diffusion.

Another factor in fostering innovation, creativity and competitiveness is the formation on multi- and trans-disciplinary partnerships. Although many partnerships were formed, public-private partnerships seem to be missing. Had the City of Victoria formed a partnership with the developer, more affordable housing units could have been implemented. For example, the City of Vancouver followed a Collaborative Planning Model, under which the developer would build affordable housing units, which are then managed by a housing society. Similarly, partnerships with research entities also seem to be missing. Had such networks been created, more innovative solutions would have emerged.

To what extent do you think other forms of collaboration could have benefited this development?

Various types of social capital are needed to implement sustainable development. When bonding, bridging and vertical capital has been formed, it becomes possible to make the collective decisions that Kristi referred to in her post of Feb 21, 2008 :

"The most important issue to deal with lies in governance - all of the big collective decisions based on land use need public and community involvement - there needs to be a focus on collective decision making. This is characterized in the Dockside Green project through addressing institutional barriers, encouraging public support, and creating partnerships between private and public sectors." (Kristi Peters Snider)

In Dockside Green bonding and bridging social capital has been formed, which made it possible to make collective decision by the City of Victoria and Vic West Community Association and the proponents on the type of development and TBL criteria.

It also seems that specific nodes, i.e., certain individuals, were key to moving Dockside to Dockside Green. When these key individuals left the City, the City of Victoria did not use the TBL mechanism that they developed. Loosing the nodes resulted in the loss of the other social capital that these nodes were connected to.

What was the role of the vertical social capital in this case study?

Re: What was the role of the vertical social capital in this case study?

The vertical social capital likely consisted of those individuals with the initial vision who pitched the idea and to the higher levels within the City management who eventually approved the concept.

I agree that bonding and bridging capital has been created and would add that this is not limited to the Dockside Green project or even the City of Victoria itself. This is evidenced by the fact that at least one of the champions (if there were indeed several) of this idea has exported the concept to another municipality within the province. Given the ease with which information is exchanged through the internet and other media, the project participants will likely serve as bridging social capital for a multitude of communities looking to implement similar projects.

Ana Urquilla

Thu, 2008-02-21 22:18

Dockside Green has required what was referred to in a lecture as "unprecedented levels of collaboration and partnership". This project would not have gone much past the conceptual stage if it hadn't been for progressive thinking. As the summary indicates, there was a champion or champions within the City itself who first had the vision and the foresight to realize that something this innovative could not be implemented within the silos that are typically associated with urban development. By issuing an RFP that utilized a triple bottom line criteria the City set the stage for those wishing to participate. Companies bidding for the project by default had to consider the ecological and social aspect as opposed to following the traditional economically dominated design. Public consultation and consideration of environmental impacts is slowly becoming part and parcel of large project management however these activities are normally a small part of the overall effort. The criteria set out for Dockside Green required that social and ecological aspects be critical portions of the project throughout its design, construction and operational phases. Although all the entities that have seen the project to completion deserve credit, a significant portion of the accolades should go to those with the initial vision for having the courage to think beyond the common model.

Ana Urquilla

Fri, 2008-02-22 15:45

The extent to which different stakeholders were consulted/engaged in the Dockside Green project has contributed significantly to the success experienced to date.

By involving the community association from the outset the developers ensured that their input was not only considered but that it became an integral part of the project. Unlike projects that are carried out under the traditional structure and have consultation only at the front end, Dockside Green developers held regular meetings with the community through the design and construction of the site. It is likely (though not clear from the summary) that the bonding capital at the community level that contributed to this process (i.e. the community as it existed before) will continue as the building becomes inhabited and will expand to include the building inhabitants. By involving the community from the start the developer helped not only lay a foundation for the initial members of the community to accept the project (assuming their concerns were not only heard but were also incorporated to the extent practical) but also easy for the residents of the building to become part of the community (no resentments, not considered outsiders). On a less positive note, there was apparently a sector (perhaps not from the immediate community but from the community at large) who felt thst these efforts were not comprehensive enough since there has been criticism claiming that the project itself did not include a social housing component.

Kristi Peters Snider

Fri, 2008-02-22 21:27

The TBL methodology utilized in this development became a tool for engaging the community in sustainability. Citizen engagement can improve the development processes of projects through cooperation and inclusion, and by contributing to a vision of what the development will add to their community. "People feel more attached to an environment they have helped to create, and therefore, they will manage and maintain it better"(Chris Ling). Community engagement provides an important source of information about the nature of that community, the environment in which it is situated, and what the needs are. (Community Profiling)

There is a great paper on community engagement from Smart Growth BC ( This reminded me of the 3 questions at the end of the case study:
Could the Smart Growth principles in general be a way of encouraging change in municipal zoning and bylaws to ensure more sustainable development? Does anyone know what the role of Smart Growth is? (It is fairly new to Alberta)

One would suspect that through use of SD practices,records would be kept as to who participated (stakeholders), what were the concerns (environmental, social, economic), and what challenges were encountered and how these were resolved.

In terms of stakeholder engagement, the city of Victoria could potentially map stakeholder interests. The map could be then be used to steer planning sessions. Although the innovation of this project likely may inhibit the ability to draw upon current interests for various areas, key organizations are could be assessed for inclusion into the initial map.

How could we incorporate "technological innovation" into municipal by-laws? The Dockside Green project identified financial risk as the lead contributing factor to inclusion of technological innovation.

I'm not sure how technological innovation could be incorporated into municipal by-laws, but one option that has been identified is to give precedence to projects that include green technology/LEEDs certification etc., in the permit process. Incorporating this into building and land use planning (if that is what the departments are called in BC!)would encourage developers to produce more green projects.

"I'm not sure how technological innovation could be incorporated into municipal by-laws, but one option that has been identified is to give precedence to projects that include green technology/LEEDs certification etc., in the permit process."

With out a doubt we need to see stricter regulations in building codes. It is not a green bandwagon issue, it just makes economic sense. More efficient building design will ease the problems are country will be facing with power and water in the years to come. This could be put forward by the ministry of municipal affairs and housing (federally), or the Ministry of Forests & Range and Minister Responsible for Housing (provincial). I am not sure the extent to which the municipality has power over such regulations.

The main criticism that is often levelled at the Dockside Green project is the lack of affordable housing provision. A criticism that is levelled at 'green' or 'sustainable' developments such as this is that they are for the rich - and that being 'green' genuinely or otherwise - is an added value commodity and not for everyone.

How can such sustainable projects be made available for everybody, and what needs to be in place to make these developments affordable (if that is indeed a laudable or realistic goal)?

It may be that the high costs associated with Dockside Green residencies are a function of the housing costs in Victoria in general and downtown Victoria specifically. In many ways sustainable choices come at a premium (organic foods, fuel efficient vehicles, etc.) and therefore a higher income is required to afford them. Paradoxically people with low incomes often have a smaller environmental fooprint (no vehicle, no air travel)that is often a result of purposeful actions directed at saving money rather than good intentions towards the environment. Perhaps one way to make projects like Dockside Green available to everyone is through the use of subsidies for sustainable housing.

The idea of offsets has been discussed in the sense of land costs. As discussed amongst our group, encouraging home offices or business (such as an artist studio) could offset the costs of the lower cost unit. I'm not a fan of handouts nor am I a fan of living in a 500sq. foot box, but perhaps a fund could be establihed through which tenants with businesses or home offices could borrow from at a low rate of interest in order to top up their mortgage. They would essentially be paying more upfront, but offsetting it with savings attributed to their need for office space or business. Although, this would have to also be looked at in the sense of how they will account for this on their taxes.

On another note,

Social housing often brings with it a social stigma, such as "it will lower the value of my property." A sense of ownership is likely necessary to remove this stigma while at the same time an opportunity to feel part of a community. Would the conversion of adjacent buildings (i.e. older units)and inclusion of those into the sustainable community be one means to offset the costs associated with new development? Therefore, rather than looking to build to serve that new complex (i.e. utilities, services, etc.), the developer and city could be encouraged to look at inclusion of existing older buildings to within their plan. I sense that I may be creating a ghetto here...

There is definitely a stigma associated with social housing, despite the fact that not all tenants are created equal. A comment I heard floating around the classroom the other day that I thought was interesting has to do with affordability, but from another point of view. "My partner and I both work hard and would love to live in downtown Vancouver, but we can't afford to - instead we are way out in Surrey. Why should low income citizens have the opportunity to live downtown in social housing that isn't available to people like us?" --- I would love to hear everyones opinion on this comment!
On another note, there is a social housing complex at the end of my street (about 12 units), and it is a complete disaster - donated furniture, mattresses, and garbage on the lawns and spilling into the streets, scary looking men sitting in idling cars in front of the townhouses, etc. Who wants this on their street?
On the other hand, I do know the False Creek co-op housing has been quite successful, so I try not to generalize...

"My partner and I both work hard and would love to live in downtown Vancouver, but we can't afford to - instead we are way out in Surrey. Why should low income citizens have the opportunity to live downtown in social housing that isn't available to people like us?" --- I would love to hear everyones opinion on this comment!

This is one topic I would prefer not to touch with a ten foot pole. In general I feel I am not knowledgeable enough on this topic to give opinions or insights. The guest speaker in Ann Dales class today may have been a useful resource in this regard. I can relate to both sides of the argument, and it is a case by case scenario. Examining it from the perspective of my neighborhood I grew up in, I would have to say the concept of NIMBY easily applies. I worry that anything I say on this topic can be taken the wrong way so I will stop here....

I wonder if affordability criticism arose from ineffective community engagement. The fact that social housing was a requirement added by the City of Victoria later in the process demonstrates that neither the City nor the community association, nor the developer engaged all stakeholders who had an interest in the development.

It appears that there was no wide and open community engagement. The community was represented by the Vic West Community Association. However, it is unclear who is represented by the community association and who is not. It seems that engagement of the community association almost reached the point in the engagement wheel that was close to the tipping point when empowerment transforms into elite and manipulation.

The fact that there were no more green developments after the key individuals left, means that engagement was very basic and did not reach out far enough. It did not translate into the capacity building.

Good community engagement results in ownership of the result. Improving the site is part of living there. From this case study it’s unclear whether the people who planed to live in this location participated in the concept design process.

Good points Katherine - it is not clear who the Vic West Community Association was, and to what extent they represented the opinions of the community at large.
It is unlikely that the people who plan to live at Dockside Green had any involvement in the planning process, unless they were already living in the Vic West community. However, development of that site might have been seen as a huge improvement over the contaminated waste land that it had been for so long. It may not have been too difficult to achieve community support with limited community involvement based on this alone.

Currently the green development costs more than traditional development. And cities are trying to require social housing components within those developments. I wonder if these artificial requirements result in social alienation of individuals who end up living in this social housing. Does this artificial incorporation of social housing help create a functional diversity?

On the other hand, as pointed out earlier, the ecological foot print of people with low incomes is lower. So people with higher incomes can afford to pay to reduce their ecological footprint, because even though direct benefits (such as pride and comfort of living in a green community) occur to them, the indirect benefits occur to the society as a whole.

The concept of sustainable community is subjective. To me a sustainable community is the one that mimics a living system. Such a community, in the process of their existence, would be able to create conditions for the enhancement of the system of which they are a part. It means that it would use the waste generated by others as a recourse and would only produce waste that can be used as a resources for others.

A living system is a representation of recursion. It’s an autopoietic network of networks. Thus, to be sustainable, communities need to be not only autopoietic living systems themselves, but also consist of neighbourhoods and individual buildings that are autopoietic living systems. To be sustainable communities need to achieve the same level of complexity as mature ecosystems.

In order to achieve this vision of a living community, communities must meet a number of principles that are met by biological living systems. For example, there must be a functional diversity. In sustainable community this would translate into a diversity of uses: residential, commercial, industrial and natural uses, as well as a diversity of people who live there: singles, families, people of different ages, incomes, occupations. Furthermore, a system must be created uses benign manufacturing processes. In sustainable community it would translate into green building materials and processes. A comparison of ecological footprint of social systems, like a community with a footprint of natural living systems can be used to design a sustainable community. These principles were articulated by many authors, one of whom is Janine Benyus and the Biomimicry Institute.

I think the Biomimicry model fits well in the sustainable community model for new developments, and perhaps works best for larger developements (although Katherine perhaps your knowledge and expertise in this area could expand on this further), but what about established communities? Or single family residential developments? I think that governance plays a large role, and the municipality has the greatest opportunity for influence through urban and land use planning.

Kristi brought up an interesting question on whether incorporation of biomimicry is easier at the single dwelling level or a multi-unit/neighbourhood development. I believe it is actually easier to implement at the single dwelling unit, because you have much more control of the house as system. Any individual can create a “living building”, which would generate its own energy process its own waste, etc. The technology to do so already exists. The main barrier at this level is cost. In comparison at the neighbourhood level (either new or existing), a developer does not have full control over the project. Not only you have financial barrier (which is complicated by the fact that lenders do not want to finance unproved technologies), you also have legal barriers in the form of building codes, by-laws, zoning that cannot be addressed by the developer alone, or the residents alone.

I agree with Kristi’s point that governance plays a large role. I think it is particularly apparent during the integrated community planning. Dockside Green appears to be an example of a project that supports the broader Capital Region plan, particularly with respect to water and waste management. One of the key success factors of the Dockside Green was the development of place-based policy. TBL criteria were specific to the Dockside site and the context in which it exists, rather than the use of generic criteria.

The Dockside Green is a prime example of environmental leadership. Had it not been for a few key individuals who were driving the TBL assessment and were prepared to take risks, the project would not have happened. Dockside Green is also an example of what I call “tough” leadership – an ability to make unpopular or risky decisions. It may look like common sense to an outside, but the decision to sell the site for $8M, rather than $12 may have been a difficult one, so is the decision to insist on social housing component. Do you see any specific learnings related to leadership in this case study?

Dr. David Bell suggested that leadership needs to be in all sectors and requires things to be brought forward in order to make change. Also, leaders must avoid hopelessness and despair to envision a different reality. Dockside Greens inclusion of "low-income" housing was difficult and seen as limited. However, the ability of a multi-diciplinary team to reach their objective shows leadership in this case. The focus on governance to set the objectives and formulate this partnership with the developer is something to follow for future development. Although, I am unsure as to how well the process was documented. Failure to audit/monitor the progress would limit success of leadership.

The planning process for Dockside Green was proactive in terms of support, influence, and integration of the social, economic, and environmental imperatives required to maintain equity, diversity, and the functionality of natural systems in communities. (Chris Ling). The case study definitely demonstrated the principles of integrated planning; integration, scale, governance, and inclusion. It seems however that the project was the result of a vision of a small group of leaders, not the result of a culture of change in the governance structures or municipality. Perhaps the circumstances around Dockside Green (contaminated abandoned land on prime waterfront) made it a unique project for testing this type of community planning. (Where the City of Victoria was prepared to sell the land at a very reasonable price - perhaps the case would have been much different if the land was not contaminated.)

This is in reference to discussions regarding private and public partnership towards achieving goals that are otherwise unattainable.

Michael Williams was instrumental in revitalizing many degraded buildings in downtown Victoria. The most notable being Swans hotel and restaurant. Though his process of community involvement was negligible compared to the dockside green project, I bring up this comparison because it would not have been feasible for him to achieve this goal without considerable financial assistance from the public sector. Likewise the government would not have had the vision nor the expertise to do the job as well as Mr. Williams. This is often a necessary partnership towards building a more vibrant community, as long as interests of the private sector are not overpowering. The late Michael Williams donated the majority of his possessions including a considerable amount of real estate to the University of Victoria.

"Michael Williams was instrumental in revitalizing many degraded buildings in downtown Victoria."

Again, and example of an individual that has made a difference - why is it that so much positive work is done, or driven on, by a relative small number of people? What is about the governance system that relies on these (often maverick) individuals to achieve important advances?

"why is it that so much positive work is done, or driven on, by a relative small number of people? What is about the governance system that relies on these (often maverick) individuals to achieve important advances?"

These "mavericks" possess the vision, drive, connectedness and guts to go where people entrenched in governance systems would not dare go for fear of making a mistake. After all, the goal of an elected official is to get re-elected (in most cases).

Not to stray off topic here, but I will anyhow. This approach to development is a relatively new concept that I believe is a good one. So in looking at how this can be examined and reapplied to other cities I thought of my home town. There are vast expanses of lakefront land in the Greater Toronto Area GTA minutes from the downtown core that are too polluted for residential zoning. It would be in the city and the provinces best interests to develop this area (or part of it) into a functioning LEED certified community. The city is broke so we would have to look to the province for assistance on this one. One would think that this would be an attractive endeavor for the provincial government, not only to buy GTA votes but also to hop on the green wagon a bit. It would also reduce commuting and redefine the cities waterfront.

Paramount to a project like this one is timing. I believe it would be much more difficult if not impossible to implement an alternative project such as the dockside green if the real estate market was not booming as it is. Also in times of recession green is not a priority for many, sadly it is often more of a luxury. Feeding the family is more important than buying recycled toilet paper (or any other green product at a premium). I bring up these issues of timing to stress the need for expediency in exporting this methodology to other projects across the country. In re-applying this project to other cities, it will be important to keep in mind what did not work. I see this method as a valuable tool for future developments.

Ana Urquilla

Mon, 2008-03-03 15:10

In reply to by pdixon

Agree that timing is an important factor with regards to sustainable community development. Another factor that seems to go hand in hand with this is the 'environmental' or 'sustainability' culture within the municipal administration. I say hand in hand because there might be champions at lower levels within the City administration but if they are unable to build vertical capital by influencing their superiors their initiatives go nowhere. On the other hand, if the ideas exist, if there are champions and management is receptive you end up with a culture that can see the project through. This is not to say that timing and receptiveness alone will result in success as there are many other influencing factors such as governance structures, community involvement, funding, etc.

This sustainable community looks great and incorporates many green infrastructure techniques to become low emitting but not self-sustainable. With all the green technology used I am curious to know why this project did not use solar technology to help power the community. Since there is a major solar project subsided in the City of Colwood right next door. I understand that this project took place in 2007 and the Colwood project wasn’t until 2011 but if it was going to be a transparent and open floor, the project would have had more than just Vic-west community association as the social aspect of the TBL.I understand the cost of solar photovoltaic cells is costly but if the city of Victoria is selling the land well below the market value and the point of the project is to have a green sustainable community, why not solar energy?
An example of a truly greening community is Feldheim, Germany. In 2009 in Feldheim, a village of 43 homes near Berlin, households put down about 3,000 euros each to help pay for the village heating system. Half of the 1.7 million-euro cost was covered by a grant from the European Regional Development Fund (That is close to how much The City of Victoria gave away the land below market value) the remainder was financed with a bank loan paid back through heating bills. As renewable energy prices drop, every household and business has the incentive to become a stand-alone power plant. The soccer pitch lights are hooked up to a 450,000-euro local grid that in October 2010 made Feldheim the first German municipality to run entirely on its own renewables-fueled generators.
Since the major disappoint of the project was the social housing and the difficulties of incorporating that aspect into the project. Wouldn’t it be important to reduce long term costs on low income families? This is just one example of new community developments that cities might want to think about when greening a project. Of course the utility companies don’t like this idea at all, but I can’t stand paying overly inflated hydro with new smart meters.
Overall I believe the city and the government had best intentions to take contaminated land create something useful and liveable. With more planning I believe that they could have built a truly self-sustainable green community that people could live, work, and play and be off the grid. Furthermore sell energy back to surrounding communities. However when private business is involved the end result of the triple bottom line is profit.

Insight on social sustainability within Dockside Green

Insight 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.

robertgnewell Tue, 2012-01-24 19:42

What makes a city liveable?

What makes a city liveable?

Chris Ling, Jim Hamilton and Kathy Thomas
Published December 19, 2006

Case Summary

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."

(Okotoks Municipal Development Plan: The Legacy Plan, 1998)

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:

  1. social space;
  2. talent attraction and retention as well as economic dynamism; and,
  3. 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:

  1. protection of the environment;
  2. maintenance of a diverse economy;
  3. provision of accessibility through land use;
  4. delivery of services for residents and businesses;
  5. housing choices;
  6. balanced city budget; and,
  7. 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:

  1. the value of liveability as an overall theme, among others, in the development of a community’s sustainability plan;

  2. the overarching role of public engagement in the articulation of what is meant by liveability;

  3. an acceptance that liveability may differ significantly from community to community;

  4. a recognition that liveability extends to economic dynamism and career opportunities as well as recreational, aesthetic, cross-generational and cultural activities;

  5. the ability to embed liveability concerns into the culture of the municipality rather than politically motivated short-term initiatives; and,

  6. 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

Rick Quail
Municipal Manager
Town of Okotoks
PO Box 20, 14 McRae Street,
Okotoks, Alberta T1S 1K1

Thomas Osdoba
Manager, Sustainability Group
City of Vancouver
1800 Spyglass Place
Vancouver, BC
V5Z 4K8

What Worked?

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:

  1. 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;

  2. provide an economic dynamism with a critical mass of entrepreneurs, diversity and creativity,  sufficient to attract and retain talented people;

  3. encourage a culture within local governments to support innovation both in economic and cultural matters; and,

  4. 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:

  1. 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

  2. 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 (

Research Analysis

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).

  1. 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.

  2. There remains considerable work to be done within the river valley and escarpment areas to restore disturbed natural areas.

  3. There has been virtually no mixed-use development outside of the downtown.

  4. 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.

  5. The majority of local roads continue to be developed with mono-sidewalks rather than the separated sidewalks suggested in the MDP.

  6. There is almost no development-ready industrial land in Okotoks.

  7. Architectural regulations have not yet been developed and implemented for the Downtown.

  8. A gateway features for Downtown has not yet been developed.

  9. Public art in the Downtown is encouraged, but few examples exist to date.

  10. 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.

Strategic Questions

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.

chrisling Tue, 2006-12-19 12:45

This is a great discussion on liveability!

As communities discuss sustainability it seems as though the topic of liveability is often discussed as well. This only makes sense because liveability is critical to the establishment of a sustainable community.

The case studies from Okotoks and Vancouver really help to explain and understand the concept of liveability. The case studies show how liveability is different in different communities, which is expected because it is highly dependent on what the residents view and value as a liveable community. I think by focusing on building residential developments in the downtown Vancouver took an important and essential first step. The downtown tends to be the heart of the community and with people living in the downtown they are more likely to care for it, which will often be apparent in the feel of the area. In addition with more people around safety is increased. In my community residential developments in the downtown are limited and because of this the downtown is not the most desirable or safest area; it lacks vibrancy.

From what I understand about liveability, I think a liveable community should include the following: a focus on the residents and quality of life; it should be walkable – some essential services within walking distance of your home, including transit service (if it is available in the community); it should have inviting public spaces; mixed use buildings; and it should be safe for people of all ages. When I look at these factors it becomes quite obvious how sustainability and liveability are linked.

Also, the case study mentions that is it very difficult or impossible to retrofit liveability. I understand how it would be difficult and this really emphasizes how important it is to incorporate these features in the planning stage. I am wondering if any communities been successful in retrofitting liveability?


I picked this case study because urban liveability is of great interest to me. Vancouver is my favourite Canadian city and Okotoks lies just south of my hometown Calgary. While the topic of liveability and sustainability is relevant and important, I found this case study was a very high level theoretical look at what liveability is and how to implement those theories in the planning stages. It provided little concrete examples of what liveability looks like at the ground level.
Despite good intentions and purposeful planning, from what I can see as a frequent visitor to both cities, is an unqualified failure on both accounts. Despite Vancouver’s beautiful backdrop of mountains and ocean, it is still a very car-centric, very large urbanized city suffering from horrendous traffic that does have a vibrant central community that only the very wealthy can truly enjoy. If people have to drive into the city to enjoy the attributes of liveability, how can this be sustainable? This problem is directly addressed in the case study, but no realistic alternatives are suggested.
Okotoks is a bedroom community 50 kilometers south of Calgary. That label (bedroom community) alone should disqualify it as sustainable/liveable as the majority of its residents drive into Calgary daily. As stated by Ling, Hamilton and Thomas in What Makes a City Liveable? They sate: “In short, liveable communities have to provide meaning to people’s lives beyond just being a point of residence.” The center of economic activity is not in the center of town, but is located in two ‘consumervilles’ (box store clusters) along the major north/south axis of the town. The community has stated that they want to limit the size of the town to 30,000 residents. After discussing this topic with a local developer, it seems that this target will be surpassed, as Okotoks is growing rapidly, suffering from insufficient planning, greedy developers and the unquentionable demand for low-density housing. The town needs the ever-increasing tax base from expansion to fund infrastructure. Stay small and don’t develop, or expand to develop, it’s a vicious circle. Add the quandary of a limited supply of fresh water and the circle tightens.
The term liveability remains undefined. There is a reference to sustainable development through reduced car transportation, increases in greenspace and opportunities for social capital, but these are all vague notions with little substance in proactive solutions for urban planners or city residents that are desperately seeking liveable cities.

Clint Marble

Clint brings up an interesting question about liveable community. First, everyone in the world has a different definition of what would make a liveable community. Many of the towns today in Canada struggle with the lack of transportation. I currently live in Edmonton, and unless you are in the downtown sector, public transportation is not very economical or practical. And like most other cities I think more and more people want to live in 'suburbs' as they see it safer for their children, quieter and maybe a slower way of life.

I can see why it is hard for a community like Okotoks that use to be a sleepy community to keep up with the demand for space and growth. I think a lot of people are looking for the sleep community feel with all the amenities. For me personally I also like the idea of quieter community and looking into the possibilities of moving to a smaller community. However after looking at my ecological footprint, moving to smaller community will lead to an increase in my footprint instead of reduction.

In some ways it is easier for a community to long term plan for a liveable and sustainable place. A town can put in strategies to plan for the future, i.e. if the population raises to what % will we implement public transportation and where will it go? Also it is easier to implement green spaces (which highly makes a community liveable) before development comes in, then after. Mature green spaces are more appealing than the new areas. All this however is easier said then done, as many places will never be able to determine the growth of the community and at what scale.

After reading this article, the concept of liveability will surely stick with me. I work for a Municipality in the GTA with a population of ~120,000 and we are right in the thick of creating our Sustainability Plan. For many reasons, this municipality doesn't have a downtown and it has just dawned on me that this negatively affects my opinion of how liveable this town is. It lacks that critical communal gathering space and is exploding with big box stores instead, and it feels as though the community has no history (which is untrue). It also feels like certain age groups are completely absent from the community, which again reduces the liveability. Economic dynamism, social space, and mono-functional planning zones...all things that have sparked my curiosity. And the notion that municipalities are starting to look at ecosystem services - fabulous! new buzz word.

I think that this case study presents a perspective on communities that I had previously given minimal thought to. I think that the population cap is a very interesting concept and I will be sure to keep an eye on how that goes over the next few years as they get closer and closer to capacity. The concept of liveability is a great overarching term that I will be sure to incorporate into my work much more frequently. And I will be certain to make a point to stop and explore Okotoks a little more closely instead of just passing through as I have done for years. This article just gave me a different perspective into an area of sustainability that I haven't paid much attention to, so thank you to Chris, Jim and Kathy for opening my eyes just a little bit wider!

Clint- I couldn’t agree with your comments more.

I think it is wonderful that Vancouver and Okotoks have injected livability into their municipal development plans, but I am unsure of the degree to which either city has achieved livability. I suppose that like sustainable development, livability is a process rather than an end point (Robinson, 2004) and that by engaging in that process in a thoughtful manner, both cities may get further along than other cities in the process toward enhancing livability and, perhaps as a side benefit, sustainability. Certainly, both cities will have made strides towards livability because they have looked at their planning policies through the lens of livability.

By contrasting Okotoks to Vancouver, the point that jumped out at me (and is addressed in different ways in the case study) is that livability is entirely subjective and very exclusionary. As the case study and a few subsequent comments note, the term “livability” is inherently difficult to define. The type of subjectivity that I’m more concerned with is that the same place can be exceedingly livable to one person or group of people while being completely “unlivable” to another person or group of people.

I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about Canadian cities lately as my husband and I debated which one to pick for our upcoming relocation. Our judgment of different cities’ livability (or different elements that contribute to livability) guided our discussions. Our ultimate decision was to exclude Vancouver from consideration because we judged that we couldn’t afford to live there in a way that would feel livable for us. One of many considerations was that the cost of living is so high that we may have been pushed further away from the city core, which would have increased our commute – a deal-breaker for us. If we had a couple million of dollars to spend on a house, Vancouver would probably be (for us) the most livable city in the country. But without those deep pockets, the equation changes significantly. The case study brought this topic up – and it was written in 2006! As we all know, the economic story in Vancouver has changed quite a bit since then.

As you mentioned, Clint, Okotoks serves as a bedroom community to Calgary. I’m sure that’s not its purpose in life, but at least a portion of Okotoks’ population commutes to Calgary daily during the week. For many (myself included) that is not a marker of a livable community. Without a requirement to commute, perhaps Okotoks is perfect – I don’t know it well enough to judge.


Robinson, J. (2004). Squaring the circle? Some thoughts on the idea of sustainable development. Ecological Economics 48(4), 369-384.

Leith Anderson

Good stuff Jim. I think that Ann Dale's on-line poll is attempting to collect this type of data.

I might suggest that as we move up the needs (to number 4 or 5) different people have different needs/wants as well though. You can not group everyone together as wanting the same things, which is why a livable city should have the ability to offer many different choices.

Having stakeholder dialogue and local voting is important to develop all of this.

I think this is a creative and interesting tool for looking at the needs of different people living in a city. I think that if this tool were to be used on a practical level, again accessibility must be considered. How do we make sure to include people who speak a different language, people who are mentally unwell, people who do not have a set "home" so that their needs and perspectives are not forgotten?

What does my liveable city look like:

My liveable city is one made up of little communities where people feel connected. These nodes are comprised of housing areas with families, students (as long as they don't party to all hours of the night and respect their neighbours) and seniors living in proximity to each other. These nodes need places or events where people can congregate and meet. Streets are small and safe (I find traffic noise stressful). Green space is required, it does not need to be an expansive forest but it does need to be more than a grassed soccor feild. recreational areas are good but people need to re-connect with nature (whether they think they do or not). And lieability also means being able to exit the city in a reasonable amount of time, to get into the country. In Hfx I can be floating among the costal island in 20 minutes and I live downtown. Active transportation opportunities is imperative in my liveable city. New developments just outside the city are absolutely car-centric, very depressing.


So how do we get people buying from local suppliers? Whether it is food or furniture? I think this will come with an increase in socialization. (Is socialization a word?) As people become acquainted with their neighbours and feel connected to a community I think they will consider buying from the small business's that are operated by neighbours. Am I naive? or will they continue to go to walmart?

A diverse local economy is more sustainable: keeps profits in the community, resilient to economic bust, etc.

Al Tithecott

Fri, 2007-03-02 11:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think there is a paradox of modern individualism - choice is the goal of retail. Sorry - choice at the lowest price. So a few companies make lots of different tomato sauces so we have low-cost centralized production and choice at the supermarket shelf - but very low diversity in choice between communities. The same tomato sauces across Canada. And the same cheap furniture/stuff from China at Walmart.

I think this globalization of trade - at the expense of local production and retail has been fuelled (excuse the pun) by cheap energy. It is artificially low cost to move the Tomato sauce across the country - there is not room, economically, for the local producer to compete against centralized production and artificially low transportation.

I think this aspect of liveable cities cannot be solved by the communities themselves - but is an issue of global trade and global energy policy. (Of course the cynic in me suggests this will all work itself out soon, when the oil economy shifts, and we have to grow vegetables in our own back yards again. Progressive policy will soften that drop/shift.)


Try to answer questions/themes with the reply button right below them.

If everyone could also try and label their subject with the subject they are responding to it would potentially make things a little bit easier.

Everyone has a different view of liveability and as such dialogue is necessary to determine the vision.

The long term imperative of sustainability may not be considered without government intervention. People aree protecting their own interests , as Ian mentioned, and these are usually short term.

Solveig Madsen

Fri, 2007-03-02 11:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I agree with you totally Calinda but why are kids still littering? Anti-littering campaigns hae been part of the school curriculum at least since I was a kid and that was quite a while ago and the roadside ditches next to school are absolutely filled with chip bags and pop cans. Perhaps a different kind of learning is necessary, experiential learning. I'm not an expert in experiential learning but I picture children and youth going into nature to experience it and connect with it. Will litter then be more meaningful to them?

I think I may be going into a tangent.


Fri, 2007-03-02 11:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, I agree Calinda that we must consider youth when looking at these issues. And, building upon what Solveig mentioned (yeah, epigenesis!) how can we take this a step further and actually involve youth in decision-making?

I think experiential learning would definitely tie-in to this. I think it would be awesome if schools (including RRU) altered their curriculum to centre around on-the ground problem-solving for current issues. For example, a grade 4 class could spend a semester looking at how to make their schoolyard more "liveable" and, in the process, integrate required curriculum.


Fri, 2007-03-02 10:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A friend of mine works for a "sustainable design" architecture firm. They are developing some great ideas. However they do NOT revolve around affordability. They focus on energy conservation, interesting design (I think that livable cities are interesting to look at) and live/work developments to reduce the reliance on the car.

Again, sustainability may be expensive. So livable/sustainable cities need economic opportunity and support to those living on the edges.


Fri, 2007-03-02 11:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes Alix, you are absolutely right. This venture is risky - and to send the right message it must be successful. If they start dropping components of the initial design (first its affordable housing, next goes the onsite waste treatment, next it will be the sustainability showcase thing you know it is just another overpriced overhyped land development). They must follow through on the complete package and we as consumers should be encouraged to reward them (by buying up the units) and demand more developments like this. And the circular argument ends back at costs...we have to pay the price (which I have no problem with) as long as they provide the service as promised.


Fri, 2007-03-02 11:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The original proposal from the City did not have the social housing component as a very important part of the project (in fact Windmill have done more than they were asked to do by the City)

The City saw the social component being mainly in the quality of the neighbourhood and the public amenity.

I used word for my first post (Sustainability as a disguise) but found that process to slow so I tried to get caught up on the discussion via reply and I don't have a copy of it.

The coles notes version is…

1. Safety – I have a huge issue with the amount of break and enters in the city (and property crime).
2. Close to amenities – Usually the only time I can get out for a walk is to go to the store; more people should do this.
3. Size of condo shoeboxes downtown – How can you raise a family in a 500 sq foot “studio” apartment. Downtown living is great for single yuppie types, but once married with kids you are forced to the ‘burbs.

Al Tithecott

Fri, 2007-03-02 11:04

Here goes with what may be my final thoughts.

There are a number of good ideas in this dialogue that can be condensed for an action plan. I think the discussion has two flavours - "the problem" and "the solutions". Some may match up.

We seem to have focused on the urban issue - living in the core, and that there are divisions between urban, suburban and rural communities. I agree. And there should be. Communities need to self organize based on the motivations that brought them together in the first place. In some cases, the steel mill or the car plant are the unifying force. In some cases, the community is a rural network of widely dispersed living centred around a small community hub.

I think finding services within your community is important. People are now finding they have to travel to another "community" for basic services, including food, medical care, culture, etc. The more they find those services within their own "place", with all of the emotional connections described above, they will feel attachment.


I agree Al.

I would also include economic benefits/opportunities to any livable community. If people do not have the opportunity to work near where they live, they will either need to commute or end up homeless/on-the-fringe contributing to crime.

I feel too rushed to wrap-up at the moment and think it would only dilute the quality of my other posts.

Thanks to everyone for their contributions. I really liked this disucssion forum, although that sucks that Ian was not really able to contribute. Perhaps you could add-in some comments post-discussion Ian. I don't have a problem with that.

Two minutes to go.

Making a city liveable and sustainable is critical. there are linkages but we need to be cognizant of both terms. One does not necessarily beget the other. I guess, like others have said keeping ecological, economic and social balance in mind.

I thought this was a lot of fun, thanks all.

For me the first step in achieving a “sustainable” community is to recoup waste due to inefficiencies. Communities should be designed to reflect this, and the first thing that should be visited is getting people out of their cars. Since when did we loose walking as a mode of transportation. People will circle the block five times to find the “perfect parking spot”, what happened to walking a few blocks to get where you are going? Have we become so dependent on time that we can’t spare ten minutes to get where we a re going? And this dependency on time is emphasized by our work. Be there by 8 leave at 5 mentality. People should try and live closer to where they work, again I see this as efficient thinking. But a new problem arises? How many people spend their entire life at the same organization? It appears our workforce is way more fluid than in previous generations (generations whose design or concept for urban planning is usually built upon). In short, if I were supreme ruler I would take three initiatives…Tough on crime (take back the streets and stop living in fear); tough on vehicles (access to the downtown core would be accessed only by service vehicles (delivery, transit, cabs), and tough on sustainable development (holding developers accountable for what they “say” they will do). I acknowledge that these efforts are difficult to enforce and only exist in the fantasy of my head…