August 7-14, 2006

Vancouver EcoDensity Initiative marks next step in greening process

Vancouver's City Council recently voted unanimously to support a new planning and development strategy aimed at pursuing "high quality densification." The EcoDensity Initiative will seek to reduce the city's ecological footprint and make home ownership more affordable. Central to the initiative will be the development of an EcoDensity Charter, which will guide future planning and development decisions in Vancouver with a goal of achieving what it terms "high-quality densification."

Key elements of the plan include changes in zoning regulations and conventional housing to provide an increased number of affordable residential areas that are set within fully functioning communities. The plan will support a variety of housing options and investment in creating complete communities around densely populated neighbourhoods.

The initiative also includes the creation of an EcoDensity Toolkit to help citizens and professionals analyze the environmental implications of choices they make at home, in neighbourhoods and as a city.

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, who unveiled the EcoDensity Initiative in mid-June, has been its lead advocate. The launch prompted positive feedback and discussion about EcoDensity during the World Urban Forum, a gathering of hundreds of the world's leading urbanists and city planners, which took place in Vancouver from June 19-23.

In an eight-page outline, Sullivan says high-quality densification will help make Vancouver a "one planet" city, i.e. one that consumes resources at a rate that can be sustained by the planet's ability to replenish those resources.

The city is already a leader in sustainable development, notes the report, with residents having rejected freeways running through the city centre in favour of public transit and projects to encourage walking and biking. "Green" buildings, mixed-use neighbourhoods, and challenges to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are a fact of life, but urban sprawl is nevertheless compromising our environment, it adds.

High-quality densification offers a near-term opportunity for addressing both economic and environmental issues. It will help reduce emissions by allowing people to live closer to where they work, shop and play, and will make transit systems more viable and efficient. It will shrink the city's ecological footprint by making better use of resources and existing water and sewer systems as well as infrastructure such as roads, bridges and sidewalks. At the same time, high-quality densification will reduce the need for taxpayers to finance public investments in new infrastructure, and will lessen the pressure on developing agricultural and industrial land and existing green space.

Other benefits will include better housing choices for residents at all life stages, from young families to seniors; improved affordability for housing through increased supply; lower residential and business property taxes due to sharing of costs over a greater population; and direct reinvestment of resources into new and better community amenities such as parks, libraries and cultural and recreational centres.

The next step will be a year-long consultation process involving Vancouver residents, planners, developers, researchers and community organizations. Mayor Sullivan has also called for an EcoDensity Forum to be held in the spring of 2007. The event will be a key step in the development of an EcoDensity Charter, which will guide future planning decisions. It will be a focal point for discussing actions that lead to:

* Opportunities to improve housing affordability;

* Increased housing supply including city-wide approaches for new housing;

* Zoning designations which may allow fee-simple ownership of small lots or row housing;

* Economic analysis of proposed new housing types and zonings; and,

* Development of public amenities to meet the needs of new housing.

Council will invest up to $300,000 in the EcoDensity Forum for initial planning and research, staffing, community outreach, information materials, consultation meetings and development of EcoDensity principles and the toolkit. The council has asked city staff to report back this fall with a detailed budget.

The EcoDensity outline document may be viewed on the Vancouver Web site, www.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/councillors/mayor/announcements/2006/EcoDensity.pdf.

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