A Canadian First for Sustainable Community Design

A Canadian First for Sustainable Community Design

By Paul Shorthouse, GLOBE-Net

GLOBE-Net (June 18, 2009) -  From an industrial beginning to a greener future, one Vancouver innercity area is being transformed using state-of-the art concepts and technologies that will establish a number of Canadian firsts in sustainable design and urban planning. Millennium Water, tagged as "Vancouver’s last waterfront community", is about to become the first LEED® Gold multi-unit residential neighbourhood in Canada.

The development also sets high standards for future Olympic host cities since the community’s first residents will be the 2,800 athletes, coaches, and officials of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

The Millennium Water 17-acre land parcel is centrally located within the 80-acre Southeast False Creek (SEFC) area in downtown Vancouver.  Included in this phase-one development are 1,122 residential units with a mix of market, rental, and affordable housing for seniors, singles, and families. There is also approximately 70,000 square-feet of commercial space available.

The project developer, Millennium Properties Limited, was chosen by Vancouver City Council in April, 2006 to develop the first phase of the project in-line with a 2006 city by-law. The Official Development Plan for SEFC established a development baseline for the new community including sustainability principles, a mixed-use plan encouraging a diversity of residential uses for people of all incomes, and a framework for housing programs, shoreline configuration, and child care and community services. Millennium Properties has a history of developing award-winning residences in the Vancouver area that have put both family and sustainability at the forefront.

According to some sources, energy inefficiencies in buildings may account for up to 45 percent of total carbon emissions in North America.  To help reduce building emissions and lessen the environmental impact of construction, the LEED® certification was developed. LEED®, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, distinguishes building projects that have demonstrated a commitment to sustainability by meeting higher performance standards in environmental responsibility and energy efficiency.

Not only will Millennium Water become the first LEED® Gold multi-unit residential community in Canada, the site will also include Canada’s first LEED® Platinum community centre.

In order to gain the title as Canada’s first multi-unit residential "net-zero" building complex and keep within the prevailing by-law, Millennium adopted five key principles of sustainability in the community planning: energy; resources; environment; health; and affordability.

Energy conservation and renewable resources are at the core of the development. Built around its own community system, the Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU) provides space heating and hot water for all 16 buildings through sewage waste and solar heating. Becoming the first development in North America to use a sanitary sewer heat recovery system, Millennium Water uses a technology that has been applied in only three other locations worldwide. Similar to a geo-thermal system, pumps are able to heat water to high temperatures using low-grade heat from municipal liquid waste, at a competitive cost with traditional systems.

Heating is provided through a German-designed radiant heating and cooling system. Heat is transferred from hot water carried in narrow ceiling-mounted capillary tubes that cover a total of nearly one million square-feet, the largest coverage in North America. The self-regulating system is extremely efficient; no energy is transferred when rooms are empty.

Each unit is also equipped with technology that allows residents to realize their energy consumption. Small Power Tab boxes, by Energy Aware Technology, calculate resource costs, including heat and water usage, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, displaying relevant information for the occupant. This allows residents to save on energy bills by monitoring their rate of consumption.

Conservation strategies are also applied for water efficiency including green roofs, low-flow shower heads and faucets, and rainwater recycling. Grass and shrubbery will be planted on approximately 50 percent of the developments sloping roofs, allowing proper storm water drainage, air quality improvement, and visual enhancement. Rainwater is captured in swales and retention ponds and recycled for use in toilets and landscaping activities, reducing the demand for potable water by an estimated 30 percent.

Green architecture promotes natural light, using wide staircases and strategically positioned windows. Outdoor corridors promote cross ventilation and exterior blinds reduce summer heat gain and provide shading.

To achieve LEED® certification, the environmental impact of the development must be kept at a minimum. All wood products used in construction must come from sustainable forestry practices. In addition, thoughtful landscaping implements community vegetable gardens and composting. The foreshore was designed to increase biodiversity of native plant and animal species, including a unique island habitat that has increased herring egg-laying potential and attracts a variety of bird and animal life.

Millennium Water’s access to critical amenities promotes the use of alternative transportation. Walking and cycling paths, car sharing, and public transit options are all readily available. In addition, the nearby SkyTrain monorail line provides direct access to the city centre. Reduced parking spaces encourage the use of sustainable vehicles, with alternative fuelling stations available and preferred parking for hybrids.

The residential units have taken health into account by using very few toxins and chemicals in the building materials. In addition, the unique radiant heating system promotes better air quality for residents; using water rather than air for heat exchange minimizes dust, pollen, and allergen movement.

To keep the community available to people of all incomes, approximately 11 percent of the residential units will be open for rent and 23 percent set as affordable housing. In addition, the units have been designed in-line with the SAFER HomeTM Program that encourages accessibility to all ages and physical abilities, using wider hallways and well-placed light switches.

On November 1, 2009, Millennium Water will be handed over to the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) to serve as the Olympic Village for the 2010 Winter Games in February. The residences will then be returned to the City of Vancouver on April 7, 2010 to continue with sales of the residential units and leasing of the rental units and commercial space.

While the Millennium Water development sets new Canadian benchmarks in urban planning and sustainable design, it has yet proven an economically viable model. With recent fluctuations in real-estate and commodity prices, the final sale of the residential units and the completion of the project will influence the direction of the re
maining 63 acres on the SEFC site.

While the local by-law enforces environmental sustainability regarding future area developments, building to such a high LEED® standard on the rest of the prime waterfront property may be financially unfeasible in the immediate future.

However, as new sustainable technologies increasingly approach parity with conventional ones, these types of low-emission communities will become more of the norm and less of the exception.

 

Source: GLOBE Foundation of Canada Internet Website (http://www.globe-net.com/news/listing.cfm?newsID=4385) – June 23, 2009

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