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Expert studies guide sustainability features

The 1999 SEFC Policy Statement contained a number of high-level sustainability principles to guide the neighbourhood’s development (see chapter one). To translate these ambitious principles into actions for SEFC, the City commissioned consultant reports in four key areas. Although not all recommendations were adopted, select action items from the reports were incorporated into the Official Development Plan for the neighbourhood. In addition, the studies themselves became key reference materials that informed the site’s design. The reports focused on the following overarching aspects of urban sustainability:



The SEFC energy study looks at energy conservation and supply options, and reviews proposed energy-related performance targets. Of particular interest is its investigation of embodied energy. Embodied energy is the total energy that goes into the manufacture of a product, including energy used in growing, extracting, manufacturing and transporting it to the point of use. The study recommends using alternative materials with lower embodied energy in the construction of buildings, municipal infrastructure, parks and open space. Other recommended strategies include:

  • Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings
  • Increasing the use of local, efficient and renewable sources of energy
  • Implementing enhanced energy management programs
  • Establishing a micro-grid and pooled power back-up solution
  • Reducing energy use for transportation

Water Management

The water management plan explores potable water consumption, reuse of stormwater and greywater, sanitary sewage treatment and stormwater management. The report recommended implementing a monitoring system to evaluate the success of water conservation policies over time. Specific conservation strategies recommended include:

  • Installing efficient fixtures and appliances
  • Using green roofs, permeable pavement and constructed wetlands
  • Using rain barrels to store rainwater
  • Reusing water for landscaping and toilet flushing
  • Treating sewage on-site using solar aquatics or “living machines”

Waste Management

The waste management plan focuses on the four “Rs” of waste management: reduce, reuse, recycle and manage residual waste. Waste that is not diverted by the first three “Rs” is referred to as “residual waste.” Conventional waste management plans focus on how to manage residual waste, but in recent years increased attention on the other “Rs” has helped to significantly reduce the proportion of residual waste. The plan recommends waste reduction and diversion strategies, including reusing, recycling and composting, for five levels of waste management:

  • Construction and demolition
  • Community waste infrastructure
  • Multi-family residential buildings
  • Industrial, commercial and institutional facilities
  • Public parks and open spaces

Urban Agriculture

The SEFC urban agriculture strategy focuses on the role of food-related activity and urban agriculture in neighbourhood planning. This study defines urban agriculture broadly as a complete system, including on-site food production, processing and distribution. The proposed overarching objectives include:

  • Increasing the physical capacity to support the growing of food
  • Increasing the amount of on-site food production, privately and commercially
  • Increasing food-related economic development initiatives
  • Supporting local food security initiatives
  • Increasing technical capacity, skills and knowledge of urban agricultural systems
  • Encouraging the celebration of food and the local food system


The SEFC transportation study identifies a range of transportation options to support the vision of SEFC as a model sustainable community. The overarching aim is to “balance” the transportation system by improving transportation choices and reducing the environmental, social and economic costs of an automobile-dependent transport system. A monitoring and evaluation program will measure the success of the sustainable transportation efforts. Specific recommendations include:

  • Incorporating streetcar, ferries and improved bus service into site planning
  • Designing safe, comfortable and convenient transit stops
  • Creating pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly streets
  • Promoting opportunities for car-sharing
  • Implementing parking management and traffic-calming strategies


Commitment to Sustainability and Livability

In May 2003, VIA Architecture submitted an official development plan proposal for SEFC to the City of Vancouver. Rooted in sustainability and livability, the proposal presented a rethinking of “standard” building forms in Vancouver. It promoted enhanced comfort and high-performance green design. The design featured low-rise buildings of up to six storeys built on an east-west axis. Units would draw upon north-south natural ventilation and benefit from solar access. The plan showed several mid-rise terraced buildings oriented north-south. These buildings were designed for optimal efficiency and offered the opportunity for large roof gardens. The submission explored the possibility of reducing building heights while increasing overall density. The average unit size was 900 square feet on a 6,500 square foot floor plate.

ODP preliminary submission by VIA Architecture source: VIA Architectureenlarge

ODP preliminary submission by VIA Architecture. Source: VIA Architecture, 2003

Commitment to Flexibility and Neighbourhood Character

In February 2004, VIA Architecture submitted a proposal supplement to augment its 2003 submission. This plan refined the neighbourhood’s massing and density while maintaining the opportunity for flexible development. The supplement also addressed the neighbourhood’s three areas of distinct character: worksyard, shipyard and railyard. An emphasis on family housing enabled a five per cent increase to total residential density. Of the proposed 2.1 million square feet of development, less than 20 per cent was above 12 storeys. This reflected a decrease in the square footage above 12 storeys from the original 2003 submission. The plan demonstrated a building form that was distinct from Vancouver’s downtown towers, displaying a more slender upper superstructure built on a mid-rise base. The approach to “place” was inspired by the diversity of the city’s West End neighbourhood – human-scale, with a diversity of heights – as opposed to the uniformity of the high-rise residential model. In response to the proposal supplement, the City directed the VIA team to animate the waterfront, move some of the parklands to the east, leave heritage buildings in their original locations and decrease overall building heights.

ODP submission supplement by VIA Architecture source: VIA Architectureenlarge

ODP submission supplement by VIA Architecture. Source: VIA Architecture 2004

Commitment to Low- and Mid-Rise Forms and the Natural Topography

“Erickson recommended using building form to ‘reflect the natural topography of the False Creek basin.”

The preliminary submissions were reviewed by City staff and subject to public consultation. Following the review, five themes were identified for further exploration: park integration, water experience, chronicling history, small grain development and distinctive urban form. During this period, the City moved to incorporate the private lands south of First Avenue into the SEFC site area. In the fall of 2004, in response to a series of reviews of the prior submissions (see page 10, The Architects’ Letter), the City hired Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden Architects, VIA Architecture, Stantec Architecture and Philips Wuori Long Partnership Landscape Architects Inc. to submit a further revised urban design framework. The City gave the team three months to create the updated submission, which was ultimately adopted as part of the approved ODP. Maximum tower heights were set at 13 storeys, with three locations allowing “signature” buildings to reach up to 17 storeys. What drove this approach was the advice that renowned architected Arthur Erickson gave to the City of Vancouver’s director of planning at the time, Larry Beasley. Erickson recommended using building form to “reflect the natural topography of the False Creek basin.” As a result, the plan showed buildings stepping down from 13 storeys on the south end of the site to three or four maximum on the waterfront. Unfortunately, this sense of the “basin” was ultimately diminished as higher densities were sought on the Olympic Village site.


Left: Final Proposal December 2004. Right: Final Proposal January 2005. City of Vancouver, 2004


The “Architects’ Letter” to City Council


A group of local architects composed this letter to Vancouver’s City Council, suggesting an alternative to the ODP’s proposed approach to urban design:

06 April 2004

Mayor and Council City of Vancouver
453 West 12th Avenue Vancouver,
BC V5Y 1V4

Dear Mayor and Council,


We are a group of dedicated professionals and concerned citizens committed to a better Vancouver. Our interest in writing Council at this time is to further the dialogue started in the City’s Urban Design Review initiative for the planning and design of South East False Creek. Every effort should be made to ensure that this important public site achieves the goals established by Council at the outset of the planning process to create a sustainable community and a unique neighbourhood that sets a new standard for development in Vancouver.

In order to provide constructive guidance, our group has collectively developed a set of key design and planning principles that we feel are important to achieving an appropriate strategy for this site. We trust that they will be constructive to the planning process. It is not our intention to undermine in any way the substantial effort of the many committees, staff, consultants and public groups and individuals involved in the planning to date.

Significant progress has been made in the past several weeks on the design proposed for Official Development Plan approval. However, it does not go far enough. A much clearer strategy is required, one that establishes a strong framework for development and one that is less dependent on specific architectural solutions to make the plan work.

The south shore of False Creek is different from its north shore. Your site is part of the basin of the Creek, sloping down from the heights of Central Broadway to the water’s edge. The character of Mount Pleasant, Fairview Slopes and lands surrounding the site suggests a lower form of development. We believe that a predominantly high-rise approach is the wrong point of departure for SEFC, and that a low- to mid-rise strategy would produce better urban design at little, if any, sacrifice to the economics of the project.

SEFC should become a unique neighbourhood, not a copy of the West End, Concord Pacific Place, or anywhere else in Vancouver. The planning should include the private lands south and east of the site such that a comprehensive design is developed for an entire neighbourhood. In the longer term, this plan may inform the I-C zone south of 2nd Avenue, and the False Creek Flats east of Main Street.

The planning principles are attached for your consideration. We will be pleased to continue the dialogue on the future of this outstanding property with the hope that the plan taken forward for final ratification will be of the highest order.

Respectfully submitted,

Nigel Baldwin, MAIBC
Chuck Brook Peter Busby, MAIBC
James Cheng, MAIBC
Patrick Condon, MAIBC
Joyce Drohan, MAIBC
Michael Geller, MAIBC
James Hancock, MAIBC
Norman Hotson, MAIBC

Cc Judy Rogers, Brent McGregor, Bruce Maitland, Larry Beasley, Dave Rudburg, Graham McGarva

Planning and Design Principles for SEFC

  • Create a distinct new neighbourhood, unlike other places in Vancouver, founded on a clear, bold concept.
  • Integrate the planning and design of the public lands of SEFC with the adjacent private lands to the south and east of the site, and ensure that this new neighbourhood is well integrated with the Mount Pleasant community.
  • Develop 2nd Avenue as the neighbourhood boundary with the proposed streetcar line as part of the grand boulevard design linking with Quebec Street and Pacific Boulevard. In turn, the function and width of 1st Avenue can become that of a local street.
  • Adopt principles of sustainability in all aspects of planning and building, including an on-site demonstration project, or feature.
  • Design a ‘town’ form of development, consistent with the surrounding context, with buildings that are principally low- to mid-rise in height, defining street frontages.
  • Apply a small-scale block pattern to encourage diversity, incremental development and the participation of many developers.
  • Terrace building heights down from south to north to reinforce the “urban basin” form of the south shore of False Creek.
  • Engage the waterfront with active uses and open spaces for the enjoyment of all Vancouverites, while being mindful of the environmental issues associated with building close to the edge.
  • Consider reducing the park space requirement from 26.4 acres to a lesser size to achieve density objectives, while ensuring that a significant park is maintained to serve the Mount Pleasant community.
  • Develop a series of smaller public park spaces, plazas and squares, evenly distributed throughout the development, to serve the needs of local residents.
  • Introduce additional north-south vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian greenway routes to connect the broader community to the waterfront.
  • Engineer intimate, humanly-scaled streets with a differentiation in character between the north-south and east-west streets.
  • Locate retail uses on Manitoba Street and along the waterfront to create a highly active, main street character, with active uses on the ground floor of other project streets.
  • Consider how this ‘new town’ could inform the future land use planning and design of the I-C zone, south of 2nd Avenue, and the False Creek Flats, east of Main Street.


A place “where people live, work, play, and learn”

The Official Development Plan (ODP) for SEFC set the bar high for integrated neighbourhood sustainability. The plan embraced the vision from the SEFC Policy Statement, incorporating an unprecedented level of commitment to sustainability. The plan established a foundation for urban design, determining the configuration of the neighbourhood’s parcels, parks, rights-of-way, public amenities, densities and massing. The SEFC ODP bylaw was approved by Vancouver City Council at a public hearing on March 1, 2005 and enacted on July 19, 2005.

The City’s goal was to develop a mixed-use neighbourhood with a diversity of residential uses. The development was to accommodate people of all incomes and all ages, with family housing as a priority. The City’s ambitious vision was to create “a place where people live, work, play, and learn in a neighbourhood designed to maintain and balance the highest possible levels of social equity, livability, ecological health and economic prosperity.” Twelve urban design principles detailed in the ODP provided a basis to govern the site’s physical form and character:

  • Overall basin form legibility
  • Distinct neighbourhood precincts
  • Integrated community
  • Street hierarchy
  • Connected public open spaces and parks
  • Integrated transit
  • Vibrant commercial heart
  • Waterfront animation
  • Clustered community services
  • Heritage recognition
  • Incremental varied development
  • Demonstrated sustainability

The sustainability principles in the SEFC Policy Statement informed the approach to sustainability in the ODP. The plan encompasses social, economic and environmental sustainability with each Policy Statement principle addressed at length and integrated throughout.

Social sustainability: goals include affordable housing and access to nutritious food, health care, safety and childcare facilities. In addition, employment, education, arts, culture and recreation are discussed under the umbrella of “enhancing human capacity.”

Economic sustainability: includes a focus on long-term economic viability and security, local self-reliance, an ecological economy that supports green business and technology, and economic advantage linked to the benefits of social and environmental sustainability.

Environmental sustainability: the ODP, with the SEFC Green Building Strategy (see page 14), provides specific guidelines to inform the approach to land use, buildings and environmental sustainability.


Illustrative plan for Southeast False Creek source: City of Vancouver, City of Vancouver, updated June 2009


A Proactive Approach, from Parking to Plants

With the SEFC Green Building Strategy, the City of Vancouver took a proactive approach to environmental building design in SEFC, one that would affect the environmental performance of buildings citywide. Adopted as policy in 2004, the strategy establishes a minimum baseline of environmental performance for building design and construction. It applies to all new medium- and high-density residential, mixed-use, commercial, institutional and industrial buildings in SEFC.

The SEFC Green Building Strategy required that all buildings be designed to meet a minimum of LEED Silver certification. In addition, the City added mandatory baseline requirements to ensure that sustainable design was addressed comprehensively, across all aspects of building and site design. The following are recommendations from the SEFC Green Building Strategy in the areas of Energy, Parking, Landscape and Water, and Waste Management:


  • Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings
  • Increasing the use of local, efficient and renewable sources of energy
  • Implementing enhanced energy management programs
  • Establishing a micro-grid and pooled power back-up solution
  • Reducing energy use for transportation
  • Meet an overall energy performance baseline (equal to two LEED energy points)
  • Specify energy-efficient appliances
  • Use metering, smart controls and occupancy sensors
  • Utilize the neighbourhood energy utility (district heating system)


  • Provide preferred parking for co-op and car-share vehicles
  • Relax minimum quota for parking stalls
  • “Unbundle” parking from the sale of a residential unit (the purchaser has the option to opt in or out of ownership of a parking space)

Landscape and Water

  • Specify low flow toilets, faucets and showerheads
  • Use drought resistant and/or native plant species (goal of zero potable water use in irrigation)
  • Install green roofs on 50 per cent of roof area
  • Create space for urban agriculture in landscaped areas
  • Implement on-site stormwater management practices Waste Management
  • Provide space for three streams of waste collection: garbage, recycling and organics
  • Implement composting capacity in gardens and landscaped areas
  • Divert 75 per cent of construction waste from landfill


Many Voices, One Plan

Community consultation and engagement is a key part of building sustainable communities. The vision of creating a model sustainable community in SEFC came from concerned citizens who wanted to see a vibrant, ecologically sound and socially cohesive community. Despite the shifts caused by successive Councils, the Olympic bid and various interests and pressures, this vision has held strong.

Source: City of Vancouver, 2006

Source: City of Vancouver, 2006

Many groups have been involved in the SEFC planning process, including the Southeast False Creek Working Group, Designers for Social Responsibility, and the Southeast False Creek Stewardship Group, a City advisory committee established in 1997. In addition, a comprehensive public consultation program included numerous open houses, public workshops and a public hearing, as well as input from adjacent business improvement associations and residential associations.

Members of these groups invested significant amounts of volunteer time visioning, researching and developing recommendations. Within the general goal of “building livable neighbourhoods,” citizens considered a wide variety of issues, including adequate housing, health care, education, employment, mobility, urban agriculture and environmental restoration. Since there is no single approach to sustainable community development, the rich scope of discussion, diverse points of view and comprehensive input to the City – as well as the challenges of defining the input and guidance process and outcomes – were all critical elements in the SEFC process.

Sources for Expert Studies:
SEFC Energy Study, July 22, 2002 – Compass Resource Management Ltd. in association with Holland Barrs Planning Group, Busby & Associates Architects, and Pottinger Gaherty Environmental Consultants
SEFC Water and Waste Management Study, September 2002 – Keen Engineering Co. Ltd.
SEFC Urban Agriculture Study, November. 2002 – Holland Barrs Planning Group (in association with Lees and Associates Sustainability Ventures Group)
SEFC Transportation Study, November 2002 – IBI Group (in association with Ward Consulting Group and Boulevard Transportation Group)
(Full-text reports available for download)


Illustrative plan for Southeast False Creek
City of Vancouver, updated June 2009