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Green Infrastructure

Streets and Landscape Design

“If your infrastructure is green, it doesn’t really matter what you put on top of it – your project is green.” Margot Long, PWL Partnership Landscape Architects

The goal of celebrating sustainable design was entrenched in the Public Realm Plan for SEFC. This notion was applied not only to the neighbourhood’s focal points – its parks and plazas – but also to its infrastructure, the nuts and bolts upon which the neighbourhood is built, from streets to sewers. The emphasis on demonstrating sustainability can be observed down to the smallest detail as one walks the streets of the SEFC Olympic Village. In fact, the experience of the pedestrian was what dictated the design of the neighbourhood’s public realm and infrastructure. The objective was to create a pleasurable experience through the selection of materials, street furniture and street trees, and through the design and scale of the public spaces.


A cross section sketch shows the relationships between various modes of transportation sharing the corridors at SEFC. Source: PWL Partnership, 2006.

Street Design

“You’ll know you’re somewhere unique as you walk the streets of SEFC,” says a City of Vancouver engineer. This is because the streets are designed to create a sense of place, achieved largely through the scale of design. All of the buildings at SEFC are “zero lot line,” meaning their facades are built up to the edge of the property lines. Residential entranceways and storefronts open directly onto the sidewalk, inviting easy access and integration with the neighbourhood.


A plan view of a typical street corner. Many material details have been implemented at intersections to add to the experience of place. Source: PWL Partnership, 2007.

While streets at SEFC need to accommodate cars, the focus of their design was placed on walking and biking. This perspective was a key ingredient in creating a sense of place in the neighbourhood. The internal streets are surfaced with granite pavers instead of asphalt, adding to the experience of place. Street widths add another unique design element. While conventional Vancouver streets are 20 metres wide, street widths at SEFC vary between 12 and 18 metres, creating a more intimate street experience. The narrow streets presented a challenge to civil engineers, however, who were charged with accommodating infrastructure below and above ground (pipes, cables, trees and bike lanes) within a significantly reduced area. They successfully met the challenge, and the effect – a sense of vibrancy and connectivity – presents a tangibly different urban experience from other parts of the city.

Trees as Design Element

The Public Realm Plan saw trees as significant components of the public realm design, “key to creating scale, character, and legibility of place, and (giving) a sense of permanence to a neighbourhood.” As a result, significant attention was paid to the selection of tree species. Landscape designers considered tree species’ scale and character, colour, canopy shape, hardiness, disease tolerance, sustainability attributes, allergenic risks and neighbourhood character. Beyond their contribution to the look and feel of the neighbourhood, trees provide shade, habitat and food and help sequester carbon dioxide and pollution.

Street Tree Infrastructure

One of the objectives of the SEFC Public Realm Plan was to ensure that large trees grow along the streets of the new neighbourhood. However, growing large trees in a dense urban environment can be challenging.

“A constant problem in urban sites is that trees don’t have good root development because they’re in such compact soils,” says Rob Maat, CEO of Wilco, the company that engineered much of the Olympic Village landscaping. “They remain stunted because they can’t grow properly, the top of the tree suffers, they’re more susceptible to insect problems and they tend to die earlier. You don’t have a healthy tree.”


Sketch shows street tree with structural soil cell in place. The cells help protect roots from soil compaction, yielding larger trees and less pavement displacement as the tree grows. Source: Eckford + Associates Landscape Architecture, 2007.

To avoid these problems, “soil cells” were installed beneath the sidewalks and streets in Olympic Village. Soil cells are plastic interlocking modules assembled beneath the surface and pegged down at intervals. The cells stabilize the soil beneath the plants, enabling the root structure to develop. The cell wall acts as a semi-permeable membrane, allowing water to seep through but not soil particles. When joined together using their unique interlocking tabs, the cells form a strong matrix that becomes a permanent structure.

Solar Trash Cans Improve Quality of Life

As part of a year-long City of Vancouver pilot project, the SEFC waterfront is equipped with BigBelly Solar Compactors in place of conventional street-side garbage receptacles. The BigBelly units, manufactured in the US, contain sensors that trigger compaction when the volume of trash reaches a certain threshold. The compactors are freestanding and are powered by a small solar panel mounted atop each unit.


Big Belly solar trash compactor installed on the SEFC Seawall. Source: Danny Singer, 2009.

BigBelly compactors take up as much space as conventional garbage receptacles, but boast five times the capacity. As a result, there is less likelihood of overflowing waste, and garbage collection is required much less frequently, reducing noise, traffic and emissions associated with garbage trucks. The BigBelly units can operate for eight years on the equivalent solar energy it takes to drive a garbage truck 1.6 kilometres.

Stormwater Management

Why Manage?

Vancouver is infamous for its rainy climate. The city sees an average of 1,117 millimetres of precipitation and 165 rainy days annually. As in many urban areas, rainfall during storm events needs to be managed to control runoff and limit the rate and volume of water that enters the storm sewer system. When very heavy rainfall enters the system, combined stormwater and sewage may overflow into local waterways, making it important to slow the rate of stormwater conveyance. Rainwater also collects contaminants from roadways and other surfaces, carrying a toxic solution into sewers. It is important to treat contaminated runoff by implementing filtration media that prevent sediments and toxic substances from entering waterways.


Sketch shows relationships between landscape elements (roadways, sidewalks, trees, soil) and how
they work as a comprehensive stormwater managment system. Source: PWL Partnership, 2006.

From Infrastructure to Amenity: ‘Visible’ Stormwater Management

“The story of rainwater management should be visible to educate both visitors and residents.” – SEFC Public Realm Plan


Permeable surfaces allow rain water to filter through, reducing load on city infrastructure and creating pleasing textures along the way. Source: Danny Singer, 2009.

Infrastructure, such as stormwater conveyance systems, is typically buried underground – out of sight, out of mind. At SEFC, the Public Realm Plan inverted this convention of infrastructure design, preferring to open up the infrastructure and make it visible to the public. This is most apparent in the treatment of stormwater. The Olympic Village site is graded so that all rainwater flows either eastward or westward, depending where it falls. On the site’s eastern edge, water flows into a bioswale that runs north-south into False Creek. Water that flows to the west will make its way to Hinge Park (see page 16) for treatment in the park’s wetland system before entering False Creek.

At Hinge Park, the water enters the wetland system through an exposed pipe, allowing residents and passersby to witness a part of the urban environment that usually remains hidden. This notion of exposing urban infrastructure also extends into the public art at the park. There is a bridge made of a giant pipe that is a part of the park design and children’s play area. The pipe refers to the theme of water and the goal of celebrating rainwater and the water cycle.


Hinge Park under construction. A traditional stormwater pipe is installed as a children’s play bridge; shallow marges will be planted with reeds. Source: Danny Singer, 2009.

Rainwater is part of the water cycle. Rain falls, is channeled to a body of water, evaporates, forms clouds and falls again. As rain falls on the surfaces of the public spaces at SEFC, it is channeled down the centre of each street, visible to the passerby – a significant shift from street-edge sewers prevalent elsewhere in the city. Water is collected in sewer grates, and enters filtration galleries that begin the treatment process, removing toxins and particulate matter, and slowing the flow rate. It then makes its way to the bioswale or the Hinge Park constructed wetland. Both treatment systems are above ground, exposing the flow stage of the water cycle and demonstrating how, by way of clever engineering, it is possible to clean up – naturalize – the rainwater even as it flows through our man-made environments.


Wildlife is already returning to the park. Source: Danny Singer, 2009.


Getting Around: Multiple Choices

Thanks to a wide variety of conveniently accessible transportation options, getting around Southeast False Creek will be easy. Indeed, the hardest part may be choosing what mode of transportation to use!


The Olympic Village site is served by a variety of transit options.

Several routes and modes will provide connectivity with the rest of the city, and are aimed at encouraging people to get out of their cars and be active. The neighbourhood’s network of paths and streets are designed for pedestrians, cyclists and transit. Three dedicated bike routes pass through SEFC in addition to the seawall bike and pedestrian route that follows the city’s shoreline. The waterfront will also be served by a pedestrian ferry, which links to the city’s beaches and waterfront locales, such as Granville Island and the Vancouver Aquatic Centre. The neighbourhood will be a stop on Vancouver’s major recent addition to its public transit system, the Canada Line, a light rail transit line that connects the city’s downtown core with the Vancouver International Airport. Major bus routes pass by and connect through the neighbourhood, as does Vancouver’s new Downtown Streetcar (see page 25). Finally, the neighbourhood is within walking distance of Skytrain, a light rail system that connects Vancouver’s city centre with the surrounding regional district.

First Avenue Streetcar


Vancouver’s new Downtown Streetcar will serve SEFC. Source: PWL Partnership, 2006.

First Avenue is a distinctive street within SEFC. The street is designed to accommodate the first phase of a developing transit project, Vancouver’s Downtown Streetcar. Described by a City employee as “one of the most unique streetscape characters within urban Vancouver,” the street’s design integrates the streetcar tracks and a central green meridian along the avenue. The boulevards and corner bulges will differ in character from conventional streetscapes and a large boulevard on the north side provides space for seating and planting opportunities. The streetcar will run eastward from Granville Island through SEFC to Science World and eventually to downtown and Stanley Park. Stops are located close to community amenities and commercial uses.


Artist’s rendering of the First Avenue streetcar configuration. Source: PWL Partnership, 2006.

Vancouver’s City Council approved a concept plan for a downtown streetcar system in 1999 following an extensive public consultation process. The primary purpose of the downtown streetcar is to link a number of downtown activity centres that are beyond comfortable walking distance for many. The system is intended as an expansion of the existing rail line in False Creek South, using the latest technology of modern low-floor electric streetcars. The project will extend and enhance the area’s regional transit system. The first phase of the project stretches from Granville Island to Science World, and begins service during the 2010 Olympic Games.

Parking: Highlights and Innovations

• All residential parking at the Olympic Village will be underground.
• “Unbundled parking” was introduced at SEFC, meaning that the purchase of a condominium did not, by default, include the purchase of a parking stall. Purchasers were able to save money by opting out of the purchase of a parking stall.
• Eleven car-share vehicles will be located on site.
• Fifteen percent of parking stalls will have charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.



Source: Danny Singer, 2009.

Lighting in SEFC’s public spaces is designed to meet the objectives of reducing light pollution both to the sky and excess light on the ground. Exterior lights use efficient fixtures and are designed to reduce glare, especially on the waterfront where city and water views predominate. The design of this fixture references the ship-building era.

Hinge Park under construction while wildlife is already returning to the marshes.
Source: Danny Singer, 2009

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