Providing a place to meet and know your neighbours
Building landscape refers to the natural environment that complements and forms part of buildings such as planter boxes, green roofs and patio plantings (as opposed to parkland). The design concept for building landscapes at the Millennium Water Olympic Village is to create spaces where people want to be.
“Often with green spaces on large podiums, they are great places to look down upon from other buildings but people don’t actually hang out on them much,” says Jennifer Stamp of Durante Kreuk, the landscape architecture firm hired by Millennium. Stamp aimed instead for spaces that would contribute to social sustainability. “We wanted to provide a place for people to meet and know their neighbours, aiding in creating community; having urban agriculture was part of that,” explains Stamp.
Making these green areas more accessible meant connecting inside and outside spaces. Amenity rooms were built that spill out onto landscaped courtyards. At Parcel 10, the third-storey courtyard is connected to the ground floor by a waterfall, bringing the courtyard garden down to Ontario Street.
The landscape architect’s job is to understand both the developer’s and the City’s goals for semi-public and semi-private open space, pulling all the ideas together, and making it functional and highly aesthetic. “The process can be interesting, challenging and fun,” says Peter Kreuk, co-founder of Durante Kreuk. Examples of design parameters in the job were ensuring that plants would look good in drought conditions, and aiming for various LEED credits that require the use of native and adaptive plant species.
Exterior spaces on each building and parcel have been carefully designed to include many program elements while addressing issues of privacy. As a starting point for each open space design, each building courtyard has a rainwater feature, a children’s play area most often consisting of naturalistic play features, and an open lawn, garden plots and an amenity room, which might consist of a kitchenette, a games room or an exercise room. The question becomes how to divide the space up so that each area feels connected to the others and that the edges all meet successfully with semi-private patios typically at the perimeter of these spaces.
The Importance of Local Food
By almost any measure, our current food system is not sustainable. Human development and urban sprawl are causing the local and global agricultural land base to shrink. We use large amounts of energy, chemicals, synthetic fertilizers and water, and we rely on imports and food produced far from the point of consumption. For these reasons, locally grown food is an important element of a community working to be sustainable.
By almost any measure, our current food system is not sustainable.
As the SEFC Urban Agriculture Study states, “Most of us take our food for granted – so much so that we often forget the role it plays in our social relationships, community building and the role that food and agriculture have in shaping our economy and environment.” Similar to energy, water and waste in the context of sustainable development, food can be seen as a “flow” from the environment through the community back to the environment in the form of wastes. How we address this flow affects the relative sustainability of our community. Community gardens and urban agriculture are beneficial for educational, social, economic and environmental reasons.
Definition of Urban Agriculture from SEFC Urban Agriculture Study:
The term urban agriculture, as it is commonly used, refers to any agricultural production that takes place within the urban and peri-urban region. This could include the growing of food (vegetables, grains, mushrooms, even meat and dairy products), medicinal plants, herbs and ornamental plants. It includes a diverse array of techniques and approaches ranging from backyard growing to largescale urban market gardening, hydroponic greenhouses and aquaculture. It is not just community gardening, although this is an important component in many cities. Food is of paramount importance because of its primary contribution to survival, health, culture and impact on the environment.
Vancouver is experiencing a growing wave of interest in urban agriculture. People are becoming more aware of the environmental, and social benefits of buying local food; going to the local farmers’ markets has become an enjoyable way to meet your neighbours and pass a Saturday afternoon. As well, people recognize they are contributing to their local economy by buying local food.
Community Demonstration Garden
Located west of Parcel 4, the community demonstration garden will be designed and constructed after the Olympics. “The idea isn’t to have little plots for people to garden, but rather a space that is programmed with the school, community centre and neighbourhood for all to use and to learn about urban agriculture,” says Robin Petri from the City of Vancouver. Specific designs and programming have not yet been determined. Because of the site’s historic industrial use, the City has begun investigating how to handle nearby contaminated soils. The garden will be separated by a membrane from the contaminated industrial soil that underlies Hinge Park.
Instead of using fences or “keep out” signs, hedges, dense planting, guardrails and raised patios are all ways in which edges (different hierarchies of space) are delineated.
The site was designed with children in mind. Instead of having the typical children’s programmed playground, the play area is more naturalistic, using ecosystem elements such as logs and rocks. “We wanted to have play areas that expand children’s imaginations and where there is mystery and discovery,” says Kreuk.
The “storybook area” uses some of the 400 boulders pulled from the ground as the SEFC lands were excavated and graded. The spot provides a place to climb, sit, read a book.
The footbridge archway in Hinge Park is formed from beams left on the site from previous industrial activities.
“Some of the walls are constructed of recycled sidewalk, material that traditionally would have been dumped. At first, the
stonemasons thought it was kind of hokey, but when they built the wall they realized it looks beautiful. A lot of people won’t even know that we’re using recycled sidewalk – they’ll think it’s rock that we quarried somewhere.” John Clelland, Hinge Park Coordinator, City of Vancouver
With the requirement of fifty percent of the site area having to be green, grade (street-level) growing and rooftop gardens became key. Every Millennium Water parcel includes opportunities for urban agriculture except Parcel 4, which has patios well over 100 square feet. The city’s formula for urban agriculture is that there must be 24 square feet of gardening space for 30 percent of the units whose balcony or patio is under 100 square feet. This means approximately 1,000-1,500 square feet of urban agriculture per parcel (and more for non-market parcels), which translates into approximately 20-30 twenty-four square foot plots per parcel.
Each building’s strata council will manage how gardening plots will be allocated to residents. In non-market urban agriculture areas, there are communal crops where plots are not delineated and where everyone can harvest. The grade (street level) growing gardens are owned by the strata corporations but are publicly accessible.
“There needs to be an attitudinal shift,” says Peter Kreuk. Initially, the developers were concerned about how urban agriculture would look. “The perception of urban agricultural areas as being ‘weed patches’ with timber retaining walls is changing. Developers are realizing that urban agriculture can be beautifully integrated into a garden’s design.”
Growing Veggies On Your Roof
Unlike growing produce in your backyard where there is at least a few feet of dirt, the soil depth on the roof gardens of the Olympic Village is 18 inches. “This soil depth should be plenty to grow your carrots,” says Jennifer Stamp. However, it is important to note that the soil heats up faster when you have planting on roofs, due to a thinner soil profile and the concrete underneath.
There is no irrigation system in the SEFC urban agricultural areas in part due to plumbing and health bylaws not allowing non-potable water for edible plant irrigation and in part because many gardeners are particular about watering their veggies. For each urban agricultural area, there are compost bins, hose bibs with potable water and a potting bench.
The SEFC Policy Statement set the stage for urban agriculture in SEFC. Its objectives were: “to establish clarity on the role food production should play in the development of a sustainable city and neighbourhood” and “to use urban agriculture and community gardens to assist in meeting other social, environmental and economic objectives in SEFC.”
The City retained Holland Barrs Planning Group (now HB Lanarc) to look at the range of urban agricultural possibilities in a high-density site. In November 2002, the SEFC Urban Agriculture Study highlighted the importance of food-related activity and urban agriculture in the planning of a sustainable community. This study outlined a range of recommendations from community gardens and rooftop gardens to more complex systems such as on-site aquaculture and rooftop greenhouses. In March 2007, “Designing Urban Agricultural Opportunities for SEFC” provided more site-level detail.
The Merge Consultancy report (2003) summarized the SEFC urban agricultural study and proposed to move the following recommendations to satisfy the strategy of capacity building:
• Create community gardens that might be shared with the school while the school is in session
• Require edible landscaping capacity in building projects
• Create a Community Kitchen to encourage micro-food processors
• Provide educational programming for gardeners to improve the effectiveness of urban agriculture in SEFC
• Use stormwater/rainwater collection on site to provide irrigation water for edible landscaping
• Make provision for a farmers’ market in the proposed site plan.
The challenges of implementing urban agriculture are numerous. Rob Barrs of HB Lanarc says, “The typical reaction to the idea of growing food in high-density areas is ‘you’ve got to be nuts.’ Food has largely been ignored by planners and designers until recently so the first challenge is overcoming the perception that this is a weird thing to do, and secondly, you’re also competing for expensive real estate.”
The green roofs and community demonstration garden within SEFC will showcase how to integrate urban agriculture and high-density living. Barrs remarks, “I think we’re 30 percent of the way there to the full potential of urban agriculture. I’m pretty pleased about what we got done and am grateful for those successes.
The next challenge will be getting some research dollars to really understand how we integrate urban agriculture into closed-loop systems.” “SEFC has become a model for the rest of the community and a testing ground for how you do high density urban agriculture,” says Barrs. “This project has educated the planning, design and building industry to include urban agriculture in their projects.”