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We’ve heard it all too many depressing times before: climate change, environmental ruin, peak oil, food insecurity. Despite the gloomy forecast, we find change difficult. We’re challenged by the complexity, we aren’t sure where to move. In the midst of the muddle, we just carry on.

That may be why “sustainability doesn’t sell.” We’re not sure what it means – not sure what it holds for us. What does sell is health, happiness, comfort, light, fresh air, convenience, community amenities. Good relationships, a sense of responsibility, a place for children, opportunities for education and knowledge. What if we banned the word sustainability and simply focused on people and their well-being, and physical and spiritual health?

Start, then, with a city that is cradled in the arms of nature, nestled against majestic mountains, enfolding sheltered waters, framed by the depth and soul of an ancient forest. The setting provides strength, and suggestions for celebrating the values that have nurtured the landscape and its millennia of dependants. Learn the essential living ingredients that provide well-being and harmony, that reflect a balance of resource and need. From there, model and respect the delicate balance that sustains life across the planet.

Traditionally, we have developed our world by separating problems from each other. We have become experts at dividing our experts and expertise, at designing articulate solutions for isolated needs. What we have not done is considered the connectivity of nature, its robust ability to adapt, grow and flourish. In particular, we have denied our own place within it – we have forgotten that where nature is healthy, so are we.

So, what if we banned the word sustainability and aimed for wellbeing, and physical and spiritual health? What if we built communities so that relationships are easy, landscapes are restored and most of what we need is close at hand? What if the fabric of the city actually nourished us as the landscape in the wilderness always did? What if we stopped dividing our expertise, and instead confronted the challenge of complexity with the joy of creativity? What if we solved multiple problems with elegant, integrated solutions?

We might combine a children’s play area and an experimental garden in a restful green space that treats stormwater and provides habitat. We might fill buildings with daylight so that residents linger to chat and help each other navigate life. We might re-use energy already purchased and used once, by cycling it back into our homes for heat. We might plant our buildings with gardens that grow food, protect the structure, attract birds and nourish our yearning for green. We might celebrate water, saving it carefully and using it respectfully for the life-giving force it represents. We might need less material. We might experience more joy. We might build our neighbourhoods like this one. Sustainably, because we’re happy that way.


“ What if we solved multiple problems with elegant, integrated solutions?”

This chapter invites us on the final leg of a journey that has toured us through the Millennium Water Olympic Village from infrastructure to exterior cladding, from early planning to final plantings. Though it is always risky to write about what has not yet come to pass, we peek at the future life of this community’s residents by learning about their homes – the interior design, the intentions for health and activity, the opportunities for accessibility and aging in place.

We also dive into the world of Net Zero – the emerging concept that a building need not be an energy hog and a pollution emitter – but rather can incorporate design that serves residents’ needs for heat, light and cooling without being a net consumer of energy. There is hope for the future here – in the efficiencies that reduce resource consumption, and the solutions that find resources where they were previously overlooked. The Net Zero building in the Olympic Village is intended to show how one day all building should be designed and built.

From there, we launch into vision. Many people collaborated on building this state-of-the-art expression of community sustainability that could be accomplished within the constraints of time, money and current practice and knowledge. These people lived and breathed the challenge of sustainable development daily for two decades. Now, at the conclusion of the project, we collect and present their ideas and thoughts. Far from a statement about the present, however, these thoughts are intended to present inspiration and insight – a springboard for the next evolution of the places we call home. We hope you will take up the challenge.


Gordon Campbell – Leadership

Making the change we need today is a challenging task. It’s not just rethinking where we’re going to go; it’s actually shifting our mindset. We need a more integrated public sector strategy so that we can embrace several goals at once. Zoning was originally developed around separating uses off from each other, but in the 21st century, planning has to be around integrating uses and bringing them together. For sustainable development, we need to set public objectives that look far ahead. Even if we may not know the next step or the step after that, we must share our vision for where we want to go. If we do, it’s amazing where we can go.

Private sector leadership is essential too. The future is about partnerships, about innovation and creativity. The private sector is a vital element in creating sustainable, livable, walkable and healthy communities. It won’t happen with a plan on a shelf in a city hall anywhere.

The Millennium project in Vancouver, like Dockside Green in Victoria, is enormously beneficial for demonstrating how to build sustainable communities. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say the word “leadership,” but the toughest is to actually execute the plan that puts you in the front, where you can demonstrate that this adds value – to the residents, the community, the developer. If we’re going to have people embrace the vision and shift their mindset, it’s critical. Then we can start thinking about how can we use this change – restorative architecture and restorative neighbourhood planning – to really drive a different kind of vision for the kind of communities we can build.

There’s an individual challenge here too. In our culture there’s a tendency to expect government or  someone else to make change. But we have to ask ourselves to change. Something as simple as walking can solve multiple issues. If kids walk to school, it improves their learning, it improves their health and it makes the community feel like a healthier place for everybody to live. If we walk to work, it helps us deal with health care challenges as well as environmental challenges. What we decide to do as we look in the mirror each morning actually does help shape the future.

Millennium Water provides an example to all of us. Whether it’s the non-market housing, the waterfront walkway or the way water is treated, it helps us recognize that we can create incredibly beautiful communities that are healthy environmentally too. If we each in our own way do something to improve the quality of our own life as well as the quality of the future life of people we’ll never know – the children of our children of our children – I think we will not only have a more purposeful life ourselves, but we’ll create even better and more healthy communities for people to live in.

Gordon Campbell
Premier of British Columbia

Gregor Robertson – Setting the Benchmark

“living proof that a modern neighbourhood is available right now”

We have set a goal for Vancouver to become the world’s greenest city by 2020. It’s a bold goal to be sure – demanding that a city that already ranks among the most livable cities in the world improve its environmental performance even more.

Our city benefits from decades of forward-looking decisions that protected Vancouver’s natural beauty and preserved neighbourhood identity. The challenge for city leaders is to make decisions that create the greatest good for our citizens and our planet.

The Southeast False Creek development exemplifies this pursuit. The site of the 2010 Olympic Village and home to a new neighbourhood following the Games, it embodies many key elements of what Vancouver needs to do to become the world’s greenest city.

With qualities supported by successive city councils, Southeast False Creek is now the benchmark for future projects in Vancouver. It embodies best practices in both social and environmental sustainability.

Southeast False Creek is an outstanding example of the sustainability shift our cities need to make. It is living proof that a modern neighbourhood that uses less energy, conserves water, reduces waste and is designed around people, not cars, is not decades away – it’s available right now. Cities around the world can build their own examples if they’re willing to challenge themselves, to go beyond what is easy and instead pursue a higher goal.

Southeast False Creek is what happens when council decides to plan for how the city should be, not how it is. Some of the best decisions made by past councils embraced this principle. Their successes, both far in the past and in recent years, provide a template for urban policy making that serves all city councils well.

The goal of making Vancouver the greenest city in the world is aiming for the Southeast False Creek standard, but in every environmental category. We’re a city blessed with a tremendous population, full of ingenuity, entrepreneurship and passion for the environment – there is no reason why we shouldn’t be the greenest.

Gregor Robertson
Mayor of Vancouver

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