Vancouver Island the Beautiful
We live on a very beautiful island where the herons, the eagles, the mountains, the oceans and the forests are a constant inspiration. Our island will still be here in 200 years – in 2,000 years. But what kind of an island will it be? That depends on the decisions we make now – and over the next 50 years.
New people are arriving here every year. Will the development that comes with them destroy the island ? Or can we use it to help us preserve the beauty, the clean air and water and to avoid the Lower Mainland’s mistakes ?
The growth itself is not the problem
The problems involve our inadequate response to growth – a lack of planning for sustainable communities, a lack of landscape design and building design control, a lack of urban greenspace and greenways allocation, and a lack of focus on neighbourhood development. These lacks are accentuated by a lack of awareness of the alternatives among councillors, developers, the public and city staff.
These are some of the dangers associated with rapid growth on the Island:
• Traffic volume that is increasing almost twice as fast as the population
• The spread of highway perimeter sprawl, starting with ’power shopping’ centres
• The disappearance of affordable housing for young people and people on lower incomes
• Increasing urban traffic congestion, stress and driver frustration – big city blues.
• Subdivisions that are designed without a commercial or recreational centre, obliging the residents to drive
• The increasing noise, stress and danger from traffic on residential streets
• The loss of neighbourhood and community feeling, as more people drive
• The loss of downtown vitality, as out-of-town discount centres and shopping malls steal people away.
• The loss of wilderness, peace, and beauty
• The loss of wildlife habitat – where will the herons live?
• The loss of small wetlands, lakes & ponds, as they are steadily drained for development or developed with hard edges
• Groundwater & ocean pollution from faulty septic fields and polluted run-off
"As communities mature, the cultural character and ecology of place seem to disappear. Instead, regional nuances give way to a cluttered and confusing landscape of homogenized commercial and residential developments and the growing anonymity of the metropolitan environment." – William Morrish, Design Centre for the American Urban Landscape.
Traditional Neighbourhood Development (TND)
TND is a new movement that is bringing back the design features that make some of the older towns in Europe and North America so attractive – narrower streets, smaller setbacks, a grid pattern of street connection, and an encouragement for pedestrians and cyclists.
Some design innovations that are helping to build more sustainable communities :
• Traffic Calming
• Neighbourhood centres
• Stream Stewardship
• Community Design Charrettes
Standard 20th century urban and suburban design imposes its subdivisions on the landscape, bulldozing everything that gets in the way. Ecological design fits the pattern of the housing to the ecology of the landscape, with its creeks and streams.
Green development standards
Encourage more socially and environmentally responsible development by reviewing building and zoning regulations to make them simpler and more flexible.
The Maryland Office of Planning recommends:
• Allow narrower residential streets – less paving, less run-off, less tree removal
• Parking lots – allow them to meet typical flow, instead of peak demand. Smaller lots reduce run-off, soil erosion, non-point source pollution and impact on wildlife habitat
• Stormwater – allow cheaper natural methods such as grassy swales or gravel packed trenches, instead of high cost curbs & storm sewers
• Zoning – devise flexible codes & OCPs that encourage clustering and the protection of open space
Village Homes, Davis CA (built 1972) has 250 homes at a typical suburban 8 units per acre, but car-access is by back lanes only. The main roads are green lanes, for pedestrians and cycles only. The houses are solar designed, with fruit trees and community barbecue pits. Compared to an identically sized subdivision across the road in an orthodox subdivision layout, the houses in Village Homes sell for a 15% premium, with a waiting list (zero sales delay).
There are undeveloped and semi-developed areas all over Vancouver Island which will be subdivided with a calculator and a ruler on a city desk, unless there is a process for assuring a more creative and sensitive treatment. The design charrette is one of these, enabling a team of interdisciplinary professionals to join with councilors and local community members to consider the future of an area as a whole. The results will invariably exceed the status quo method of development
In Chinese, the word for ’crisis’ is ’wei-chi’, where ’wei’ means ’danger’ and ’chi’ means ’opportunity’. They cannot say the word ’crisis’ without understanding ’danger-opportunity’ in their minds. That is our reality today.
Guy Dauncey is author of "Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Climate Change” and President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association. Visit his website at: www.earthfuture.com