Features & Images » Feature Story

Green you can use, at Vancouver's Olympic Village

Scouring the billion dollar project for practical solutions ready for wider use in an era of global warming


By Christopher Pollon


Vancouver's Olympic Village draws together more green building innovations than perhaps any other residential development - which is why real estate mogul Bob Rennie is marketing it as the "greenest neighbourhood on the planet."

On a Saturday in May, about 15,000 Vancouverites lined up to tour what is now called " Millennium Water ," the former home for 3,000 Olympic athletes since morphed into a model green residential community. Years in the planning by the City of Vancouver, the developer and a small army of consultant engineers and architects, every building on this former brownfield has earned the Canadian Green Home Building Council's LEED Gold rating, with two buildings earning LEED Platinum.

Yet none of the innovations that the public saw that day - including solar-powered garbage cans and a neighbourhood energy utility that recovers heat from sewer lines - exist there because homebuyers demanded it or mainstream developers dreamed big. The City of Vancouver mandated the extraordinary sustainability features from above, at a cost ultimately guaranteed by the public.

A billion dollars later, most Vancouverites are still light years away from living in "green homes" like those at South East False Creek (SEFC). So what is the value of this ultra-green community that most of us cannot own?

Are there affordable green building features here that mainstream consumers will value enough to pay for, and that developers and architects might create sooner rather than later?


Passive design with sun, wind and water

From the outset, SEFC design manager Roger Bayley was adamant that the development would be more than a posh green playground for the affluent.

"One of my aspirations is to significantly influence the development industry in Vancouver relative to the acceptance of sustainable design and green-building techniques," he said back in 2007, just as the project was breaking ground.

Flash forward to June 2010: Bayley has agreed to take The Tyee on a private tour. He pulls up to the Vancouver Salt Company heritage building in a forest-green Jaguar, appearing equal parts boomer hipster and wacky professor: curly Einstein hair and greying goatee, Versace shirt and ripped blazer. Last-minute tradesmen race about the site just ahead of real estate agents giving private showings of homes ranging in cost from $600,000 to $4.7 million.

The first stop is a Platinum LEED building that will soon be home to 60 senior citizens, a building with triple-glazed windows, ultra energy efficient walls/roofing, and LED lighting. A stairwell leads to a verdant courtyard bisected by a long water feature - an aesthetically pleasing design element that is much more practical than it appears.