August 31, 2011

Not Just Another Green Story

Sustainable development is about making sure housing is more affordable for the next generation, about well-planned livable communities, climate-smart design – and more.


As developers and creators of new communities, the Urban Development Institute (UDI) and our members are uniquely positioned to lead and facilitate a broader community discussion on how best to achieve our common sustainability goals. So what really is sustainable development and why is it important to you, the environmentally conscious reader, the young homebuyer, the morning commuter, the university student, and the construction worker? Importantly, what are we the industry doing about it?

First, I have a confession to make. I am actually apprehensive about the term “sustainable development” as these two words have come to paint a far different picture than what was originally intended. For many, these words have become simply a cliché of “green” speak.  Fortunately, sustainable development is also so much more. It’s about the use of proven green technology and climate-smart design. It’s about ensuring that housing is made more affordable for the next generation.

Maureen Enser is executive director of the Urban Development Institute

Sustainable development makes sure that public transit is fully utilized and delivered to your community in a cost-effective way. Sustainable development is the creation of well-planned livable communities, and about ensuring ongoing investment in our economy and employment generation. Achieving all of the above, and striking the right balance, provides a genuine path toward sustainable development. Transit-oriented development, land use efficiency through density, flexible regulation, progressive planning and development practices, community integration, innovative use of green technology and financially viable developments, all combine to benefit society’s environmental, social and economic ambitions.

UniverCity on Burnaby Mountain is one such example of how urban development is meeting those ambitions. “Much of our success can be attributed to approaching issues of community-building in a truly sustainable and profitable way, applying creativity and consensus building with both government and the development community to come up with workable solutions to the challenge of reducing our impact on the environment while creating a great community,” says Gordon Harris, president and CEO of SFU Community Trust. “UniverCity is a highly livable and affordable community that is also meant to be a model sustainable community.” UniverCity resident and ecosystem planner for the City of Burnaby, Lise Townsend agrees: “I was attracted to the green space, and that there is a grocery store and a few restaurants within short walking distance from my home. I don’t think I’d live anywhere again where I couldn’t walk to pick up groceries,” Townsend said. “I was also attracted to the environmental aspects of the community.

I have a passion for storm water management, so I like the rainwater gardens. I also enjoy having a healthy forest nearby with a network of trails to use. The biologist in me appreciates that it isn’t overrun with invasive species.” Townsend added that access to public transportation was important to her, since she didn’t want to use her car for commuting to work. She takes a single bus each day that gets her to the office in 25 minutes.  The new Sovereign development by Bosa Properties provides another example of a sustainable development by making the best use of its proximity to public transit.

New homeowner and Burnaby local Nick DiRamio said, “Sovereign’s height along with being a couple of minutes’ walk from the SkyTrain made it very attractive for me to buy here. Mixed with a hotel and shops below and integrated with the surrounding commercial and retail areas of Metrotown make for a very livable community.” Sustainable developments maximize the return on investment in public transit but also integrate well into surrounding commercial and employment centres.

They create walkable, livable communities as well as a strengthened sense of place for new and existing residents. They ensure affordability through density, flexible and progressive planning. They generate job opportunities, pre- and post-construction, and investment in your local area. They are climate-smart and sensitive to our environment. As industry leaders in the urban environment, UDI encourages and welcomes feedback on the best way to achieve the community’s sustainable development aspirations. I encourage readers to join the discussion and provide us with your view on sustainable development by logging on to our website at or by following us on Twitter @udibc.

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