EcoDensity Approved in Vancouver

Brent Toderian's picture

After two years of intensive dialogue and debate, education (in all directions) and idea-development, Vancouver's concept of EcoDensity has been translated into Council-approved policy and actions.

In past posts I've outlined aspects and steps of this challenging process, which has been tackling head-on what many consider the most controversial but critical aspect of urban sustainability, "density done well".

After 7 nights of public hearings on the 2nd draft a few months ago, where support from environmental, smart-growth and professional city-building groups was strong, but public perspectives were close to evenly split, staff came back with a much improved 3rd draft educated by the perspectives we'd heard. Council considered this draft on Tuesday of this week after receiving and considering about 150 letters on it (all of which are on our EcoDensity website, In fact, those with an interest will find every step of the process on the website - every written document, videos of every major presentation and council meeting from the launch on - a lasting record of process and dialogue).

The final outcome - Unanimous Council support for the EcoDensity Charter (there are three political parties represented on Council, and the City is going into an election later this year, so this unanimous support is significant). The Charter is now in effect as Council direction relative to everything we do.

As well, unanimous approval of thirteen of the 17 EcoDensity initial actions, and split vote approval of three more (two of which were split, it appeared, over a debate about whether the City was ready to set specific affordability targets and provisions for these two actions, or whether we should set general policy to negotiate affordability on a case-by-case basis and continue to work on targets and tools - the later was chosen by majority vote. Other than this issue, the majority of these actions' directions didn't receive much debate). The one action that staff had actually recommended be removed (it had been added-in during a previous stage of the process by Council), was indeed unanimously removed by Council.

Here's the media reporting on the results, and the many challenges of the process, from the Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Courier.

These approved actions include two new rezoning policies now in affect, which we think represent the highest green standards of any city in North America for private development (Vancouver and the Province of British Columbia already have very high green requirements for their own government buildings and operations, including a minimum LEED Gold requirement for municipal and provincial buildings). I'll cover each of those policies, relating to greener buildings and greener large sites, in subsequent posts soon, or you can read them on the website, actions A-1 and A-2.

Amongst the additional actions, Council has approved in principle the development of bylaws that could allow lane-oriented housing (coach houses and apartments above garages) potentially throughout the city (what we've called "hidden" density); new secondary suite options in every housing type (what we've called "invisible" density - Vancouver currently allows one secondary suite in single-detached housing, but not in other housing forms such as rowhouses and apartments); exploration of new mid-rise building typologies and associated zoning; a new "Green means Go" priority approval system for exemplary sustainable projects; the removal of numerous existing regulatory disincentives to green design approaches; EcoDensity demonstration projects on city-owned land; the development of new amenity and services funding tools to support quality density; and so on. One action in particular will represent the culmination of much of our thinking - the development over time of a new EcoCityPlan, respecting and building on the highly successful and influential CityPlan developed in the mid-90's with incredible public engagement.

Although this represents a significant decision point, it really represents the end of the beginning for EcoDensity (as we move to further develop and implement the many actions, and in time continue to consider other actions identified through the public dialogue that were "parked" for the moment. By the way, if interested in joining the team, a posting is up for a new Senior Planner position with the City, whose responsibilities will include this follow-thru).

EcoDensity also represents just one part of the long continuum of effort in Vancouver, begun many decades ago, towards more progressive and sustainable city-building. We have been standing on the shoulders of great initiatives and progressive decisions, and respect and continued effort must be given to these previous decisions.

This process has not been easy, but as I've said in previous posts, I believe it is the kind of discussion that is necessary in any city that takes sustainability seriously. My sincere thanks to every citizen and stakeholder who shared their knowledge, advice and perspectives, and especially those who've challenged the assumptions and approaches at every step. The results, I think, are significantly better for it.



Brent Toderian is an international consultant on advanced urbanism with TODERIAN UrbanWORKS, Vancouver’s former Director of City Planning, and the President of the Council for Canadian Urbanism. Follow him on Twitter @BrentToderian



If only the transition were as smooth here...

Sounds like a job well done in Vancouver! I'm curious to know how much of the commentary solicited from this site before was included in the deliberations that led to draft three. If so how were the comments submitted?

Further, I'm pondering what i'll take for that kind of progressive communication it will take to make a similar charter and alterations to zoning in order to move eco density further in US urban areas...
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