UniverCity plans first “living neighbourhood”

The Living Building Childcare Centre has led to an even loftier sustainability initiative

By Alison Roach

The SFU Community Trust has announced plans for the world’s first “living neighbourhood,” to be located on Burnaby Mountain as a part of UniverCity. The plan builds on the success of UniverCity’s Living Building Childcare Centre, which recently won the “most sustainable” award in the Urban Development Institute 2012 Awards for Excellence. The building’s highest goal however is to qualify for Living Building Challenge certification, the loftiest sustainability standard in the world.
The challenge was developed by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), a non-governmental organization whose website states they have “helped to redefine the green building movement, substantially raising the bar for true sustainability.” The Living Building Challenge focuses on seven performance areas: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty. The Childcare Centre has just now gone into the process of certification, and will be monitored for a year to see if it can live up to these standards.
One unexpected achievement of the building was its cost effectiveness. While most sustainable buildings end up costing between 30–40 per cent more than their cheaper, more impactful counterparts, this was not the case with the Childcare Centre. SFU Community Trust Director of Development Dale Mikkelsen explained, “Through planning this at the start and picking really simple, elegant materials and hiring an architect that understood how to do a really clean, simple building design, we were able to make the building itself so efficient that we need a very small mechanical system to run the building.”
Because of the simplicity of its design, the building costs the same as — or even a bit less than — the average childcare facility in the Lower Mainland. This cost-effectiveness caught the eye of the ILFI, who have done quite a bit of press on the building. A third party, the Summit Foundation, had been looking for a community that could possible expand the idea of a living building to a neighbourhood scale, and after a recommendation from the ILFI, they elected to give $50,000 to go towards the building of a “living neighbourhood” at SFU.
Along with $30,000 that the SFU Community Trust had already budgeted, the money will go towards design work for the neighbourhood. With this money, in 6–8 months the Community Trust should have a conceptual design and amassing model of how the neighbourhood would look. Once the conceptual work is done, the project will be taken to public open houses for community feedback. Said Mikkelson, “Hopefully everybody gets behind the idea, and then we can put our next budget of actual design money into it.” A community consultation process would also go ahead, with open houses within the UniverCity community as well as with SFU students. This consultation process will take about a year. From there, the project would go to rezoning, and then building.
The project has been termed “phase five” of the Community Trust’s development plan. The SFU Official Community Plan allows for a total of 4,365 units to be built on Burnaby Mountain, and after the four prior phases have been completed, there will be 1,500 units still available to build. The Community Trust intends to put all of these units into the living neighbourhood. With current zoning restrictions, the units will most likely be lower density, standing at 3–5 stories tall. There is currently huge demand from current and prospective residents with expanding families for larger units, so the neighbourhood will most likely be a mixture of more spacious townhouses and condos.
It’s uncertain exactly where the living neighbourhood would be situated on campus, but the Trust is looking at the land below South Campus Rd., across from the TASC buildings, as the most viable candidate. The project also includes a partnership with the ILFI itself, whose design group will be working along with the Community Trust on the design concept. Since community building at SFU has largely been done by the same committee in the past, Mikkelson said he relishes the chance to work with these fresh sets of eyes.