2018 Project Landscapes

This week I met with a landscape design and builder who specializes in permaculture and hugelkultur to discuss their participation in all my projects going forward in 2018. Combined with my Net Zero Energy approach to all projects, this will be a very interesting year. I wonder what my clients will think, if I get any?

Sea Level Rise – It’s Official

Well I just spent 30 minutes reading the recently released update of the Province’s regulations on flood plain management.  I have 2 projects currently in the early design stages that will be impacted by flood plains and I wanted to stay abreast of the requirements.  And what an eye opener it was!  Here are some of the specifics and I will cut right to the big highlights.

Sea Level Rise is happening and in a significant way.  All new buildings, subdivisions and re-zonings should be designed to accommodate Sea Level Rise (SLR) to the year 2100.  Official Community Plans (OCPs) and Regioal Growth Strategies (RGSs) should allow for SLR to the year 2200 and beyond.  This is the provonce directive to all local authorities having jurisdiction, ie. Courtenay, Comox, CVRD, etc.  Now here is the kicker!  “Allow for 0.5 metres of SLR by 2050, 1.0 metres of SLR by 2100, and 2.0 metres by 2200.  2.0 metres folks!  That is 6 1/2 feet for those of you old school with old tape measures.  Any of you currently own waterfront property that won’t be around next century?  This has a significant consequence to risk associated with development approvals and the regulations clearly warn municipalities of the potential consequences.  There is plenty of language in the document about getting suitably qualified Professional Engineers experienced in coastal engineering for just about everything.  Even so, covenants will be required on title of every affected property that states that “any reconstruction must meet the the Flood Construction Level (FCL) and setbacks requirements in force at the time of redevelopment.”  Speaking of setbacks, all exposed bluff properties defined in the regs as steep will require setbacks equal to or greater than 3 times the height of the bluffs.  Not good if you were looking to develop a new place in any of the recently approved subdivisions on the any of the bluffs in the Comox Valley.  The last few pages of the document discuss the requirements of a municipality undertaking a flood plain protection strategy in areas subject to flooding from any source but especialliy SLR.  Studies galore, and reports by suitably qualified … and most importantly, long range plans for financially supporting these strategies over the longterm, ie.  forever, as these conditions are going to get much worse before they ever get better.

If you had any doubts that any of this was actually happening, this Provincial Government ammendment to their 1994 document should put them to rest.  ANd even if you want to keep disbelieving, be warned that the development regulations from October have been changed and no amount of denial will make them go away.

Lessons from Portland – Comox Mall Redevelopment

Its Friday afternoon and my phones are turned off. Most of the weeks work is done, or at least all the fires are under control, and I feel like being provocative. If you have seen my weeks postings on Facebook at “Lessons from Portland – TDA Ltd.” you will know that I was recently in Portland Oregon and I saw many examples of a city willfully getting many things right. A few of these things were discussed this week and hopefully a few more next week. For this afternoon I had to try something that used the other side of my brain.

What if we took the site of the Comox Centre Mall and redeveloped it using some of the principles from Portland, starting with block size and street width?


The first thing you discover is that the Mall site is over 4 Portland sized city blocks in area. This little Google SketchUp exercise shows the Mall site divided into 4 city blocks with 60 foot right of ways between them. Each block is about 280′ x 280′ in size and about 80,000 sq.ft. in area (portland blocks are approximately 200′ x 200′). If you developed the blocks right out to the street edge as a rule, and developed an average of 4 storeys in building height, you would get about 1.2 million square feet of floor space. If you did a healthy mix of uses, where the ground floor was retail/commercial, and the second floor was office, you would end up with 600,000 sq.ft. of space left over for residential. At an average size of 1,000 sq.ft. per unit, this yields 600 new residential units in the downtown core.  Each lot could accommodate about 250 cars in one level of underground parking.



You can divide these numbers up anyway you like, or add density by going higher such as the 5 storeys that the Town of Comox is promoting on the old Lorne Hotel site. However you slice it up, it looks like we have lots of room to grow right in the heart of town. I want one of the penthouses overlooking the golf course! Who else is in?


Lessons from Portland – Transit

During my recent trip to Portland, I did something that I rarely, if ever do when I am at home – I took transit. Why is that? Is there something about different transit systems that make them more or less useable than others? I would argue that of course there is! When a system is designed to be used, you can tell. Everything about the Portland system is complete and user friendly. From the weather protected bus shelters with their digital displays telling you what busses are coming and how low the wait is going to be, to the efficient and quite cost effective ticketing and pass validation system, Portland definitely wants you to use their transit system. There are transit maps at every stop so if you havn’t used your smart phone to plan your route on their incredibly user friendly website, you can use the old fashion but beautifully designed old school app.


Portland’s system is made up of buses, trains and street cars. It would be very easy to say that they take you everywhere that you want to go, but that would be misleading. I have read that much of the recent development in Portland has gravitated to new locations adjacent to the various networks of transit lines. Transit has influence development to such an extent that the places that you likely want to go have moved to a location along a transit route. This is something that planners often fail to recognize. A permanent transit system, like a street car, far more than flexible bus route, will give the development community confidence that the city is serious and committed long term to their plan and that leads to new development along the line. So it should not have been that much of a surprise that when I took the train to the Knob Hill shopping district on the edge of downtown, I was greeted with the most delightful of small scale, pedestrian friendly, mixed use shopping and dining areas, quite different from the downtown core only 10 minutes away by street car.


It was pretty cool to ride the streets cars and be smack dab in the middle of the roads that were shared with cars and cyclists. This approach certainly has to be more cost effective that the “skytrains” and “subways” of the world.  And the best part is with so many people using the street cars that go where people want them to go, the use of cars is way down and the streets are not as crowded which makes them so much better to use for everybody.


For those of you in my community, we don’t need another bridge that will actually increase car traffic, we need a well planned street car system between communities!

Olympic Sized Comox Valley Hospital?

Comox Hospital Sign


I read with disbelief the Comox Valley Echo newspaper article from Tuesday April 8th, 2014 by Drew A. Penner titled “Olympic-sized companies chosen to finance and build two new hospitals”.  What immediately raised flags for me was the overall positive tone of the article.  The size and global nature of these joint venture teams vying for the opportunity to finance, construct and operate our new Comox Valley hospital (and the new addition to the Campbell River Hospital) was promoted in the article as not only necessary, but a good thing for the Comox Valley.  Given the current state of global issues including constant warring, political unrest and of course the 2008 recession from which we have not yet recovered and likely never will, this gave me cause for concern.  I am developing a healthy skepticism to very large, global scale projects and agreements.

I chuckled at the unfortunate description with “Olympic” sized companies.  It should be obvious to everyone by now that the institution of the Olympics is on an unsustainable path.  Each new games attempts to outdo the previous and to do so the host country expends unimaginable sums of money on infrastructure and security, whether they can afford such extravagance or not.  The recent Sochi Winter games spent an unprecedented amount on their games with estimates and claims widely debated but typically published as $51 billion, and like all contemporary games, a large percentage of this amount (in the billions for certain) was spent on games security.  It is common for these host countries to amass huge debt and quite regularly this debt is never recouped.  From this point alone I think that using the Olympics as a descriptor for any purpose was unfortunate.  As a resume item for the hospital proponents, I would be even more concerned.  The stories of Russian corruption and embezzling of funds from budgets that are too large to effectively keep tabs on by infrastructure providers give cause to wonder just who we might be hiring, particularly when you consider that the new hospital will be following a P3 (Public Private Partnership) process where “negotiations are strictly confidential”  and we won’t be seeing all of “the books”.

One could write chapters criticizing the both the Olympics and the P3 process and there are many writers more qualified in this regard than me.  For the time being, I find myself more concerned about the globalization of just about everything, the inability to manager effectively large institutions, the demise of democracy as it was conceived and the declining usefulness of national (federal) and regional (provincial) governments.  These are the current troubling issues for me as I struggle through life, trying to keep up with current events and participating as a member of my community, my province and my country.  As the news reports every new story, I see how intertwined all of these issues are and more incredibly, how relevant each of them are.  I have been struggling with these ideas for some time now and wondering what to make of my thoughts until this week.  I attended a day-long seminar by Mark Lakeman, founder of City Repair from Portland Oregon.  The session was titled “Re-Becoming Villagers” and Mark spent the morning half of the session talking about their work and many wonderful projects in Portland, taking back the public spaces of our cities and towns and re-establishing the commons, one block at a time.  One of Mark’s many stories jolted me upright in my chair and had me scribbling down notes as quickly as I could.  He was talking about his neighbourhood in conjunction with the new efforts of the US government in the area of health insurance.  Now I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about healthcare funding and economics, nor what he US is trying to achieve, but I heard what Mark said loud and clear.  He and his community got together and determined that given their options, it was going to be better for all of them if they got together and hired 3 doctors and some nurses and built their own facility in their own community to look after their own health needs on a community scale.  Of course!  Why not if that is an option for them?  This was the eureka moment for me and the inspiration to tackle this post.  Why could we in the Comox Valley not pool our resources (re-channel our monthly medical premiums) and develop our own made in the Valley health and wellness centre in our own vision, for the people of the Comox Valley, designed by us, built by us and operated by us.

Problems with the Current Process

How much ink could be spent writing about the problems with the current health care delivery system and the creation of health care infrastructure?  I would suggest quite a bit!  The following questions could be chapters unto themselves, exploring a variety of issues and problems with the current system:  How long has it taken to get to where we are at with our new hospital and why has it taken so long?  Where are we in the development process and how much longer is it going to take?  Will the new product be up to date or already outdated when it is finally completed?  Why are we getting what we are getting?  Do we even know what we are getting?  Will it be what we need in the Comox Valley?  Who decided and who is in control?  How do the economics work?  How much spin-off benefit will the local community get from this $400 million plus investment?  How exposed are we to global problems faced by the international consortium doing our local project?  How much work will result for local contractors and trades vs. the anticipated “influx of workers filling our hotel rooms.”?  How much say will we have in the operations of the new facility?  Why do we need Olympic sized companies to make this happen?  Will local companies be considered by the hospital P3 company for the hospital operations such as local food suppliers?

Now I have no doubt that the development of a new hospital the way the current health care model is set up is incredibly complicated, but I don’t think that it needs to be.  I’ll bet that we could do it differently than where we are presently headed, more effectively, deliver more appropriate medical services with  better value to patients, staff and the community at large.

Alternative to the Current Process

In the spirit of the visioning sessions facilitated by Mark Lakeman at the “Re-Becoming Villagers” sessions, let us keep our minds open, out of the ruts and free from the tendency to resist invention by letting go of the “we can’t do that” mentality.  As I do in all of my group visioning sessions, I will invite you to leave the room before we start (or in this case stop reading now) if you cannot simply let this tendency go and for at least a moment, let yourself think like a child, for children have the ability to cut to the crux of the problem and make specific and often delightful solutions to the most insurmountable of problems.

Imagine us all coming together as a community, starting with a whole series of potluck dinners, to discuss our community health care goals, needs and desires.  Let us ask what is working well and what we love about our current system; what is not working and what are we in need of?  Let us again, like children without lifetimes of mental baggage, propose solutions that address these issues, encouraging creativity and respecting all input.  Engage the local practioners and the operators of the existing facilities.  Use their knowledge and expertise to develop the building program that meets their needs to deliver the services that we desire and require.

One of the interesting stories the Mark Lakeman told was how they are able to do incredible things in their communities with little money by taking advantage of local capital in terms of resources, equipment and expertise.  Within most communities you will find, if you take the time to look by going door to door and meeting your neighbours, engineers and designers, equipment operators with their own equipment, materials suppliers and tradespeople, many of whom would be delighted to get involved in a local project just to be a part of it!  I am pretty sure that we have a rich and qualified resource of many, if not all the expertise that would be required to put together a new facility and to operate it to meet all of our needs and expectations for now and for years to come.

In terms of financing, if we made use of the resources that are collected monthly in terms of healthcare premiums, we would effectively be working towards a manageable and ultimately sustainable healthcare system for our community.  If it works for Mark in his community, why would it not work for us in ours.  Living within our means would become our issue and not something dictated to us and managed from somewhere else.

How Do We Get There?

What would it take to get to this?  Open minds for starters and a willingness to improve our current situation.  Just as important would be a commitment to take back responsibility for our health care, keeping it up to date, relevant and well managed.  No doubt a very important factor would be convincing the current health care authorities to relinquish their responsibilities for our health care.  We would need strong local leadership with a willingness to be inclusive with a skillset that fosters collaboration.  Starting with a few potluck dinners to kick this idea around a little bit, I would bet there would be a ground swell of passion to take this on and find a way to make it happen.

I look forward to your comments.


Site Adaptive Design – NOT!

I sometines wish that these kinds of things did not affect me so much! Saw this in the paper yesterday and all I could think of was, “Wow! This is definitely NOT Site Adpative Design.” While I recognize that we need our infrastructure to maintain our current “quality of life”, do we have to use such destructive techniques to achieve our goals? Could this substation and its access road have been inserted into a landscape (perhaps not this particular one) in a way that was complimentary to nature, or mimicked the way nature works. I have to imagine that this effort to create a man-made platform for the new facility out of sloping and forested lands was not cheap, and that it will always be subject to the forces of nature and the law of entropy which will result in on-going maintnence and the inherant costs. Might a more Site Adaptive approach actually have been less costly, longterm?

Not Site Adaptive Design

The New Comox Valley Hospital Location – Part 2 – “Is there another way?”

This post is Part 2 of my thoughts on the proposed site for the new Comox Valley Hospital.  In Part 1 I provided a critique of the proposed site from the point of view of the Living City Challenge, a design competition that asked communities to re-design themselves using the seven petals and twenty imperatives of the Living Building Challenge.  There were a number of different responses to this criticism.  Some people skipped over the details of my comments and were disappointed that after all the Comox Valley has been through, anyone would give VIHA any more reason to delay this project.  “We need this new hospital so let’s just get on with it.”  Others seemed content with where the new Hospital was NOT going to be located.  “As long as it is not in Cumberland or Mt Washington, I’m OK with the proposed site.”  This blog post addresses a last group of comments that centered on a question: “If not there, where would you suggest it be located?”

I had hoped to at least find out what the terms of reference were for the team hired to review site location options and what the site selection criteria was.  I have not been able to engage in any dialogue with VIHA prior to this post so I will have to make some assumptions.  We have read in the newspapers that 21 sites were proposed initially.  Then 3 sites were short listed, and presumably negotiations were held, in camera, with the land owners.  The gleeful comments of the winning proponent, Crown Isle, tell us the rest of the story.  We know that the selected site is 15 acres in land area with an additional 5 acres available for expansion.  This is a lot of land at just over 650,000 square feet.  Based on my reading of the latest VIHA reporting on the Hospital project, some crude “rule of thumb” estimating, and finally a few “back of the envelope” calculations, I have determined that approximately one quarter of the site will be required for the new hospital and the remainder of the site will be used for circulation and parking.  The actual building, or buildings, will require about 4 acres of land with the remaining 11 acres needed for parking the cars used by patients, doctors and Hospital Staff.

Is there a better site than the proposed one on Ryan Road?  Perhaps not, but without the terms of reference, we can only speculate.  Why not release the terms of reference and the locations of the other 21 proposed locations?  Again we can only speculate.  Keeping the public in the dark, for what ever reasons VIHA feels are necessary, will only fuel the passions and raise the ire of the local people that care about our community as a place to live.  They are not against the Hospital project – they just want the wonderful and significant investment to provide the greatest benefit to the widest swath of people.  There will no doubt be many that will speculate on the reason various decisions have been made.  Politics and back room deals with the “old boys” of the Comox Valley will be high on the list for sure but I want to steer clear of this line of thinking in this post.  I am certain there are other blogs out there for that.  I want to look at other sites in terms of urban infrastructure including transportation and municipal services.  This perspective is critical to economically sustainable city planning.  Yes – I said “economically” sustainable!  We have a big problem with the current thinking that is used in developing most of our cities.  A short term gain is welcomed without long term planning to ensure that the projects we undertake today are affordable 25, 50 and 100 years down the road.  Imagine the young couple with a new born child, or a retired empty nesting couple on fixed income winning one of the big TV lottery $2.8 million dream homes and locating it on a big lot on the edge of Comox, then going broke during the first winter because of the huge heating bills and then finally bankrupt paying the taxes.  Remember that nightmares are dreams too!  We are told that this Hospital will serve us for the next 100 years but I see little evidence in the development approach that understands what this actually means.  A Hospital out in the middle of nowhere is a pretty big gamble that will require a lot to fall into place if it is to succeed.  It is part of vision for Courtenay that will require tremendous growth, beyond what is predicted, and an outward sprawl over undeveloped land with consequences we are unwilling to face.  Is it possible to make this location succeed and what would it actually take?  This will be the subject of another installment of this blog.  For now, let’s look at some other sites.

I took a quick look at some other Hospitals that I have been to in the last few years just to give myself some perspective.  I was actually a bit surprised to discover that they occupied a lot more land than I imagined.  Size does matter!  Close to home I zoomed in using Google Earth (the pro version for those that want to try this at home) on the two existing local Hospitals in the centre of this issue.  St. Josephs Hospital in Comox occupies 12.6 acres of land and the Campbell River Hospital occupies 8.8 acres.  Each of these sites contains multiple buildings.  I then moved southward and measured the Nanaimo Hospital at 20 acres and it also has multiple buildings on the site.  Going all the way to Victoria General Hospital where we once drove there and back for a 15 minute treatment, I measured its site to be 33 acres with two buildings.  Looking at this relatively new hospital in a remote location in a sprawling suburb miles from Victoria adjacent the highway one gets the sense that this is the model that VIHA is looking at for the Comox Valley.  The Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria occupies 41 acres of land and it contains an entire campus of buildings.  To complete my survey, I looked at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver which occupies 6.4 acres and Vancouver General Hospital which occupies 21 acres.  Both Vancouver hospitals are very dense, urban facilities with multiple buildings located on land that is woven into the existing grid network of streets and public spaces.

From this quick desk top study I determined a couple of things.  The first is that all but one of these sites is situated within the core of the community, surrounded by the existing fabric of development that includes in varying degrees a full mix of other uses.  The second is that all of these hospitals contained multiple buildings ranging from two buildings to entire campuses containing dozens of buildings where it is difficult to determine where the transition occurs from hospital precinct to city.  The third is that of the seven existing hospitals I looked at, 3 occupy less than 15 acres including a big city hospital.  Lets see how these points can inform an alternative evaluation of a hospital location in the Comox Valley.

A quick review of urban land in the core areas of our three communities reveals that there are no 15 acres parcels undeveloped, awaiting the arrival of a new hospital.  Only at the edges and boundaries of our core areas are there large undeveloped parcels of land.  It is likely that the VIHA site selection terms of reference were based on one preferred model for a new hospital and land parcels smaller than 15 acres were never even considered.  However, lets use this article to expand our vision to include alternative models for a new Comox Valley Hospital facility.  What if it were a requirement to locate the new hospital within the core of one or more of our communities?  What if the new hospital was developed in pieces within separate buildings located within the existing grid of our infrastructure?  What if off-street parking were required underground as it is for most other buildings in our core areas?  Using this approach, we would be more consistent with almost all of the other existing hospitals and we open up a lot more possibilities that would result in a benefit to a lot more people across the Comox Valley.  Now when we look again at the urban land in our core areas, we see it differently.

In Comox we actually have a couple of interesting options that would provide a starting point for the new hospital development.  We could build over top of the 2.6 acres of the surface parking lot at the Comox Mall and if we built overtop of the Mall as well, we could make use of a full 6 acres to create an amazing mixed use complex.  We could also build over the 2.6 acres of the surface parking lot at the existing St. Joseph’s Hospital.  As well, the as yet un-built project next to Quality Foods has a site area of over 5 acres that could accommodate all of the proposed building area.

In Courtenay East there are a couple of options that would meet our new criteria.  There are approximately 11.5 acres of Crown Isle land across from Home Depot and another 11 acres at the rear of North Island College.  Both parcels are adequate to accommodate the proposed building area and future expansion.

In Courtenay City there are many options that would help transform the City in a positive way.  We could build over the Driftwood Mall surface parking lot that occupies 6.5 acres and could be expanded to 12 acres if the adjacent properties were to be included.  The City of Courtenay Works Yards on either side of Cumberland Road occupy 12.1 acres.  The School Board offices and Old Courtenay Junior site occupy 3.6 acres and could be expanded to 7 acres by including the adjacent park.  There are a number of other areas with un-developed and under-developed lots in the City of Courtenay that could be transformed into a new medical wellness precinct with the addition of new hospital and services buildings.

Far be it for me to challenge the needs of VIHA in providing hospital services on Vancouver Island and I cannot begin to understand the complexities that must be involved, but I do understand the way that cities go together and I can objectively observe how existing hospitals interact with them.  I believe that our set of three requirements would result in much greater benefit to more of the Comox Valley by spreading the investment across a greater area and over a longer period of time while adding to the vibrancy and livability of the city.

By building within the cores of our existing municipalities, less money would have to be spent on new infrastructure services and what is spent could be used repairing and upgrading existing services.  Land values in neighbourhoods around the new facilities would rise for many land owners as entire communities benefitted in the short and long terms.  By default the new facilities would be located closer to where people already live and work which would reduce the amount of travel required for patients, doctors and staff, increasing the viability of cycling and walking and their related health benefits.  The new facilities would add to the densification of the cores and that would increase the viability of more functional transit.

By building multiple buildings on existing city blocks, there are a many benefits.  The hospital could proceed more quickly, one piece at a time.  Smaller, multiple approvals would be easier than one big all encompassing approval.  Smaller, multiple approvals would be quicker individually and the community would benefit by spreading the project out over a longer period of time rather than one big boom period.  The resulting facilities would be consistent with the existing street scale and likely more human in scale.  The land could be acquired from multiple sources, as required over time, spreading the benefit to more over a longer period.  Infill development would be possible as well as redevelopment of large surface parking areas, both beneficial to the creation of more livable communities.

By building within the cores and on existing city blocks, closer to where people already live and work and where existing transit is already in place, the total required parking for the project would be drastically reduced and underground parking would be feasible.  The total amount of land required for acquisition, without the big need for surface parking, would be much less.  This strategy has been successfully employed at the University of Victoria where their last three major building projects were constructed over existing surface parking areas.  Reducing the number of parking stalls and putting them under the building, innovative buildings and site designs incorporating green roofs rain gardens, and aggressive public transit programs have made this part of Victoria a leader in the creation of communities that are moving in a progressive direction.

This large investment in the Comox Valley is welcomed by everyone.  It can be leveraged many times over to the benefit of everyone, or simply funneled through the coffers of an elite few.  Despite the drawn out process that is moving at a glacial pace, it appears that that VIHA is taking the easy and opportunistic road.  I believe that more open minded alternatives could get us more of what we want and what we need, and perhaps be even easier to deliver.  We need to express our views and our visions about what we want this place to be.  I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

The New Comox Valley Hospital Location

Well it was finally announce last week – the location of the new and much-anticipated hospital in the Comox Valley.  The site selected from amongst 21 possibilities is located on an undeveloped stretch of Ryan Road somewhere between the new Costco, Home Depot and Car Dealerships and the Entrance to the Comox Air Force Base.

The timing of the announcement coincided with the completion of an international design competition that had competitors re-designing the places where they live such that they comply with the standards set out by the Living City Challenge.  I was a member of a team that participated in this competition and over a period of two months we grew to see our place in the Comox Valley in a whole new light.  The design standards are based on the Living Building Challenge, an advanced green building program of the International Living Building Institute.  They are organized around seven “petals” that cover a broad spectrum of ideas and concepts that come together to challenge designers to “imagine a visionary path to a restorative future.”   Each petal contains one or more “imperatives” and there are twenty imperatives in total.  Every project must meet the requirement of every imperative.  It is through the filter of the Living City Challenge that I provide this critique of the chosen Hospital site.

SITE petal

01 Limits to Growth – Based on the premiss that we have already gobbled up far more land than we need, new projects such as the Hospital are only permitted on greyfield and brownfield sites, and NOT on land adjacent to sensitive ecological habitats, prime farmland, and flood plains.  The chosen Hospital location is a greenfield site, never previously having been developed and it is located immediately adjacent to one of the most productive pieces of farmland in the Comox Valley so it does not meet imperative 01.  It should also be pointed out that the selected site is a very important part of the hydrology of the Comox Valley, critical to the re-charge of our underground aquifers.

03 Habitat Exchange – not specifically a critique of the selected site, it should be mentioned that this imperative requires that for every development, either half of the site shall remain undeveloped under covenant, OR, undeveloped land must be acquired of equal size and donated to a local land trust and remain undeveloped in perpetuity.

04 Car Free Living – every new project should contribute towards the creation of a walkable, pedestrian oriented community.  The selected site is virtually in the middle of nowhere in terms of pedestrian access and is located fronting an 80 km per hour arterial.  While this may be appropriate for the occasional high-speed ambulance, no one can walk to the proposed site which means that everyone, including patients, medical staff and administration must all come by car to get to the hospital.  Transit is possible alternative but sustainable transit only comes with much higher development densities and the Comox Valley is decades, if not centuries away from achieving this, and projects located like this one are taking us away from transit sustainability, not closer.  As I understand it, the site is 15 acres in area and well over half of this is required for parking.  I will address this under another imperative.

WATER petal

05 Net Zero Water – I will use this imperative to discuss the infrastructure required for the project.  It is highly unlikely that the City of Courtenay has installed water and sewer infrastructure out into the middle of nowhere so it is assumed that the existing services are going to require extending, at significant cost, to reach the new site.  A more appropriate site would have been where services already existed, and even where services were older and were due for replacement and the project could “kill two birds with one stone.”  I will point out that a Living City Building would not require this infrastructure as they are required to be self-sufficient in terms of water use, either through the collection and harvesting of rainwater, or by using a closed loop system.  In addition, a Living City Building must treat and make use of its own waste without combustion or use of chemicals.

06 Ecological Water Flow – I mentioned earlier that the chosen site was important to the local hydrology.  A requirement of the Living City Challenge is that 100% of the rain that falls om the site must be managed on site to feed the projects demands while at the same time not changing the pre-development water balance.  Water moves around above and below ground, and across property lines, so the aquifers and surrounding farmland cannot be impacted by development of the selected site.


07 Net Zero Energy – A Living City must provide all of its own energy.  Currently the power generated by the Comox Lake hydro facility provides only about 20% of our local power supply.  We have shown in our competition work that the more a City sprawls, the greater its energy requirement gets.  Conversely, the more compact a community gets, its energy requirement drops and more economic opportunity for exploiting waste to energy results.  This site is certainly taking us away from a compact community adding to our energy consumption.  Opportunity will be lost as the waste energy from the new heating and water systems will be too far from other facilities that would be able to use it.


16 Human Scale & Humane Places – All projects must be designed to create human-scaled rather than automobile-scaled places.  A 15 acre site is far larger than the size of the new Hospital so it must be assumed that a large portion of the land will be used for surface parking for the large numbers of users of the facility.  The massive parking areas that we seem to be getting more and more of like the Driftwood Mall, Wal-mart, Canadian Tire, Superstore, Home Depot and now Costco are extremely detrimental to our culture, our sense of place, our humanity.  They are not what we love about the Comox Valley and they are not necessary to our daily rituals and routines – before we head off to the places that we do love!  Hospitals are possible without oceans of asphalt, where they are fit into the existing fabric of a community.


20 Inspiration & Education – A Living City project celebrates its performance and all that is good about it, sharing it with the public and motivating others to follow suit and make change.

What will we learn from a new Hospital on this site?  Will we learn that it is OK to bulldozer raw land on the periphery of our towns?  It is OK to sprawl well beyond our local infrastructure because the engineers can do it and our resources our allocated for this purpose?  That we should not worry about the price of fuel rising in the future and that we will always be able to jump in our car and drive to work, or visit a sick friend?  That cheap land always trumps walkability and transportation?  Five of the seven petals of the Living City Challenge have a direct connection with the selection of a project site.  I think that they demonstrate that there is lot more that needs to be considered when making such important decisions in our communities.  I hope that these ideas resonate with your way of thinking, or that they move you at least a little closer to a more complete way of seeing the world.  In a follow-up blog post I hope to make some suggestions for some alternative sites for the new Hospital.  I might even know by then which other sites were considered.


Courtenay’s GHG Changes

Are you ready for all of the changes proposed by the City of Courtenay as they tackle the tough challenge of reducing our community’s impact on Climate Change?  Despite the misleading information that abounds regarding cause and costs, I believe that this challenge is about making the Comox Valley a better place to live, less expensive, and thus more resilient to the unknowns that we are all about to face.  Here is my list of some of the things that you just might see as we move forward:

Paying Less Taxes:  The City will be changing the way it designs and constructs its civil infrastructure including it’s water, sewer and transportation systems.  By concentrating these services in the dense and compact municipal cores, the exponentially increasing expense of extending services to the City boundaries will be eliminated and minimal tax will be required to maintain and upgrade the existing infrastructure.  Not having to build a 3rd crossing of the Courtenay River will save tax payers over $30 M alone.  Designing narrower city streets for pedestrians and cyclists will cost less than widening them for cars.  With this new approach to infrastructure, opportunities will be created for local, more efficient, district energy systems and we will be less susceptible to the pending increases in large scale regional energy costs.

Getting More Exercise:  In order to reduce the emissions from passenger vehicles, Courtenay will be designing their streets to accommodate the pedestrian first, then the cyclist, then the car.  Sidewalks will be designed to make the walking experience safer and more enjoyable.  City blocks will be designed to be smaller and more compact, making it much easier to get around on foot.  Shade trees will be planted along the edges of all streets to keep things cool during the heat of summer.  Narrow streets lined with buildings having minimal setbacks and broad canopies will provide wind breaks and protection from severe winter weather.  New zoning measures will allow new homes to be created within the same community as shops, offices and recreation so that there is better opportunity to live and work and shop in the same area, all within walking distance.

Better Health:  In addition to the daily exercise you will be getting, the new measures implemented by the City of Courtenay will eliminate the pressure to develop (sprawl) out into wetlands, environmentally sensitive ecosystems,  and prime farm land; allowing more opportunity for nature nearby and for convenient local food production.  Public markets in every neighbourhood will provide easy access to healthy, locally grow food.  The various measures for the reduction in GHG production will improve air  quality and ensure an adequate supply of clean drinking water.

More Lifestyle Choices:  New types of communities will be developed to provide more variety and choice of lifestyle.  To supplement the existing single family subdivisions located in areas separate from the business districts, the City of Courtenay will encourage some of it’s existing  neighbourhoods to develop with a complete mix of uses including residential, retail, commerce and recreation.  As these new areas are discovered as exciting places to live, viable alternatives to what we have now, their compact and efficient systems will have a dramatic impact on reducing the GHG emissions in the City of Courtenay.

Having More Free Time:  The new dense and compact communities will be designed with local public green space and a variety of local public amenity, easily accessible to everyone in the neighbourhood.  The traditional high maintenance, ornamental front yard will be replaced by local parks, maintained by municipal staff to the highest standards, for resident use in all seasons.  No more lawn cutting, weeding, leaf raking, etc.  Walking to work and to get your groceries will eliminate the wasted time spent commuting and going nowhere on a treadmill in a gym.

Riding Enjoyable Convenient Transit:  The City will be working with BC Transit to make it serve the people better.  Transit routes will provide frequent, 5 minute service to the more dense compact areas where some new development will be approved, connecting more people to more of everything within minutes, not hours.

Personal Transportation Freedom at Lower Cost:  When needed for your personal trips beyond the reach of transit you will be able to choose a vehicle just the right size and type from the local community car coop, always clean and well serviced, paying only for the distance that you drive.

A Thriving Economy:  By localizing as much commerce as we can within our region, we eliminate the additional expense associated with importing many of our needs and we provide opportunity for local business to prosper.  By providing at least equal opportunity to local business as it does to national and global chains, the City of Courtenay will help to create a resilient local economy with a positive impact on everyone living in it.  A thriving local economy will provide greater opportunity for our children to live and work in their home region.

If these issues are important to you, please come out and express yourself at the Public Hearing.  You can read the proposed bylaw at the City of Courtenay website at www.city.courtenay.bc.ca.  This is our future that we all create together.

Tom Dishlevoy, Architect

New Coal Mine vs. High Buildings

I bumped into a friend and colleague this week and we had quite a conversation.  It started out about the likelihood of a new coal mine being approved in our regional district.  My friend is responsible for the preservation of our remaining environmentally sensitive lands and he was in quite a predicament trying to reconcile his thoughts on the coal.  “In our towns we know that we need to densify, and we need to start building up.  We can’t go higher than 4 storeys in wood construction.  We are going to need concrete and steel so we are going to need this coal.  How can I oppose this resource extraction?”  I went on to explain that 4-6 storeys could provide all the density that most sustainable cities will ever need and that we can keep building using wood, supporting our renewable lumber industry. It was his quandary that inspired this post, attempting to explain my reasoning!

I once heard a SmartgrowthBC spokesperson state that 13 residential units per gross acre of land area in a town is the minimum necessary to begin to support the infrastructure that we desire such as sewer, water and transit.  Increasing this density makes this easier and more services and amenities possible.  I have kept this in my mind ever since.  If you only build on 50% of your town’s land, allowing for parks, recreation and farmland, then you will need 25 upa over the developed area.  If half of the developed land is covered by schools, industrial parks, commercial development and roads, you are going to need to increase development to 50 upa in the areas where residential is provided.  According to CMHC documents, 50 upa can be achieved with medium density 4-6 storey construction, which can still built from wood according to our building codes.

According to SmartgrowthBC, more density is even better and can provide for more services.  Downtown Vancouver, the 4th highest density in North America, should be a fantastic place, with a great deal of amenity for its residents.  And on many counts it is.  Vancouver is home to an amazing variety of things that only very high density can provide including conference centres, world class sporting venues, unlimited dining and shopping, transit by sea, by rail and by wheels, recreation and entertainment 24 hours a day – fantastic alright!  This density is achieved by building up.  According to Wikipedia, Vancouver has of 634 high-rise buildings over 115 feet in height, the tallest currently at  659 feet in height. These are expensive and complex buildings from a construction point as they must stand up to some challenging conditions from the regular winds, and the infrequent but inevitable large magnitude earthquakes.  To make them stand up and be safe to live in, engineers are required to design them using huge amounts of concrete and steel – two of earths non-renewable resources that consume large amounts of embodied energy to produce.

I lived for a few years on the eleventh floor of of a downtown Vancouver apartment building.  Those were good years and I remember them fondly.  They were also the years before family.  It was OK to ride in elevators daily and to be closer to the apartment unit directly across the street than it was to the ground below.  My own passion for high rises has wained somewhat since my early architecture days.  My first day on the new job after first arriving in Vancouver was helping set up a photo shoot in the 3 storey penthouse apartment on the twenty somethingth floors of a luxury building before a hollywood movie star moved in.  My next job was designing the 6 levels of underground parking for another high-rise apartment building.  Both of these experiences remain vividly in my memory.  Having lived in and designed a few high buildings, I feel that it is safe to say that a debate on the quality of life experienced in tower living is a valid one and will rage on for some time yet.

To make my point about sustainable and liveable communities in 4-6 storeys of building height, I needed to conduct a simple exercise – revision Vancouver without it’s high-rises and debate the outcome.  Using some math that I just learned helping my grade 4 daughter with her homework called “calcul mental” I determined that there were approximately 24,346 storeys of high-rise construction in the 634 buildings in Vancouver.  If we divided this number into groups of 6, we would get the equivalent of about 4,000 mid-rise 6 storey buildings. If we took all of these new mid-rise buildings and spread them out onto other sites, we would need an area roughly the size of Kitsilano.  The end result would be a city more like historic Paris and London, similar to other vibrant parts of Vancouver that already exist.

The Area required to accommodate all of Vancouver's high-rise buildings if they were broken down in to 6 storey pieces.

Would this be a good thing?  Would it still provide the density to support all the amazing things that Vancouver has?  Could Vancouver afford to replace some of its large proportion of single family housing with 4,000 new apartments?  Would we be better off living closer to the ground, in closer contact with the life of the streets and public spaces?  Is our need to go so high more about ego and real estate prices?  Would the planet be better off without all the concrete, steel and curtain wall glazing required for high-rise construction?  I am leaning towards a yes answer to all of these questions.  They are questions that I put to you for debate.

As to my friend and colleague, get back out there and keep protesting that proposed  new coal mine!