Vancouver BC is determined to be the greenest city in the world, as outlined in the city’s ‘A Bright Green Future’ plan. Perhaps this is why the Urban Land Institute (ULI) chose this aspirational city for its annual Spring Meeting, where it made the business case for healthy communities.

Ryan Carter, a senior analyst with Paladino, and I attended this year’s meeting and were grateful to soak up some sun—an unusual experience this time of year in the Pacific Northwest–along with attending excellent educational sessions.. The Vancouver Convention Center hosted the meeting. The building is LEED Platinum certified and located right on the harbor (actually, it’s over the harbor—about 60% of this remarkable building is built above the water).

We learned this on a tour of the facility with the chief engineer, two of its designers and the landscape designer who was instrumental in designing the six acre ‘living roof’—the largest in Canada.

This tour hit home for Ryan, who remembered researching this building in school. It was fascinating to see all its sustainable features. These included the onsite wastewater treatment plant of both black and grey water used for irrigating the living roof and flushing toilets, and the onsite desalination plant used for make-up water. Harbor water is used for heating and cooling the building.

Along with a great location and great weather, the programming was enlightening. We heard speaker after speaker showcase their recent projects, discuss emerging trends and look to the future in the real estate world. Three main topics surfaced from our notes, conversations and reading materials: building healthy places, designing connections, and innovation as a driver for great development.

Convention Center
Vancouver Convention Center

Building Healthy Places

ULI launched its Building Healthy Places Initiative in July, 2013 and programming has been rolling out across the country, encouraging everyone who shapes the built environment to view design through a lens of health. The report Building for Wellness: The Business Case was released at this meeting and showcases 13 projects that exemplify this ideal.

Our favorite project is the Eco Modern Flats in Arkansas. It’s an inspiring “before and after story” with health and sustainability as the main characters. No carpeting was used, which reduced construction and operational waste while simultaneously increasing indoor air quality for residents. Other features included no-VOC paints and stains, diffused lighting and access to fresh air.

Designing Connections

The Eco Modern Flats renovation also added amenities such as a saltwater pool, community garden and roof top deck. These amenities all have one goal common—forming connections among the property’s inhabitants. An increasing number of developers are realizing the value of creating spaces where people can connect with one another. It seems like common sense; however, the building pattern for the last 50 years has been one of separation and seclusion.

A world of fenced in backyards and gated communities is no longer in favor. Multifamily residences that encourage a sense of community are in high demand, especially in urban areas. GROW, located west of Seattle on Bainbridge Island, is an example of this concept. In the shared community gardens, neighbors can interact, share a p-patch or throw some early morning snowballs.

Innovation Driving Great Development

Many young innovators presented ideas that are likely to transform a relatively unchanged industry for the better. Such industry-changing presenters included Zillow’s chief economist and a co-founder of Walk Score who presented how their companies utilize big data and predictive analytics; a co-founder of Realty Mogul, who described the difference between invention versus innovation in the real estate industry; the founder of Blu Homes, who exhibited how his company is changing the way homes are constructed; and the director of MIT’s Media Lab’s Changing Places group, who shared research that demonstrated how greater social ties lead to greater productivity.

We concluded our ULI Spring Meeting experience with a visit to Stanley Park, to enjoy first-hand the success of excellent planning in one or North America’s prettiest urban settings. We came back to the office inspired by both the City of Vancouver and the excellent work ULI is doing to create healthy, thriving communities.

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Melony Pederson is a Sustainability Analyst, LEED® AP ID+C; ND in Paladino’s Seattle office.

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