Urban Design & Sustainable Architecture in Victoria, BC

Community Planning, Sustainable Architecture, Green Building Practices, Community Gardens and Permaculture

Suburban sprawl is a modern design tragedy. It dramatically inflates energy and land use. It creates soulless neighborhoods connected by roadways full of angry commuters, sitting on their asses, breathing in fumes, isolated from each other and the world… until crashing into a cyclist.

60 years ago we made a huge design mistake: We started designing cities for cars instead of people.

We've known for years that building more roads doesn't reduce traffic — it does the opposite.

When we design a city for cars it fails for everyone — including drivers. When we prioritize cars last and design a multi-modal city for people, it's better for everyone — including drivers!

For example, consider the development trend in Vancouver. Vancouver planners and urban designers prioritize transportation modes in this order:

1) Walking
2) Cycling
3) Public Transit
4) Goods Movement
5) Cars

So what does this mean for the dream of the suburbs, where the car reins supreme? Answer: The suburban dream is a lie and it must die . . .

Energy use decreases with community density. Instead of driving, people living in urban areas can easily get around by walking, cycling or transit.

If your community has a central hub or market (like in old European towns), you can simply walk down the street to your local pub for a silly ol' time. But if you live in the suburbs (and you're too swag for transit) you might drive downtown, pay for parking, cab home... then, the next day, hungover, go back downtown to pick up your car only to find you got a parking ticket to pay on top of all the gas you guzzled.

The way your community is designed affects how you spend energy and time. It also affects your wellbeing.

In Victoria, the neighbourhood of Fernwood is an example of a vibrant community built around a local hub with a pub. The central social gathering place: Fernwood Village.

Good urban design helps make sustainable choices, like cycling to work, the path of least resistance. And, it gives us a sense of place and pride in our community.

One way to help sustainable development take root is to live and work in an intentional community... but, you don't need to move to help improve. Depending where you live right now you might participate in the reshaping of suburban / urban space in Victoria, the sustainable development of agricultural land or the preservation of wild land.

To learn more, check out the ideas in the articles below!

Planting the Seeds of an Ecovillage in Sooke

Sooke Farm

You can butcher the land but you can’t slay the dream with your backhoes and stuffy building codes. In early 2013 a little revolution was sprouting south of Victoria led by the Sooke EcoVillage Farm Co-op, also known as The Village Farm (also known as awesome).

The plan was to save a piece of endangered farmland from development and to transform it into a cooperative ecovillage farm. The land, 153 lush acres along Helgeson Road, was to be purchased for $1.6 million by the Sooke Region Farmland Trust (a local non-profit). The farm would be run by The Village Farm.

The tragedy is that while the Indiegogo campaign last spring did raise some decent cash, it was simply not enough to secure the land purchase. Hearts were broken, but not all is lost!

There will be a second chance. The Village Farm has a team of warriors: architects, builders, electricians, writers, artists and farmers. Together they have a vision and the tenacity to see it through, but they could certainly use some help.

The main missing ingredient is of course land. Also, skilled, resourceful people are needed who would live on the farm and create enterprises to sustain it.

The Village Farm vision includes

  • A working organic farm using a combination of cultivation methods including permaculture and biodynamic.
  • An ecovillage community of up to 20 sustainably built homes.
  • Efficient energy management with power supplied by local and renewable sources.
  • Sustainable water and waste management including rainwater catchment and grey water recycling systems.
  • An economic structure that values local trade and conservation of resources, with a social structure that values the common good.
  • An open community that offers apprenticeships and workshops.

For more details about their vision, visit The Village Farm website.

Ecovillages are not a new concept, and there are other examples of successful sustainable communities, even on Vancouver Island. O.U.R. Ecovillage, which occupies 25 acres near Shawnigan lake, has been thriving for 15 years thanks in part to on site social enterprise. It’s long since passed all rezoning, development planning and building code issues. Vancouver Island and lower mainland BC is ripe with projects that focus on permaculture design, ecovillage design, urban food systems and natural building.

Unfortunately, with our current money system the most common barrier to sustainable development is budget.

It’s not that sustainable development is more expensive than high impact development. Innovative firms like Michael Green Architecture in Vancouver know how to leverage local resources to build cost-effective, ingenuous, low impact developments.

It’s not that the money does not exist. It’s that the money does not exist in the hands of the heroes who are leading these initiatives.

This is a call for social entrepreneurship. In cases like this where grassroots non-profits lack the resources and publicity to proceed, social enterprise must step up to help the cause.

As we grow, The Victoria Vine will promote projects like The Village Farm to help them find the support they need to thrive. And once our roots are strong and we mature, we will begin our own sustainable development initiatives.

If you want to learn more about building sustainable communities, here are two books I recommend: