On what was probably the worst rainy, cold, windy day this fall, Jason Packer, sustainability consultant with Recollective bravely took an eager group of people on a tour through the Olympic Village to point out the green features of the development. Many of these features are innovative but largely invisible unless someone such as Jason points them out. By the end of the tour we all realized how important education is to understanding and actively participating in a sustainable development…more on that later.
We met out front of Creekside Community Centre and began the tour with a discussion of what makes the centre LEED Platinum — systems such as rainwater collection for irrigation, toilet flushing and solar powered absorption chillers all contribute. The reuse of rainwater is quite visible if you’ve ever used the facilities at Creekside, while the chillers on the roof are only visible from the upper floors of nearby buildings.
“Absorption chillers use waste heat (usually steam or hot water – in this case, heated by the sun) to generate cooling. Inside the absorption chiller, this heat is transferred to a brine solution, causing evaporation. The resulting fresh water vapour is condensed and sprayed onto pipes holding water that will circulate inside the building, cooling it. Due to a strong affinity between the condensed brine and the fresh water spray, the brine attracts and reabsorbs the spray. ” (read more) This is the first time a system like this has been used in North America and so far north.
As Jason pointed out, subtle design features can have an important impact. This can be seen in the solar powered trash cans. Powered by a solar panel on the top, the cans are built to compact the trash put in them.
We moved on to look at how storm water is collected and then used for irrigation to support the plants, trees and grass growing in the area. For example the roads are sloped into the centre to funnel “dirtier” rainwater into either cleaning galleries below ground or into Hinge Park for filtration by plants.
Hinge Park features a bioswale which looks like a marshy wetland, dense with with water plants and ducks. This environment was constructed to calm the water, allowing it to be filtered and then released into False Creek.
Although numb with cold, everyone was really engaged so we voted to walk with Jason to the Neighbourhood Energy Utility. This facility takes waste heat from untreated urban waste water and transforms it into heat and hot water. Since the Olympics the NEU has provided 70% of thermal energy for South East False Creek.
The NEU is tucked under the Cambie Street overpass and complemented by a community garden that was recently installed this spring. Through large open windows and portals you can get a sense of the inner workings of the facility that is essentially transforming poop into heat. One our participants was really disappointed to see pipes not poop when looking down one of the portals. It makes me realize how much of sustainability requires a shift in cultural norms — we prefer not to see the waste we produce, let alone think about how it could be useful.
On our way back to Creekside we stopped to take a closer look at the Salt building which was built in the early 1930s to refine salt shipped from San Francisco. The building has a Gold LEED standing for it’s re-use of natural materials, ventilation and lighting. At the moment the building sits empty, however, during our stop a team of people were preparing it for a one time event.
The Salt building sits on the main plaza and is intended to be a coffee shop, restaurant and brew pub — eventually. The plaza has potential as a gathering space which is important in supporting social sustainability. Currently, the space is used intermittently for events but without retail at street level most of the foot traffic remains near the sea wall. It will be interesting to see how this situation changes over the next few years.
Jason wrapped up the tour in the lobby at Creekside, where we could get warm and ask questions. We continued to chat for another hour, tapping into Jason’s extensive expertise. One of the discussions that really stayed with me focussed on the need for education. It became apparent that there is a disconnect between the sustainability features built into the development and the potential to enact sustainability as a resident. While residents are provided a booklet of information and some green cleaning supplies when they move in, there aren’t any opportunities to learn in a more in-depth way about how the development functions and how they can contribute to the overall creation of an environmentally and socially sustainable neighbourhood. As Jason pointed out, it isn’t really clear who would be responsible for filling this gap although the need is evident.
This discussion reminded me of the many residents of the Village that I’ve met over the summer who are both interested and committed to learning and contributing to the sustainability of the area. I wonder if these opportunities will ultimately come through their collective organization rather than corporations or government.