Vancouver: EcoDensity

The Vancouver City Council approved and adopted former Mayor Sam Sullivan’s EcoDensity initiative in 2008 in an effort to increase the city’s housing density while reducing its environmental impact. The council’s approval capped a two-year-long process of public and legislative outreach and discussion. The resulting EcoDensity charter outlined the goals of its initiative to overhaul land use regulations, which included:

  • Strategically achieving greater densities in land use patterns and locations where biggest environmental, affordability, and livability are possible
  • Promoting forms of density that respect neighborhood character
  • Encouraging the creation of walkable communities, improving biking and transit infrastructure, and reducing automobile use and ownership
  • Ensuring diverse jobs and economic activity close to home for minimal commuting

The EcoDensity initiative required developers to give pedestrians priority in transportation-demand-management strategies for new projects. The initiative was associated with earlier city decisions to allow auxiliary rental units within single-family detached homes, such as basement apartments; and later, the city gave most homeowners the ability to build “laneway houses,” or free-standing rental units along the rear lane or alley of their properties. In order for these policies to increase density without radically changing the character of the neighborhoods, the city placed regulations on the size and location of these additional rental units. To that end, basement suites should create minimal impact on the outward appearance of single-family homes. For laneway houses, city regulations specify that the structures can be up to 750 square feet in size, one-and-a-half stories in height, and on lots that have to be at least 33 feet wide; laneways cannot become separate condominiums but must remain part of the main property. EcoDensity measures also included a mandate to create a “Five-Minute City” where shopping, parks, restaurants, and basic services are within a five-minute walk from the homes of city residents.

This material is the product of a partnership between America Walks and Sam Schwartz Engineering. Visit here for more information on the partnership.