What life will be like in False Creek’s Utopia

Sunday, July 18th, 2004

An ambitious plan for the last stretch of vacant land on the shores of False Creek is taking shape. The dreamers behind it hope to create a model village that will attract worldwide attention for solving some of the problems that have blighted the world’

John Bermingham


It’s a village in the heart of the city.

The City of Vancouver is planning the world’s most sustainable community on the banks of southeast False Creek.

VIA Architecture – Courtesey City of Vancouver

This is the view looking north over False Creek that some residents of the new model community could have.

An ambitious plan for the last stretch of vacant land on the shores of False Creek is taking shape. The dreamers behind it hope to creat a model village that will attract worldwide attention for solving some of the problems that have blighted the world’s cities for centuries.

For nearly a decade, countless planners, experts and community groups have been slowly bringing a 21st-century eco-friendly vision into reality.

On an 80-acre tract across from the old Expo 86 site, 15,000 people are expected to live healthier, simpler lives in a dense downtown development.

City planner Ian Smith said South East False Creek, as the project is being called, will be sustainable where other high-rise neighbourhoods like Yaletown aren’t.

“What we’re trying to do is cut down on our [consumption of] resources and the waste we produce, and to do it in a way that’s healthier and more sustainable for future generations,” he said.

South East False Creek is the last great undeveloped chunk of real estate in the city centre.

The industrial area once had a world-class shipbuilding yard, but it’s now rundown and contaminated.

The new community would have its own solar power and rainwater supply. It would use fewer resources, create less waste and offer a healthier lifestyle.

The streets will be designed for pedestrians, not cars, and will make possible more activity.

“You can get what you need on a daily basis without getting into your car,” said Smith.

An updated plan is due out in September for public reaction, and a development plan is to be completed in late fall.

The early work will focus on the athletes’ village for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, located on-site, which will house 3,000 athletes and later be converted into about 500 condos.

Work will begin on the village in 2007.

South East False Creek lies on 50 acres of public land and 30 acres of private land. But half the public land has already been allotted for a waterfront park.

The plan is to create a community of families, seniors, the affluent and the less-so. About 40 per cent of the units will be social housing.

Project architect Graham McGarva expects a series of apartment buildings between 12 and

18 storeys tall, located in heavy greenery and with a rugged urban look, reflecting the area’s industrial history.

“The opportunity would be missed if it was another high-rise district,” said McGarva. “And the opportunity would also be missed if everything is squashed so it becomes a relentless eight-storey barracks.

“It’s a place where you and your family can walk everywhere,” he said. “You are also as connected as anyone else to the region.”

John Irwin, co-ordinator of grassroots community groups involved in planning, said people also wanted a community based on equity.

“They wanted a community that’s inclusive, not exclusive,” he said. “It includes people of all backgrounds and all incomes in the city.”

David Hocking, spokesman for the David Suzuki Foundation, said South East False Creek is pointing the way to a healthier urban future.

“The way we live in the cities, the way we move around, the way we heat our homes, the way we find our food — all of those things put stresses on the planet,” he said. “We have to look at all the ways we can live in a more harmonious way with nature.

“It’s demonstrating that respecting nature can be integrated into our daily lives in a way that’s convenient and comfortable.”

Ron Bain, who chairs the group that’s been steering the vision since 1997, said South East False Creek will be a pilot project for the entire city.

“We were trying to find a way to build a different kind of community,” he said. “In one way or another, this is going to get attention around the world.”

A snapshot of daily life in Vancouver‘s planned model community

This illustration was submitted to the city as part of the proposal for a model sustainable community on the lands in the
southeast corner of False Creek, roughly from the Cambie Street Bridge to Science World.
VIA Architecture – Couresy City of Vancouver

The Province

Sunday, July 18, 2004

What will life be like in the South East False Creek utopia?

Here are some details of how it’s envisaged residents will work, play, shop, move around, bring up their children, use energy and co-operate with one another to enhance the inclusiveness and vitality of their model community:


Grow your own food in community gardens. Sell it at the farmer’s market. Enjoy the extensive array of plants and shrubs.

Do some gardening on the high-rise roof gardens or catch some lunch at the rooftop cafe.


Walk or cycle downtown on the network of pathways. If you’re feeling lazy, catch a streetcar nearby or jump the SkyTrain. But if you must drive, collect a shared car from the co-operative.


Drop off your recyclables at the facility. While there, collect some rainwater for your plants. Compost your food wastes.


Families will make up a third of all units, so there will be plenty of playmates for the little tykes. Drop them off at the community

K-7 school, or at the daycare if they’re younger. Pick them up from after-school care or at the teaching garden, if they’re there.

In the evenings, watch them play street hockey outside in the courtyard or running around in the green space outside your door.


Take a walk in the waterfront park and see the native B.C. species of trees and plants along the shoreline. Check out the restored wildlife habitat, the stormwater duck pond or cycle along the city’s seaside bike route. There’s also a sports field for games and festivals.


Swing by the butcher for a cut of meat, the baker for some fresh bread, or the greengrocer. Have an organic coffee and home-baked muffin at the local deli. If you need a litre of milk, send your child on an errand to the corner store.

At night, pop down to the village centre for a bite at the bistro.


You’ll burn less energy and have solar power and energy-efficient appliances. You will produce

40 per cent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions. Your water use will also be lower, and you’ll use low-flush toilets. Solar shades will keep your rooms at the right temperature.

Each home will be made with non-toxic building materials, paints and glues, which will make the air inside cleaner and help with allergies.


You may be able to work at home if you’re an artist, an artisan or run a small business. Telecommuters can plug in instead of driving to work, while neighbours will co-operate in making your business grow.


Local volunteers will help out at the various amenities. Community groups will meet at the local meeting room. The focus will be on equity and co-operation between age groups and social classes.


You can still bring your gas-guzzling SUV into the community, but you will have to buy or rent a parking-space, which will be located at the edges. There will be cars on hand for residents who need one in an emergency.

© The Vancouver Province 2004

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