American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Student Awards
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Overall Site Plan diagrams the transportation/movement system and new land productivity for habitat, food, and energy. Existing character from the Brentwood Park neighourhood is shown.
Annual greenhouse gas emissions for each neighbourhood. GHG calculations based on GIS data analysis, census Canada population data and household numbers, average local household energy use, average vehicle kilometers for MetroVancouver, and average Canadian food consumption per capita.
Brentwood neighbourhood greenhouse gas emissions showing the resource inputs in a year, the resulting CO2 equivalent pollution, and the 80% reductions needed by 2050 to stabilize climate. Note the low CO2e numbers for electricity due to hydropower in British Columbia.
Process diagram showing the spatial analysis layers used to map potential land productivity, energy and movement transportation systems that would reduce GHGs and increase community resilience. Technical research on specific mitigation actions fed into the analysis and drove the final design solutions.
Local passive solar house provided technical research that fed into the neighbourhood energy analysis; geothermal has low-cost drilling in this area; three dominant house types were identified and assessed for geothermal, photovoltaic, solar thermal (hot water) and passive solar energy.
Neighbourhood energy potential: the percentage of house type by neighborhood, as well as lot orientation, leads to combining low-carbon energy sources within and across neighbourhoods to reduce natural gas loading and limit electrical load increases; landscape implications are shown.
ENERGY Solutions + Land Use Changes: Density increases depend on low-carbon energy sourcing. Multiple energy sources give GHG emissions reductions of 85% to 95% while maintaining electrical grid consumption at 100% and allowing for a 60% population increase by 2050. Some housing will eventually be removed.



Revealing Climate Change Mitigation in the Landscapes of the Future
Ellen Pond, Student ASLA
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia
Faculty Advisors: Dr. Stephen Sheppard, ASLA

"A good use of differing scales from looking at the individual house to the neighborhood level."

— 2008 Student Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement:

Climate stabilization will require 80% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This project researched how to retrofit existing residential neighbourhoods to reduce emissions by 80% from household energy, transportation and food, while allowing for population increases. Working across scales and using site-specific solutions led to adaptive, localized energy systems, an innovative urban agriculture system, and a transportation system retrofitted for pedestrian/transit. The project demonstrates the critical contribution of Landscape Architecture to climate change mitigation.

History and Site Context: Time for Change

The Research Problem
Climate change threatens the future global economy (Stern Review 2006), the future of global biodiversity as modelling shows up to 50% species extinctions (Thomas et al 2004), and future social stability as mass population migrations respond to water shortages, droughts and flooding (Stern Review 2006, Raskin 2005). International consensus holds that 80% greenhouse gas reductions are necessary by 2050 to stabilize climate. How can these reductions be achieved within existing low-density residential neighbourhoods for household energy use, food and transportation while allowing for population increases? No North American community has answered this yet.

The research focused on finding solutions that can be spatialized and applied to a specific neighbourhood, and developing a process for site-adaptive climate change mitigation in local neighbourhoods. Working within a Low-Carbon future scenario, the project assumed intensive, immediate and ongoing climate change mitigation out to 2050, with resultant fewer climate change impacts such as water shortages than under a Business-as-Usual scenario.

The study area is located within the Still Creek watershed in Burnaby, British Columbia. As a suburb of Vancouver, the existing low-density residential neighbourhoods are car-serviced and rely on 100% imports of food and energy (natural gas and electricity). Steep slopes separate the neighbourhoods from an elevated Light Rapid Transit system (Skytrain). The climate is a mild maritime one, with wet winters and cool summers.

Relationships Investigated and Method of Inquiry
The project unpacked and re-packed the interlinked systems of energy, food and transportation. Mitigation solutions were found through precedent studies, a literature review, and interviews with technical experts. The solutions were spatialized in order to consider applicability. For example, stormwater catchment areas were calculated to generate potential rates of flow in stormdrains which, along with potential drop (head), allowed for potential micro-hydro calculations. The findings showed that micro-hydro is not a feasible option for this location. Similar research also removed sewage heat recovery and CHP (biomass fuelled Combined Heat and Power) from the list of potential actions; the actions that remained are thus both feasible and site-adapted. Research on renewable and alternative energy sources, particularly for house heating and hot water, but also for vehicles, on urban agriculture and on best practices for pedestrian/ bicycle/transit oriented development proved essential to the project.

The analysis used GIS, CAD, photography, and hand mapping to identify opportunities and constraints. Technical requirements helped to determine the analysis layers, which in turn drove systems design. The process diagram (Image 4) delineates the linkages between the analysis layers, individual systems, and combined systems that affect both urban form and GHG reductions strategies. For example, transportation and energy production together drive density and land use changes. Slope is a significant driver and was assessed in multiple ways including GIS analysis for the watershed and hand-drawn street-scale analysis for exiting dead-ends and assessing agricultural potential. The process, although shown as linear, required a cyclical, multi-iterative process to arrive at the end product, which becomes a starting point for further work, particularly visualizations.

Research Results
The ENERGY SOLUTION combines actions that together reduce natural gas usage by over 85% while maintaining the electrical load at current levels and accommodating a population increase of 60% by 2050. The combination of strategies includes:

  • Conservation and efficiencies, including solar thermal: saves 25% on household electrical, 30% on natural gas usage for house heating, and up to 75% of natural gas for hot water.
  • Geothermal: 7.5m x 7.5m for vertical drilling per house; is possible in the rear yards or lanes; costs less than $20,000 per house; decreases the natural gas to 0; it adds electrical load.
  • Photovoltaics: the local energy potential is about 1000 W/m2/year; in the Brentwood Neighbourhood, roof PV would allow for an increased electrical demand of 25%, at a cost of $15,000 per house.
  • Passive solar: A functioning passive solar retrofit home in Vancouver, operating since 1980, uses 25% of the natural gas of a regular house. New PassivHaus buildings developed in Europe use less than 15% the energy of older buildings.
    For the Brentwood neighbourhood, a combined approach could reduce household energy GHG emissions from 3500 tonnes per year to 515, with per capita going from 2 to 0.22 tonnes per year.

Landscape structure reveals the local energy production, with careful street tree placement required to maintain solar access. The energy solution enhances local resilience -- the neighbourhood remains linked to the grid and requires some inputs (biomass for heating passive houses), but uses heat from solar and geothermal sources, and produces 20% of its electricity.

For the AGRICULTURE SOLUTION, the landscape becomes productive rather than decorative. While quantifiable data on greenhouse gas emissions linked to specific foods remains scarce, local organic production can significantly reduce emissions, supplying potentially up to 75% of local food needs by 2050. Community gardens would be the first step in capacity building, followed by market urban production including farms in parks, and, lastly market gardens replacing some roads. Non-market production includes fruit street tree plantings, berry bushes, home grown gardens, and household chickens.

The ROW provides the largest public land area (over 70% of the public land) in the neighbourhoods, and it becomes the location for multiple functions including improved pedestrian amenities, habitat and agriculture, and consideration of local energy production. New urban food systems work across scales, and have impacts on transportation. As well, plant associations and habitat types were used to develop guidelines for urban habitat plantings that meet the needs both of a highly functioning ecological matrix, and the concerns of citizens for orderly and beautiful vernacular landscape expressions.

The TRANSPORTATION system, more than any other, requires an attitude adjustment, particularly on the part of planners and politicians. A phased mode shift, with the majority of private vehicle use moving to electric public transit yields excellent emissions reductions. Pedestrian pass-throughs in the Fell Avenue neighbourhood enhance connectivity where each block is 400 meters long. Adding pass-throughs on several of the Beecher Creek neighbourhood dead-ends allows residents to walk to either the Delta Zippy or the Parker/Curtis Zippy Bus.The Zippy Buses are the only solution that have yet to be properly designed: imagine a cross between a community shuttle bus, an electric vehicle, and an i-pod: sexy, convenient public transit.

COMBINED SYSTEMS: Home zones build on the Dutch woonerf concept of inviting cars into residents’ social and play spaces. Swales, play areas, gathering areas, and planters remove asphalt and visibly demonstrate the shift from private vehicles toward multiple uses in the ROW.
Block farms maintain pedestrian pathways while removing the road altogether and replacing it with agricultural crops. Vehicular access is maintained through the back lanes.

All the actions and systems come together with place-making to produce a neighbourhood center for Brentwood Park. The centre builds local mitigation capacity through demonstration agricultural and habitat plantings and passive energy building technologies. Community services include a seniors centre and market garden coordination. A plaza and meadow provide outdoor space for celebrations and functions; a sports field enables local recreation. Quieter activities to the west of the school include a community garden, a plant greenhouse and nursery, an apiary, a ha-ha enclosure for the sheep who will maintain the park meadows, and a children’s garden.

Significance of Results
This project is the first holistic neighbourhood study of how to achieve a low-carbon future. With the site system plan, each block can be located within site adaped and specific systems. Climate change mitigation has been spatialized and localized. Each block has multiple-functions and a landscape structure that reflects its agricultural potential, its energy source (with careful tree placement for PV and passive solar), and the movement system. Together, they form a holistic set of systems that should be able reduce GHG emissions by over 80%.

The landscape of our cities has a very significant role to play in climate change mitigation. Density increases need to be linked not only to transportation and services needs, but also to local energy production sites. Energy sourcing for heating can be solved with technical changes that can be embedded into neighbourhoods without large behavioural changes. Agriculture/food will require larger behavioural/visual changes. Transportation will be the most difficult to directly control through design solutions: enhancing the pedestrian realm, and moving resources away from cars provide the most direct changes, which, according to Gehl, can result in significant quantitative increases in pedestrian usage (2008).

Finally, the main finding was that there is no need for extraordinary solutions. All of the solutions are quite simple, using current and existing technologies, although sometimes in new ways. It is the combination of ordinary actions that can create extraordinary results, a series of small moves that can significantly alter the landscape of our cities and our capacity to both mitigate climate change and increase local resilience. The solutions are both incredibly simple, and yet require a 180 degree change of thinking – a lack of vision remains our biggest barrier.

Applicability to Landscape Architecture Practice
Landscape architects have a key role to play in moving our society towards climate stabilization, working and leading multi-disciplinary teams. The fabric of our cities and regions consists of open space and landscape, and we are best placed to understand the spatial requirements of changes to housing energy, transportation systems, and urban agriculture. However, we need a strong research and knowledge base from which to act. This project initiates research into actions that can be used by local communities to mitigate their climate change impacts. It provides technical data, an analysis and design process, and preliminary proposals about systems solutions. Finally, landscape architects can provide the visualizations, a critical next step, which will enhance community understanding of the difficult choices that lie ahead, and encourage responsible community decision-making in the face of an unpredictable future.


Land in low-density residential neighbourhoods becomes productive, supporting biodiversity through habitat or supplying local food needs. Block farms provide food self-reliance through City-Supported Agriculture, reduce GHG emissions, and connect people to food.
The urban agriculture system incorporates medium and small-scale production to meet most protein (animals, legumes, nuts), grain, and other needs. Citizens become co-producers, animals are reintroduced to urban areas, and organic wastes complete the cycle that begins with seed-saving.
Greenhouse gas reductions from food will depend upon reducing imports (transportation, processing, refrigeration), reducing red meat and dairy, moving to organic agriculture, and using labour-intensive, local production. Phasing enables the shift in eating habits, production methods, and local capacity building.
The movement system combines multiple functions into the public realm, including habitat and agriculture, puts the pedestrian first with Leisure Boulevards/linear parks and Zippy Buses, and turns residential streets into traffic-calmed homes zones or "woonerfs".
Transportation reductions require an attitude adjustment: transportation planning and infrastructure must move to supporting pedestrian, bike/EV2-3 and transit-oriented systems. The Leisure Boulevard retrofits a street into a linear park with habitat and stormwater functions; traffic calming also increases ped/bike usage.
Linear parks, home zones and block farms combine systems for a modified, multi-functional public realm. ROW modifications invite citizen participation through private yard plantings, and key structural elements are maintained including buildings, scale, and vernacular landscape choices.
Building capacity for a low-carbon future: Brentwood Park, currently grass, gravel and a chain-link fence, becomes an energy and food producing neighbourhood center.
References for the applied research component of the project.
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