What does the ecosystem do for us?
The natural environment cleans and filters our air and water, and a healthy ecosystem helps regulate our climate. One economist recently reported that the ecosystem services provided by Canada’s boreal forests alone are worth about $93 billion to our economy.* That’s more than our mining and energy industries combined.
We don’t pay for these ecosystem services with money, but if we damage the environment beyond repair, the economic losses could be devastating.
EcoDensity’s role in better using energy, materials, food and water.
If you’re in Vancouver, you’re probably in or near a building of some kind. What materials were needed for this building? Where did they come from? And what materials, labour, and energy were required to change a tree into a plank, or petroleum into shingles – and then to deliver it to where you are now?
Everything we build requires materials from some other place, and energy from a source. And there are many people involved in the building, all of whom need food and water, and clothes, housing, heating, and roads.
The more land we need to supply the materials and energy we use, the bigger our ecological footprint. What’s more, when we create objects and use energy, we also produce waste materials that require land to absorb and neutralize them.
How density facilitates better, cleaner use of resources.
Energy Oil and natural gas damage the environment when we extract them from the ground, when we transport them and process them into usable forms, and when we burn them for fuel. They produce air pollution that slowly accumulates in our bodies as we breathe, and create greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. News stories about rising sea levels, dying coral reefs, and melting glaciers have only begun to show us the significance of climate change.
We also waste energy through poorly insulated buildings and inefficient technology. We need to focus on meeting our city’s energy needs more efficiently, and from sources that are cleaner to extract and produce little or no harmful waste. By living in denser neighbourhoods, our buildings use less energy and use it more efficiently.
Most of us have heard of solar and wind power, but there are other technologies, such as using geothermal heat from deep in the earth to warm our buildings, or deep ocean water to cool them. EcoDensity provides an opportunity to install these green energy systems since they are more cost effective at higher densities.
Materials When a building is torn down and replaced by another, what happens to the old materials? They should be reused or recycled, but many usable materials end up in landfills. This requires more supplies to be harvested from nature, processed using techniques that require more energy and create more waste, and then transported to here they will need to be installed.
Creating workable EcoStructure requires us to find ways to reduce and reuse rather than discard waste materials.
Food Shipping food from other parts of the country or the world uses energy and creates pollution. For example, food in an average meal travels 2,400 kilometres from its sources to our plates* – that’s a lot of fuel and pollution. Using more food that comes from nearby sources shrinks our ecological footprint, and it supports the local economy at the same time.
Green roofs, living walls and edible landscaping can provide space for residents to meet some of their food needs closer to home. Fruit trees could be planted in parks and along
streets for both beauty and functionality. Denser neighbourhoods provide greater opportunities for producing food, since more people could share produce from productive gardens. They may even choose to finance local gardeners to produce on behalf of homeowners. There are opportunities for urban agriculture all over the city; all we have to do is start taking advantage of them.
Water We use water for drinking and cooking, for washing our hands and our clothes, fighting fires, and for swimming pools and ice rinks. In a rainy city like Vancouver, it’s easy to think that we will never have to worry about water. Yet in recent years, every summer we have water restrictions because we are in danger of seriously depleting our water resources.
Not only is the amount of water we use a concern, but so too is the quality of water. We take it for granted that our water isn’t clean enough to drink without being treated, and the 12-day boil-water alert in late 2006 showed us just what it means to be without safe drinking water.
Dense developments almost always include systems that are more efficient in their water use than single-family homes. In addition, increased densification improves the cost-effectiveness of innovative ideas such as rainwater collection for use in irrigation, toilet
flushing or even for drinking.
What’s Vancouver already doing?
Environmentally friendly buildings All new civic buildings in Vancouver are now required to meet green building standards known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEEDTM, at the Gold level. These demand eco-friendly features such as energy efficient heating, recycled or reused materials, landscaping with native or other plants that need minimal watering, and good daylighting to lessen requirements for electric lights. The City is leading the way, and encouraging private developers to follow suit.
Rain gardens Because most streets don’t absorb water, they create rivers of stormwater during heavy rains, and this can flood the sewer system. Vancouver is installing small gardens with water-loving plants in places where rainwater tends to collect. The water is
channelled into these rain gardens where it is absorbed into the earth slowly while also creating more neighbourhood green space.
What’s happening elsewhere?
Water metering Nearby municipalities like Richmond and West Vancouver have introduced water meters to private homes. Residents can save money by using water more sparingly, and don’t have to subsidize those who use more.
Urban agriculture Urban agriculture can work on a large scale, even in some of the world’s biggest and densest cities. For example, Shanghai and the cities at its edges produce 60 per cent of the city’s vegetables, 100 per cent of their milk, 90 per cent of their eggs, and 50 per cent of their pork and poultry.