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2009 Archive

With the wrap up of the 2009 basketball season, we are proud to have been a sponsor of the Seattle Storm.

We had two opportunities to man the “Go Green” table this summer, which is a great campaign initiated by the Storm to encourage their fans to utilize green living principles in their everyday lives.

We handed out posters encouraging transit, recycled pencils, and organic lettuce seeds that not only included instructions for planting the seeds, but also gave hints for other ways to be green (like taking transit or carpooling to the games). We also collaborated with Yes! Magazine, a local magazine focused on sustainability, by handing out free copies during the game.

We appreciate the relationship that we had throughout the season and wish them the best of luck getting ready for 2010!

by Catherine Calvert, VIA’s Director of Practice + Director of Community Architecture Sustainable building design is not exactly news. Over the past 30 years, and particularly in the past 10 years, information on how to reduce the energy and resources used in building design, construction, and operation has become increasingly available to the design industry. Building rating systems such as LEED® can assist architects, municipalities, and building owners seeking a common language and understanding about what constitutes sustainable architecture. By contrast, architects wanting to design transit systems sustainably have few guidelines to follow. Transit systems are, by definition, not buildings. Most systems consist of a collection of infrastructure and dynamic elements – trackway, vehicles, support facilities, and stations, which are often unconditioned environments, open to the elements. The environmental footprint of a transit system goes far beyond the energy and materials expended in building these facilities. There is not much point in minimizing the amount of energy used by a transit station light bulb when the energy needed to operate a system over its 50 or 100 year life outweighs this expenditure by a factor of thousands. It is important that as designers seeking to achieve transit sustainability look beyond the buildings to the system as a whole. And what is sustainable transit, anyway? Equally important to the facilities are the decisions made about where the system and stations are located. What kind of neighborhoods does the system serve? Does …

by Catherine Calvert, VIA’s Director of Practice + Director of Community Architecture andAngie Tomisser, VIA’s Interior DesignerAs designers, it’s fascinating to watch the approach to design as portrayed on national television:

  • Give us a week, and we’ll build you a house from scratch – not only shiny and new, but customized to your exact hobbies and tastes!
  • Go to your neighbor’s house and rip out all the things you don’t like – and replace them with the things you like – they’ll be so surprised!
  • Just watch me and copy everything I do – wow your friends with your excellent taste and originality!

It reminds us of other types of reality shows – the ones where people drop a dozen pounds in the hour that you’re watching – except that what you don’t see is the 50 hours they had to spend in the gym to burn those calories – literally, the heavy lifting that goes on behind the scenes.

Now we’re all for the promotion of good design, and the way in which an improved environment can affect people’s lives and wellbeing. What we’re wary of, and are starting to hear in discussions with various non-designers, is people’s perceptions of what designers do as “picking good stuff” or being able to instantaneously create a vision of how a space should function, look and feel. We wish it were as easy as it appears on reality TV.

The process of design involves its own form of heavy lifting. Good …

by Silas Archambault, MA Planning Candidate, School of Community and Regional Planning (UBC)

Public space: Urban areas where a variety of activities can take place. Panhandling, performances, social encounters, picnics, street vending, and the occasional zombie march. These dynamic, multi-use spaces define a city. They are crucial in building community cohesion, and are a major determinant of neighborhood livability. We are used to thinking of streets, parks, squares, and libraries as entirely public. However, a discussion of public space often excludes the one where we have the most frequent and close interactions: on transit.

Each day, hundreds of thousands of people take transit in the greater Vancouver region. Some are pushed up into the armpits of complete strangers. Others politely ignore the fellow passengers sitting opposite and read the newspaper. Every once in a while, a few people will erupt into conversation. Of course, Friday night on the bus will be a cacophony of conversation and probably a few not-too-discreet beers. The SkyTrain has even hosted a few dance parties.

When sitting on a silent bus, every body wired with an iPod, you cannot help but think of the possibility. This is one of the few spaces that gathers a diverse population. Better yet, it holds them as a captive audience – in close quarters – until their stop. There is so much potential for social learning, new ideas, civic engagement, perhaps even a pleasant ride! Ohh, the social possibilities.

Perhaps surprisingly enough, I am not the only one thinking about this. October 30th, …

Now in its second year, this forum brings our region’s planning, design, development, and civic leaders and advocates together to better understand what we can do to build a stronger future. Today, more than ever, we are faced with environmental and economic challenges that will define our generation, shape our future, and test our resilience. Join leaders from across the region as we tackle these challenges head-on and demonstrate solutions to building more livable, walkable, and healthier communities.

For registration information, or a more detailed time schedule, click here____________________________________________________________________THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15

Reception & Opening Lecture PresentationUrbanLab: Sarah Dunn & Martin Felson, AIAUrbanLab is an architecture and urban design firm in Chicago & recipient of the 2009 AIA College of Fellows Latrobe Prize. Projects include residential, new commercial, conversions of industrial buildings, restaurant interiors, and museum installations. Urban design projects include a study for the city of Chicago and a masterplan for the downtown redevelopment of Aurora, IL. UrbanLab is also a research laboratory examining the City and Chicago megalopolis. The project,, investigates Chicago’s status as a global city.



Morning plenary sessions include:

Ecodistricts: A Comprehensive Approach to the Development of a Truly Sustainable City

VIA will be kicking off this year’s AIA sponsored Design for Livability: Sustainable Cities conference with a shared 90 minute session on Vancouver’s Southeast False Creek (SEFC) and ZGF’s new Portland EcoDistrict project. Together, these two firms will be providing not only great insight into how a large scale project slike …

Smart Growth BC 2009 Conference

Featuring Paul Hawken and many other distinguished thought leaders

October 20-22, 2009Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre

Registration now open!

For its sixth annual conference, Smart Growth BC joins forces for the first time with the Center for Urban Innovation’s Gaining Ground Sustainable Urban Development Leadership Summit to present a unique two-and-a-half day gathering addressing the transformational challenges that all North American cities, whether large or small, urban or rural, are facing in sustainability, economy and urban management.

Resilient Cities will explore strategies to make cities and towns more robust, and will enable participants to significantly advance their thinking on three key subjects:

  • Innovation in sustainability governance and best current practices for managing sustainable urban systems
  • Capturing opportunities in the green economy
  • Strategies for building widespread sustainability collaborations that engage the community level.


We are a sponsor this year and will be featuring the following panel discussion:

The evolution of Southeast False Creek illustrates changing definitions of sustainability: from the ideals of the early 1990s “Clouds of Change” report through waves of real-estate pro-forma and architectural fashion wars, to the social, cultural, economic and environmental criteria of multi-layered sustainability that coalesced around the same time as the Olympic bid in 2002 – (then the politics, and later the press, kicked in).

Trace the contested journey in a dynamic story-telling workshop with some of the diverse players who saw it through from vision to design to construction.

Panel:Graham McGarva (VIA Architecture)Ian Smith (City of Vancouver)Sean McEwan (Vancouver City Planning Commission, SEFC …

by JP Thornton, VIA’s Director of Practice and Director of Mixed-Use + Major Projects

Not building any/or MinimalSome forms of development can suit no additional parking provision at all.

At the Hub, East Broadway Commercial station in Vancouver an arrangement was brokered in a community that was fixated on two problems. The first being a lack of parking and concern about increased parking demand to be caused by adding a second skytrain station. The second being the needed increasing commercial activity around the station to drive out the drug dealing operations that had overrun the area.

Two options were discussed a) commercial development without any parking or b) some parking but limited development; they chose development and committed to back off the parking issue. The no parking option was selected by the community.

The City was then convinced to allow a rezoning for 20,000sqft with zero parking (a relaxation of 30 odd stalls) which was the only way the economics would allow a project to be developed.

Interestingly, the City did however also allow an option of 39,000 sqft if the full parking was provided ie 58 stalls.

What we see today is the successful 20,000 sq ft that was built with no parking.

Some forms of development would never happen where it happens if the required amount of parking was to be provided. For example, when BC Places, 60,000 seat stadium was approved there were many City blocks empty around it.

In getting approval for Concord Pacific for its development masterplan, agreement was reached on allocating 2,000 …

by JP Thornton, VIA’s Director of Practice and Director of Mixed-Use + Major Projects

There are generally 3 options to building parking.Build it underground, Build it on the ground or build it above the ground

So what are the solutions?

Unbundling ParkingWe need to look at parking as a commodity and not as a birth right. That means giving the ability to buy units with or without a parking space. This also means that the parking can be spread out, around a community if it is conceived as a whole.

Let’s for example take a Market Tower which has a high parking ratio but a small footprint. It could have some of its parking under an adjacent, larger footprint and lower parking ratio non market housing development.

This leads to an overall lower development cost for the market tower and hence units become more affordable as well as increasing funding to the non market portion. This is particularly relevant near water sites where building underground can be prohibitively expensive.

This is however not without problems as airspace parcels, easements, integrated design etc. have to be identified and resolved early on.Reducing amountWhen considering the reduction of the amount of parking it is important not to miss the distinction between car usage and car ownership whereby urban households don’t use cars much but still do own one and hence require somewhere to put them. The impression from some that Transit oriented developments will eliminate at a stroke the need for cars is wrong. Whilst obviously it will reduce …

by JP Thornton, VIA’s Director of Practice and Director of Mixed-Use + Major Projects

Cars, traffic, parking, gridlock all major concerns of the time and are increasing in intensity, profile and concern. Many people have put their minds to possible solutions.

The Congestion charge in London (and now also Stockholm) was introduced to limit the amount of traffic with in the centre of a City not designed for modern vehicular demands. Although the direction behind this is admirable it cannot be undertaken in isolation. Business drivers whom this was largely targeted simply consider it a cost of doing business; large companies can cover the costs of their workers travel by increasing fees. To be fully successful, huge investments into public transit are required otherwise inadequate transportation will limit office development, job creation, house building as well as the efficiency of the labour market in or around the congestion zone.

In some major Japanese Cities, before you are allowed to purchase a car, you have to prove that you do in fact actually have somewhere to park it.

These are both reactionary measures put in place to attempt to stem the growing congestion that threatens to grind Cities to a halt. But what can we do to be proactive in terms of development?

Higher densities imply more people, therefore more cars and hence parking. Or does it???

Actually increasing densities in major urban centres is the beginning of the solution along with suitable and complementary transit infrastructure. Taking the need away from the dependence on …

by Lydia Heard, VIA’s urban planner

We build more space for cars than we do for people. Every car has at least three parking spaces waiting for it, somewhere. Parking is never free; it drives up the costs of development that we pay in the price of everything from housing to movie tickets. (For this and more, read “The High Cost of Free Parking” by Donald Shoup.)

What takes up the largest amount of publicly owned real estate in your city? It’s most likely streets and roadways which are usually dominated by vehicles. In Seattle, 26% of our land use is taken up by public right-of-way for streets, including parking lanes. What if a quarter of our city was public green space, instead?

Think about all those metered parking spaces in our public rights of way. Who says they’re just for cars? Pay your rent at the meter and you can occupy the space for any safe legal purpose. Why not? It’s incredibly cheap. A stall in a surface lot might cost you $10.00 from the first minute you arrive; a space on the street in front is just $2.50 per hour. Now forget that this is a “parking space”; think of it as your rented plot of urban land. If you paid $5.00 rent for an 8’x22′ piece of real estate for two hours how would you occupy it?

The Park(ing) Day event was created by people who wanted to illustrate the need for more space for parks in cities, so they usually …