June 9, 2014
by Canadian Architect
As Canada’s leading voice dedicated to advancing excellence in the built environment, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) Alberta Chapter notes the importance placed on developing the former City Centre Airport lands (known as Blatchford) as a model of excellence in sustainable community living. The City’s assertion at various public forums that “Blatchford is not a business-as-usual development” sums up the aspiration of excellence and sustainability objective envisioned for the community.
Within the context of “not business as usual” promised by the City, the RAIC Alberta Chapter note with concern recent media coverage (see www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/blatchford-development-plans-scaled-back-1.2666757) highlighting that the redevelopment plans for the former City Centre Airport lands have been significantly downsized from the original environmentally innovative vision.
With an international design competition that featured world renowned firms like Norman Forster (UK), Snøhetta (Norway) and Perkins + Wills (Canada + USA), Edmontonians were promised through the design competition that Blatchford will be a world-leading model for an environmentally sustainable, carbon-neutral, transit-oriented, mixed-use community for 30,000 residents.
The City of Edmonton Vision and Strategic Plan highlights sustainability (The Way We Green) as a key component to the success of the city. The Way We Green envisions Edmonton as a sustainable and resilient city – achieving highest standards of preservation and sustainability. Considering the scope of the proposed downsizing on Blatchford (highlighted in recent media coverage), it is feared that the City is reaching for the middle (mediocre) with a compromised design and backing away from its original commitment to highest standards on Blatchford. By settling for a compromised design, the City is succumbing to the fear of change and lowering standards at a time it ought to feel challenged to improve standards. Downsizing and lowering the sustainability standards on Blatchford could result in the City not meeting its goal of 50% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020, thereby changing the course of its own vision.
To achieve a successful sustainable community, the development of Blatchford must be seen as an investment in the future of the city. It is important to note that lowest cost is not a reliable measure of value because it doesn’t take into account how well the asset performs on many levels and throughout its life cycle. To this end, downsizing and deviating from the core sustainability objectives of Blatchford (as evident in the dramatic changes proposed in the design of the site’s infrastructure) is not only an affirmation of “business as usual,” but it could have an impact on the economic viability of the development.
Drawing on several examples in Canada and internationally, sustainable communities tend to quickly increase in value as more units sell (from phase to phase). Developments such as Dockside in Victoria and Concord Pacific (post-Expo 86 lands) in Vancouver were able to make hundreds of millions of dollars in profit by first developing an innovative, beautiful and sustainable infrastructure, which created a marketable commodity. Done well as originally envisioned, Blatchford will provide significant returns back to the City and position Edmonton as a leader in developing sustainable communities.
Investing up front in good design and excellent infrastructure generates significant savings in subsequent maintenance and operation costs to recover the initial construction cost of the asset. The City of Edmonton has a chance to do something great with Blatchford for the benefit of Edmontonians; however, courage leadership and commitment is needed to create the carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable community for 30,000 residents. This cannot be achieved on the heels of watering down the sustainability objectives promised to Edmontonians like other developments in Edmonton have done before. Mediocrity should not be an option for Blatchford.
The RAIC Alberta Chapter remains optimistic that with Edmonton’s young, dynamic and visionary Mayor Don Iveson, coupled with his forward-thinking members of council, the City, through Blatchford, will stay the course in establishing Edmonton as a world leader in creating world-class sustainable communities. They recommend that the City should establish an entity – independent from City Administration and accountable to Council – to be the champion to see through the implementation of the Blatchford plans that Edmontonians and the world has seen and endorsed.
For more information on the Blatchford project, please visit http://raic.org/honours_and_awards/awards_urban/2014recipients/brm_e.htm.
blatchford. courtesy perkins+will