Editorial: New Energy City

The City of Malm in Sweden transformed a derelict shipyard into a dynamic community, and waterfront municipalities in Atlantic Canada might benefit from adopting similar strategies. Ian Chodikoff
The City of Malmo in Sweden transformed a derelict shipyard into a dynamic community, and waterfront municipalities in Atlantic Canada might benefit from adopting similar strategies. Ian Chodikoff

Architects from across the country converged upon the city of St. John’s for the annual Architecture Canada | RAIC conference this month, prompting speculation on the event’s ambiguously stated theme–“Deep Roots in a New Energy City”–and the potential for environmentally sustainable initiatives for this and other Atlantic cities. Rich with revenues from an expanding oil and gas industry, St. John’s is certainly more energetic today than a few years ago. However, with over 30 percent of Newfoundland’s economy derived from oil and gas, there is nothing to suggest that offshore drilling for fossil fuels makes St. John’s a “new energy” city. How might St. John’s and other Atlantic communities become “new energy” cities by adopting sustainable design initiatives to approach carbon neutrality?

The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council has identified the energy sector as the most important industry group in the region; it is believed to represent over 50 percent of planned business investments. While this figure includes the oil and gas industry, when we look at how municipalities in countries like Sweden have adopted renewable energy as a driver for economic growth, there is a huge potential for St. John’s and other cities in Atlantic Canada to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels, even if the reality of oil and gas revenues continue to exist as a strong component of their economies.

The opportunities for wind energy development, along with abundant tidal current and wave energy resources, represent a few examples where renewable energy can become more significant to the regional economy. Over 100 billion tonnes of water flow in and out of Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy every tide–more than all the freshwater rivers and streams in the world combined. With wood products and food transformation byproducts becoming increasingly attractive as sources of biofuels in Atlantic Canada, cities like Fredericton and St. John’s could expand their biofuel applications in the areas of transit and district heating. Charlottetown has already adopted a district energy heating system for its downtown; perhaps we will see more district heating systems in the region very soon.

The federal government is already working with the Atlantic provinces and regional utilities via the Atlantic Energy Gateway (AEG) to facilitate the development of the renewable energy sector. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) is also helping to support a variety of investments related to innovative projects in the renewable energy sector. Although this fund is primarily designed to bring new technologies to the marketplace, it is conceivable that ACOA could fund sustainable urban planning projects over the next few years as municipalities and real estate developers maximize the links between renewable energy production and urban planning.

To appreciate the advantages of fostering sustainable design in the Atlantic provinces, it is worth considering some of the basic strategies employed by the waterfront city of Malmö, Sweden. Malmö (pop. 300,000) has seen its Western Harbour completely transformed over the past decade through the successful implementation of projects relating to sustainable urban development. By 2020, the city will be climate-neutral and is expected to operate on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. Since the closing of the Kockums shipbuilding yards in 1987, old factories and cranes along the Western Harbour have been replaced by parks, schools, housing, offices, a television studio and a university. At its peak, 6,000 people once worked in the shipyards. Today, over 10,000 people work in the area with another 8,000 people living in beautifully designed energy-efficient housing. District heating and cooling provides the entire neighbourhood with renewable energy. Solar panels, photovoltaics and underground thermal-mass storage facilities further contribute to low-energy designs, and all of the units are equipped with a recycling system to collect organic material that is later converted into biogas.

With a similar climate to Malmö, St. John’s could feasibly adopt renewable energy strategies that will reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, trigger economic development, and otherwise improve the quality of life for its people. If St. John’s could emulate Malmö in even just a small way, then it will truly become a “new energy” city.

Ian Chodikoff ichodikoff@canadianarchitect.com