Thoughts on the urban deconstruction industry and restoration economy in Vancouver

Over the recent years many thinkers and planners have foreseen the likely transformations of our urban and suburban communities as costs related to resources, building materials and other logistics force us to think on our feet and adjust. I recall one author even wrote a book titled “The End of Suburbia”. Actually it was a documentary now that I come to think of it. As potential challenges such as peak oil, loss of arable land, energy and water scarcity and other logistical (and social) hurdles continue to present themselves on our horizon, authors like James Howard Kunstler, Jeremy Rifkin,  and numerous scholars agree that we may need to rethink our systems and our approaches and reassess much of our infrastructure and planning as we look ahead. Vancouver has been recognized as one of the more progressive and community focused cities in North America but even we may see some major physical transformations should these challenges come to a headwaters in the next 50 years. Though I do write with the focus of BOB in mind, I’m also a geographer, so I’m inspired to look at these issues very much from the perspective of a geographer.

In the case of Vancouver our physical geography and some astute urban planning has already helped to create a clean density that we’re celebrated and noted for now, and if we continue to go dense out of necessity or desire we will likely need to maximize urban spaces. Enter the deconstruction industry and the restoration economy.

A great little video on about a social enterprise in Bristol UK was sent to me from Brian here at Building Opportunities with Business (who got it from Toby Barazzuol at Eclipse Awards). The Bristol Recycling Project collects donations of unused lumber, and either finds a way to put it back into the market or reconstitutes them into products like shelving and furniture. This is a service that has developed in relationship with the deconstruction industry and the restoration economy. The restoration economy is an idea put forth by author Storm Cunningham in a 2002 book entitled (you guessed it) The Restoration Economy. Along with William McDonough’s book Cradle to Cradle, it was considered a landmark environmental book at the beginning of this decade. In short, or rather to summarize but a brief aspect of it, think of it like this. Instead of blowing up a building into a million fragments and trucking them off to the landfill, we can slowly deconstruct it and utilize as much of the materials as possible in other developments. It’s like my father-in-law (an incredibly accomplished engineer who has worked on numerous high profile projects around the world) always says, “The most sustainable building is the one already built”. Well, the logic of the restorative economy says the next best thing may be recycling all those materials as best as possible into a new format. Plus it creates jobs and stimulates the economy.

Reclaimed wood has been utilized by social enterprises and businesses in BC and specifically in the inner-city Tradeworks Training Society uses reclaimed wood for many of their products. But much of this reclaimed wood is from Pine Beetle infested lumber considered below market standard due to its blueish tint. Conversely, much of the wood used by the Bristol Wood Recycling Project comes from buildings that have been recently deconstructed or found lumber, and as other cities around the world begin to rethink their urban design many structures may need to come down in order for more efficient designs to go up. Buildings will also need improvements, retrofits and other maintenance, like our beautiful heritage buildings here in Vancouver. There’s little doubt that a large market potential for the restorative industry exists in Vancouver. As recent improvements along the Hastings Corridor (a result of the Great Beginnings and Hastings Renaissance Program) attest, we Vancouverites value the historical architecture of the inner-city. Many of these old buildings need a little love and elbow grease as time does take its toll, but they shine up real good.

But where is Vancouver’s inner-city in regards to a similar project like the one in Bristol? Well, it has been discussed, and there are still people in the community who believe a similar deconstruction social enterprise might be successful here. We do have a proud history as an enterprising lumber town after all.

Is it a matter of timing though?

As construction of high density buildings becomes more expensive, eating into the bottom line of those projects, and as space becomes less available in our city perhaps reclaimed materials from deconstruction will present an affordable and accessible option for developers? And that in turn may likely create more demand for deconstruction and restorative work, more space to develop, and perhaps contribute to more affordable housing prices? Someone would probably have to write a thesis as opposed to a blog post to really answer some of those questions. But this is a place for ideas and conversation after all.

It’s some food for thought as we look to the future of this city and our inner-city’s urban design. By looking at the Bristol Wood Recycling Project and other similar enterprises we can perhaps better imagine the choices that may present themselves to us down the road.



Remember Sustainability 2.0

Saul Brown does. He also knew that some of the footage we recorded made it on to YouTube.  I hope someday more of the footage makes it online in some form.  Strathcona BIA is working on their next conference which they’ve dubbed Sustainability 2.010! I’m less involved this time personally, but with Will Allen coming to Vancouver and Majora Carter having already been here twice.  Resilient Cities: Vancouver, greening the inner-city, Green Capital, GCAT, Vancouver is definitely one of the North American leaders in sustainability, social purchasing, urban agriculture, urban architecture.  You know good stuff.

Olympic Village greenest neighbourhood in the world

The US Green Building Council has awarded Millennium Water AKA the Vancouver Athlete’s Village AKA the place where the Aussies hung their big green flag as a certified LEED Platinum Neighbourhood Development.  Our Mayor is rightfully proud of this accomplishment.

As part of the Olympics Inclusivity Goals as well as ongoing efforts to revitalize Vancouver’s historic inner-city, a Community Benefits Agreement was struck between the developer, the City, and Building Opportunities with Business.  The outcome of which resulted in 102 inner-city residents being trained and employed in construction, along with over 40 million in procurement from inner-city businesses.

Sewage to Heat

Vancouver has opened what is supposedly the first neighborhood sewage to heat treatment facility inside a city centre in North America.  This was part of the Millennium Water/Olympic Athlete’s Village development.  It also fits in with Vancouver’s quest to become the Greenest City in the World.

Millennium Village is not in Vancouver’s historic inner-city but False Creek, which is nearby, has slowly been turned from industrial land into mixed residential neighborhood, the Olympic Village was intended to have social housing and be an example of a new-style green planned community, similar to Dockside Green in Victoria.

Building Opportunities with Business, in addition to working on greening the inner-city, helped train inner-city residents to work on the site as part of the CBA that was negotiated between the City and the Developer.  Another CBA is potentially in the works for the build-out of the rest of False Creek which would provide benefits to Vancouver’s inner-city.

Vancouver’s Inner-city gains another green roof

Vancouver’s green inner-city cluster member Radha Yoga and Eatery has completed the installation of their green roof and are inviting the public to come down and check it out. The Project in Place Society is hosting their first ever green-roof raising Sept. 11 at 728 Main St.

They are encouraging people interested in learning more about green roofs or the industry and regulations surrounding them to come on down. See you there.

Hastings Block Party


Today was the start of the construction of an earth block shed for the Hastings Street community garden.  This is a proof of concept for earth block construction.  The manufacturing of the earth blocks is taking place from 9 to 5 on Hastings Street just West of Main.


The mixture Carol and her team are using is 10% cement, 40% clay, 25% gravel, and 25% sand.  Getting the water content just right is a bit more difficult.  Once the mixture is the correct consistency it is poured into a mold and stamped by hand.


Come on down tomorrow and learn how to make earth blocks and help build a garden shed for the Hastings Street Community Garden.  They have have everything you need including healthy snacks provided by Building Opportunities with Business.


« Older entries