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.



Green Inner-city Cluster Kickoff Event

Join the Greening the Inner-city team for the kickoff event for BOB’s Green Inner-city Cluster.  Learn from local green business leaders such as Toby Barazzuol of Eclipse Awards and Louise Schwarz of the Recycling Alternative on how being green can be a competitive advantage for your organization.  Topics covered will include:

  • Marketing Sustainability
  • Greening Your Organization
  • Green Buildings and Green Roofs
  • Recycling and Waste Reduction
  • Collaborating to increase efficiency
  • Urban Agriculture

There will be presentations but also peer learning opportunities where attendees can share what has worked most successfully at their own organization.  We are pleased to have Councilor Andrea Reimer giving the opening address.  She is a leader in BC’s environmental movement and a member of the Mayor’s Greenest City Action Team.

Time: June 10th 10:00-2:00

Location: Japanese Language School, 487 Alexander Street

Cost: Free (includes lunch, coffee, etc.)



Time Craft Room 3rd Floor w/ Projector Tatami Room 5th Floor
10:00 -10:15 Welcome Address – Andrea Reimer – roof top patio weather permitting
10:15-10:30 TBA
10:30 – 11:30 How can being sustainable give you a competitive advantage? How to market your sustainability practices for maximum benefit?Marketing Green with Toby Barazzuol, Saul Good, and Andrew “Muskie” McKay What we are doing now that is green in our organization?Sharing and learning about greening an organization with Kristina Welch and Maureen Cureton
11:30 – 12:00 What current policies are in place in Vancouver to promote the green economy? What changes is the Greenest City Action Team considering to make Vancouver the Greenest City in the World?Green Policy with Kristina Welch and Kira Gerwing How can you reduce and recycle inputs to your products and services? How can we take control of the complete full circle product lifecycle?Wasted – The Shift from Recycling to Zero Waste with Louise Schwarz and Seann Dory
12:00 – 12:30 Lunch
12:30 – 1:00 How can you grow your own food? How can the inner-city increase its food security and create green jobs? Urban Agriculture with Kristina Welch and Chris Hild What is a green building? Where can I see green architechtural design locally? How can green buildings benefit my organization and the inner-city community?Green Buildings, Green Roofs, and Energy Efficiency with Toby Barazzuol, Morgan McDonald, and Doug Horn
1:00 – 1:30 How can you play a part in creating green jobs in our community and greening the inner-city?Brainstorming Sessions led by Shirley Chan, Andrew “Muskie” McKay and TBA
1:30 – 2:00 Closing Address – Toby Barazzuol and TBD

Toby, the cluster, and Strathcona BIA’s efforts were recently profiled in the Vancouver Courier.  Please join us on June 10th if you want to work towards greening your organization or greening the inner-city.

Attendees at the recent Sustainability 2.0 Expo

Attendees at the recent Sustainability 2.0 Expo

Entrepreneurs Changing the World

That is the theme of this very well done viral video which came to my attention courtesy of Ed Sim.  The Greening the Inner-city Team is working with a number of entrepreneurs such as Toby of Eclipse Awards and Louise of Recycling Alternative to try and make a difference in the DTES.  Building Opportunities with Business is actively seeking out individuals who run businesses that have a positive social impact on the inner-city.  So watch this video, maybe even check out and if you’re interested, help us green the inner-city.

This is a great example on how a small firm can utilize Web 2.0 technologies to generate positive word of mouth and build their brand.