Programs

Renewable Cities focuses on minimizing costs and maximizing benefits to solve complex problems. Our systems-thinking perspective is vital for tackling our most urgent priorities locally, nationally and globally: affordability, congestion, prosperity, ecological integrity, resilience and climate change. 

Renewable Cities has become a respected advisor sought out to inform governments, locally, provincially and nationally on important policy agendas focused on three program areas: 

  • Prefabricated, Mass Timber Construction 
  • Smart Growth, Smart City
  • Integrated Housing Solutions 

OUR PROGRAM DELIVERY TEAM

Alex Boston

Executive Director, All Program Areas

a_boston@sfu.ca

Brad Doff

Project Manager, Pre-fabricated Mass Timber Construction

brad_doff@sfu.ca

Black and white headshot of Peter Whitelaw with a transit landscape in the background, wearing a blue button-up dress shirt with glasses.

Peter Whitelaw

Project Manager, Smart Growth, Smart Cities

whitelaw@sfu.ca

Leanne Sawatzky headshot wearing a black blazer, brown hair, and blue patterned shirt

Leanne Sawatzky

Project Manager, Integrated Housing

leanne_sawatzky@sfu.ca

PRE-FABRICATED MASS TIMBER CONSTRUCTION

Goal: Foster the growth of a strong, prefabricated building manufacturing industry that supports sustainable jobs in resource-based communities with value-added engineered wood for tall construction and delivers net zero, low embodied carbon buildings in our cities.

BACKGROUND

Shifting construction onto assembly lines is the most sure-fire approach to deliver net zero, low-embodied carbon new buildings. Engineered wood is strategically important because its structural characteristics are a low-embodied carbon option to GHG-intensive concrete in tall buildings.  There is a big palette of low-embodied carbon construction materials such as recycled plastic cladding, insulation from straw or perennial crops, cement-like composites bound by wood polymers.   

Cement will not disappear. No superior material currently exists for some applications like foundations. The cement industry is also innovating with diverse, new mixes that are dramatically cutting embodied carbon.  

To defensibly advance low-embodied carbon construction, it is important to strengthen the resilience of building construction to reduce demolition rates, establish new construction and strong end of life policies to support a circular economy, and develop strong methodologies that distinguish between the embodied carbon of second versus old growth forests. 

Prefabricated building manufacturing with a mass timber cornerstone is an immense industrial development opportunity for British Columbia and Canada, offering stable jobs in big cities and resource-based communities and getting more value for dollar from a forestry sector with diminishing fibre quantity and quality due to over harvesting and fire and insect infestation exacerbated by climate change. Given resource constraints and escalating climate risks, it will be critical for the industry’s resilience to strengthen forestry policies and practices and maximize value industry-wide from the  

Prefabricated, building manufacturing is less labour intensive than traditional, in-situ construction supporting the transition to an economy with an aging demographic and a shrinking workforce.  

As with any new, disruptive change, there are barriers to widespread adoption including provincial, national and local government policies, knowledge and confidence in industry and across diverse professions from building officials, engineers, architects and planners, as well as the challenge of providing a predictable pipeline of projects to provide the confidence to industries and investors to capitalize high tech, manufacturing plants. Renewable Cities is focussing current efforts on advancing solutions to local barriers. 

Key Renewable Cities Activities 

  • Advance solutions to local government barriers, focussing on land use policies and permitting processes that inadvertently add time and cost to this novel construction approach
  • Engage with diverse professions, industries and governments involved in advancing high performance, prefabricated, mass timber construction in cities to advance solutions to the diverse barriers

SMART GROWTH, SMART CITIES

SUMMARY

Goal: Establish sustainable urban land use as a central climate action strategy with local and senior governments to deliver on GHG reduction targets, reduce vulnerability to climate impacts and solve related urgent problems.

Urban growth patterns are one of Canada’s top drivers of permanent forest loss, following oil and gas development, releasing terrestrial carbon and increasing vulnerability to flooding and extreme heat events. Urban growth patterns are the primary driver of agricultural land loss, undermining domestic and global food security in the face of growing food production disruptions driven by climate change.   

While many cities – big and small – are focusing growth in some nodes, the overwhelming majority of residential neighbourhoods are losing population density due to demographic change, driven by surging growth in one and two person households. The explosion of one person households, notably in large homes, is putting upwards pressure on housing carbon and downwards pressure on affordability innovations in single family homes.  

There is immense, untapped potential for managing transportation, building and forest carbon with better land use that also delivers on other urgent social, economic and environmental priorities and delivers far superior taxpayer value for dollar.  The IPCC underscored the important contribution of land use to emission reduction: 

“Effective urban planning can reduce GHG emissions from urban transport between 20% and 50%”

Sustainable land use is amongst the lowest cost climate action strategy wedge. As the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Global Commission on Climate and Economy have concluded, sustainable land use is often a negative cost. Sustainable land use can increase ridership and revenue on transit systems, extend the life of bridges and highways, reduce civic infrastructure deficits created by sprawl, and dramatically reduce the cost of delivering fibre optics, energy distribution and EV charging infrastructure. 

Renewable Cities Activities 

  • Provide analysis and guidance to local and senior governments on land use policies that advance both climate change mitigation and reduce vulnerability to climate impacts 
  • Inform local governments and transit authorities on sustainable land use strategies that address transportation carbon, congestion and infrastructure value for taxpayer dollar, vulnerability to climate impacts, and farm and forest flux 
  • Guide senior governments to strengthen transit infrastructure financing, improve infrastructure value for taxpayer dollar, advance affordable low-carbon housing policy, and strengthen the overall policy context for local governments on sustainable land use
  • Conduct multi-criteria analysis and modelling of diverse policies including land use policies to understand the diverse implications for carbon, affordability, congestion, civic infrastructure costs, household costs, infrastructure value for taxpayer dollar 

INTEGRATED HOUSING SOLUTIONS

SUMMARY

Goal: Bridge the chasm between climate action and affordability with solutions that cost effectively take advantage of immense underutilized assets across our communities.

There are hundreds of thousands of new, near-zero carbon housing units at near-zero cost across Canada. On a long-term basis, these housing options can generate revenue for important public services like transit authorities and young homeowners struggling to finance mortgages and house-rich, cash-poor seniors. These solutions transform under-utilized assets that are often social and economic and environmental liabilities into opportunities.

Renewable Cities’ efforts are focused in two general areas:

  1. Gentle Intensification: Surging growth in one- and two-person single family homes and neighbourhoods––our fastest growing households across our most extensive urban geography––creates an opportunity to advance diverse housing options: secondary suites, additions, laneway homes and home sharing. Depending on the location, neighbourhood and community, at least one and as many as a half dozen additional units are appropriately permitted. These solutions can cut transportation carbon, congestion and costs when close to jobs, services and transit. With programmatic support by social service providers or social entrepreneurs facilitating homesharing or managing secondary suites on behalf of seniors, rent can be discounted in exchange for basic chores––some yard work, cooking or shopping. These innovations have potential to address both affordability and social isolation, strongly driven by surging growth in one person households.
  2. Mobility Hubs: Across Canada, there are thousands of transit exchanges, stations and depots surrounded by surface parking lots or single storey buildings. Most are located proximate to jobs and services where they can be stacked with three to six or twelve or more storeys of net zero housing and complementary commercial and public uses from restaurants, offices and daycares, delivering real value for taxpayers on critical public priorities: affordable rental housing or home ownership, ridership and rental revenue for transit authorities, congestion and transportation carbon management and neighbourhood vitality. With concerted public-private sector collaboration, a decade-long commitment transforming these under-utilized assets into high-value mobility hubs also has potential to catalyze a large, prefabricated construction industry in Canada to deliver net zero, low embodied carbon buildings for domestic and international markets.

In Assessment Report Six, released in 2022, the IPCC concluded up to 30% of global annual GHGs from end use sectors can be avoided by 2050 relative to policies put in place by 2020 through:

“Changes in the built environment, new and repurposed infrastructures and service provision through compact cities, co-location of jobs and housing, more efficient use of floor space and energy in buildings, and reallocation of street space for active mobility.”

Renewable Cities’ is driving a high-value wedge into this opportunity with its Innovative Housing Solutions Program.

These win-win-win solutions confront many barriers: social and institutional norms, financial policies, zoning, and silos within and across organizations. Renewable Cities is helping hurdle these barriers through engagement, critical analysis and transformative policy solutions.

Renewable Cities Activities

  • Undertaking critical analysis of land use, housing, demographic, social and economic trends and diverse social, economic and policy barriers, collaboratively exploring diverse policy and program solutions and quantifying their impact
  • Engaging with local and senior governments, social service providers and social entrepreneurs, diverse professionals and industries to better understand barriers, trends and solutions

NEWS & EVENTS