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Where's the wood lobby for Edmonton's massive redevelopment plan?
By Tony Kryzanowski
The City of Edmonton recently awarded a $4-million contract to Vancouver-based architectural firm Perkins and Will to develop a master plan for a community of 30,000 on what is currently the city’s 217-hectares of City Centre Airport lands, in view of downtown. This is the perfect opportunity to take construction of multi-residential buildings with wood and wood hybrid designs to the next level.
The question is, why aren’t the promoters of green building presenting their ideas about this project? Where is the Alberta Forest Products Association? Must B.C. and Quebec always take the lead when it comes to building with wood?
Let’s cut to the chase—it’s time for the Canadian forest industry, various levels of government, FPInnovations, and promoters of green building to put their money where their mouth is regarding the promotion of building with wood as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to building with concrete and steel.
For several decades, industry and government have invested millions to demonstrate that building with wood is more environmentally sustainable and a greener alternative. It is even supporting a Chair at the University of Calgary dedicated to leading research that is developing the tools and enhancing the scientific argument that there are environmental advantages to building with wood. It’s time to take the plunge. For once, it appears that all the stars are indeed aligned to potentially create a massive demonstration project showcasing the value of building with wood in both multi-residential and non-residential applications.
A few years ago, I attended a conference aimed at discussing use of wood and wood byproducts in greener building applications and bio-products. One comment in particular struck me concerning the bad international reputation Canada has received for creating all sorts of bravado and dedicating bags of money into research related to all sorts of cutting edge technology— but invariably losing interest and cutting funding two or three years down the road, resulting in nothing more than reports shelved and left to gather dust.
I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen with the federally-supported Transformative Technologies Program (TTP) as it relates to the forest industry, and that there are enough industry champions prepared to lobby for this important research to be taken to the next level. The Edmonton City Centre Airport lands re-development project represents just such an opportunity.
After snubbing the city in its bid for Expo 2017 because it might open the flood gates for additional requests for funding elsewhere, this is the perfect ‘make up’ gift the federal Conservative government could provide to the city. They could help support a massive ‘building with wood’ demonstration project financially, while demonstrating the potential of proven green building technology on a massive scale as a model to the rest of the world. Want to sell China and India on building multi-storey residential buildings from wood? Show them an actual community right here in Canada. No one could beat that sales presentation, and this could mark a significant game-changer for the entire Canadian forest industry.
And the Alberta government should also be tapped for a massive financial infusion into this project. Goodness knows that the province could use some positive press about its support for the environment, and what better way than to also support the province’s forestry sector.
Using the advanced knowledge that FPInnovations has acquired as part of its Transformative Technologies Program (TTP), which has evolved into a number of one-off commercial ‘demonstration’ projects, the Edmonton City Centre re-development project could represent the next logical step—a massive demonstration project on a community scale.
And here’s the bonus. The development sits right next to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and its carpentry and building construction program. This redevelopment could serve as an unparalleled classroom for developing the technical know-how within the building construction industry of how multi-storey residential buildings can be built as high as ten stories in some instances, entirely from wood or wood hybrid construction involving some steel or concrete components.
Designers Perkins and Will have proposed a residential development featuring townhouses, condos and plenty of offices, but no single-family housing. Perfect! The two existing runways will serve as two main streets. It is also proposing a massive man-made hill to block wind and noise from unsightly train yards to the north, a huge park with a man-made lake, mini farms, heated sidewalks, and geo-heating. If geo-heating is actually being seriously considered for this development, building with wood and its proven track record as a much greener environmental alternative should be a no-brainer.
Perkins and Will is holding public consultations over the next year to finalize its plans for consideration by Edmonton City Council. City councillors are directly involved in the redevelopment planning through committee. Construction is expected to begin in 2014, with residents starting to move in within four to five years.
The choice of a Vancouver firm to create the master plan is particularly fortuitous for the forest industry. No doubt they are familiar with recent building code changes that have been made in British Columbia, which now permit all-wood, multi-residential construction up to six stories.
I hope that this column serves as a wake-up call for all stakeholders interested in advancing the green building agenda in Canada to the next level. Edmonton is also eager to be known for a lot more than its West Edmonton Mall.
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