March 19, 2021

Sustainability Block


A Sustainability Block is a showcase for innovative approaches to energy efficient and smart growth development. It provides an opportunity for a local government to experiment with innovative infrastructure, sustainable design and energy efficiency initiatives at the block scale.

Ideally, a Sustainability Block would act as a catalyst for further sustainable development within the community.

A Sustainability Block can contribute to a climate action strategy by incorporating Community Energy Planning projects, such as District Energy, Renewable Energy/Electricity, alternative fuel supply and Building Energy Efficiency. as well as smart growth concepts such as pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, parking management, a transportation hub and greenspace. Sustainability blocks reduce GHG emissions primarily through a reduction in vehicle kilometres travelled and an increase in building efficiency.

Through collaboration among local government, the developer and other stakeholders, the process builds practical green development know-how, which can be applied to future projects.

The Keys to a Better Block

When pursuing the development of a Sustainability Block, consider the following:

  • Strategic location:
  • Brownfield sites
  • Areas pre-zoned for high densities
  • “Gateway” or high-visibility locations
  • Areas targeted for redevelopment
  • A developer willing to explore concepts supporting a sustainability block
  • Skills and knowledge that would be easily transferable to other projects in the community

Sustainability Features

Each Sustainability Block will vary depending on the community context and the types of opportunities available. However, key sustainability features that any Sustainability Block should consider include:

  • Higher density development, which supports transit and commercial land use.
  • Mixed-use development, making it easier for people to walk and cycle to work, school, and shops.
  • A connected and permeable street network, such as a grid, which improves travel efficiency, is more adaptive to different land uses and building forms.
  • A walkable, quality public realm, with streets that are safe, comfortable and visually interesting.
  • Alternative Transportation/Transportation Demand Management, which improves travel mode choice.
  • High-performance buildings, to reduce levels of GHG and air emissions, energy, water and materials consumption, and liquid and solid waste generation.
  • A district energy system, to improve a block’s energy self-sufficiency and efficiency. These systems can often use renewable energy sources such as geo-thermal, biomass, solar, or wind.
  • Integrated Stormwater Management, in which rainwater run-off can be used for irrigation, and cleaned by means of natural filtration before discharge.


Still at the concept stage, the Squamish Sustainability Block is intended to showcase innovative design for streetscapes, landscapes, and technologies. Some of the features planned for the Squamish Sustainability Block include district energy, renewable energy and electricity, building energy efficiency, a transportation hub and innovative parking management. The project is intended to be a model for development in downtown Squamish and will contribute to revitalization of the town centre. For more information, see Squamish Sustainability Block PPT presentation to District of Squamish, 2008.

Located on West 4th Avenue, in Vancouver, the Capers Block is a redevelopment of a former auto dealership on an urban high street. The development is medium density (2.5 FSR) and mixes retail, commercial and residential uses. Building energy efficiency features include filtered water systems, garbage recycling programs, and a double-wall rain screen for durability & noise reduction. Geothermal energy is used for heating & cooling in all units. For more information, see Capers Block.

Located in the West End of downtown Vancouver, Mole Hill is a comprehensive example of a sustainability block. Through the redevelopment and restoration of 27 heritage homes, density was increased without substantially altering the character of the neighbourhood. Units are heated by a district energy system using geothermal energy and heat exchange pumps. Other sustainability features include non-market housing (about 50%, or 170 units), a mid-block green link, community gardens, and four dedicated car share parking spaces.


  • Land use and Transportation