Did I mention that I’m a planning geek?  I may have hinted at this in my first post, when I mentioned a special trip to Vesterbro in Copenhagen, just because of its eco-friendly, pro-social justice reputation.  It’s not the first time when eco-friendly features have drawn me to a community- and it won’t be the last.  Be forewarned – this posting is a bit longer than some of my others.

Eco-friendliness is, of course highly subjective.  Even when people create objective criteria, technology and politics often prompt others to question or adjust them.  In this post, I use the term broadly, to describe purposefully-designed developments reflecting the highest local standards at the time.

While most of us think of as eco-friendly design as a good thing, getting to that point is far from easy in the face of entrenched practice, standards, and liability issues.  Professor Yvonne Rydin of the University College of London has written extensively about some of the process-based challenges and intricacies in getting there.  For extra planning geek credit, check out some of her research here.

In light of these implementation challenges, individual eco-friendly districts and the people behind them (developers and bureaucrats) deserve a lot of credit.  And they can also be truly interesting and inspiring places to visit.  Here are three worth including in your itinerary if your travels take you nearby (not including Vesterbro, which is also great):

1. London’s Beddington Zero (BedZed)


Why it’s eco-friendly:

  • Built in 2002, it was the United Kingdom (UK)’s first effort at comprehensive, carbon-neutral community planning. The development sought to eliminate fossil fuel needs on-site.
  • Key features included energy savings through materials that soak in heat during summer and release heat to buildings in winter, combined with passive solar design so people benefit more from natural heat and light and a limited number of solar panels.
  • Heating for the complex comes from its own small-scale heat and power plant. Not all the initial hopes for these plants were realized (technical glitches), but the system was still quite efficient because of the district-wide approach to heating and cooling.
  • Sewage treatment happens through a reed-water bio-filtration system, and the end product is used as graywater for irrigation or toilet flushing.
  • Built on reclaimed land owned by the local government, and sold to a charity at below market prices. The charity, in turn, ensured that half of the homes went to low income families.

How buildings are heated and cooled efficiently:


Why you should visit:

While the site is in the exurbs (outer suburbs) of London, it is on a rail line with good service, and the journey there lets you see more of London’s less built-up, less touristy areas.  The buildings and larger complex are unique in a quirky way.  If you time things right, you can also take a guided tour by accessing the website  here.  I was thrilled to tour six years ago (they ran tours more often then).  It was a marvel to see something result from a lot of wonderful goals.  I enjoyed the scenery (natural and urban) to and from the complex.

Other fun facts:

One of the more interesting and challenging aspects of the development was its desire to use reclaimed materials whenever possible, including reclaimed steel.  People were initially skeptical about the potential for reclaimed steel to work effectively on this project; but in the end 90% of all steel was reclaimed and passed critical construction standards.  For more detail, visit this case study here.

2. Stockholm’s Hammarby Sjöstad

Linked to an unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympics in Stockholm, the Hammarby Sjostad neighbourhood was planned in 2004 to redevelop a former industrial site on the edge of town, in response to significant growth and pressing housing needs.  While the entire area was master-planned at once, it was actually built by many separate organizations, requiring much more coordination than under the BedZed model.


Why it’s eco-friendly:

  • It was designed to cut heating costs in half and make more efficient use of electricity, in part through integrated infrastructure planning (challenging to do in a historic city like Stockholm). Renewable energy also helped with these goals.
  • As in BedZed and Dockside Green, a district-wide heating and cooling system is achieving major energy savings.
  • Heat energy from sewage collected from apartment units is part of this heating system.
  • Other sewage byproducts were either converted to biogas for further heating and transit use, or else composted and applied to timber forests.
  • It has a super-advanced waste collection and sorting utility (think vacuum-based pipes).
  • The site is also well-linked to the rest of the city, through transit, cycling paths, and a direct ferry to the downtown core.

Why you should visit:

  • Taking an urban ferry (one of the ways you might access the district) gives you a wonderful chance to see the city from new angles
  • Attractive, thoughtful urban and landscape design mean that the site will be pleasant for walking around.
  • As with the other two districts, it’s always wonderful to be inspired by new approaches to making communities livable.

3. Victoria’s Dockside Green

My home town of Victoria has also planned and (partially) built its own eco-friendly district, on a redeveloped industrial site in the midst of a struggling, but still existent inner city ship-building and repair precinct.  It’s an attractively designed community, and a great example of vision by the city as well as the more senior provincial government, and the private developer who started the project.  It is also an easy (20-minute) walk or cycle from downtown, so within reach for the average tourist, linked into a much longer trail system.  Confession- my dog and I love walking here together, although off-leash is not an option.

Dockside green_corrected

Why it’s eco-friendly:

  • High efficiency energy use planning for a district heating system, including a biomass heating and energy plant (although the latter has had mixed actual results, as also in BedZed).
  • Bio-filtration approach to sewage treatment, whose effluent is then re-used for toilets, irrigation, and in ornamental ponds on the site.
  • High efficiency and water-saving
  • Highly walkable and accessible to the downtown core
  • Focus on encouraging local businesses.


Photo of inner harbout walkway en route to Dockside Green

Why you should visit:

  • Great chance to walk along the waterfront and see shipbuilding activities still happening close to the downtown, while avoiding some of the seedier aspects of older industrial precincts.
  • Wonderful bakery café (Fol Epi) is en route, with attractive outdoor seating that’s sheltered from the wind and pretty comfortable eight months of the year.
  • Small privately operated ferries will also connect you between this district and other tourist destinations like Fisherman’s Wharf, giving you a chance to see Victoria’s beautiful Inner Harbour from another angle.

As you’ll note from these examples, there are many interesting aspects to these developments, which point the way forward for each of the cities accommodating them.  The connections between these areas and the broader city fabric through transit linkages is also important – and something makes them very pleasant for tourists.