table of contents
The Headwaters Project
a sustainable community in Surrey, BC

An Integrated Approach to Design

Importance as a Model

Next Steps

Project Partners



Located 30 km south of Vancouver, Surrey is one of Canada's fastest growing municipalities. As a member of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, Surrey is dedicated to planning for and managing its growth effectively through the four broad strategies outlined in the Region's "Livable Region Strategic Plan":

* protecting the green zone (a long-term boundary for urban growth intended to protect the region's natural assets such as parks and watersheds)
* building complete, sustainable communities
* achieving a compact metropolitan region
* increasing transportation choices

With this approach to managed growth and development in mind, in January 1999, Surrey's Department of Planning and Development entered into a partnership agreement with UBC's James Taylor Chair, the Pacific Resources Centre, and a multi-constituent advisory committee involving various levels of government to create the Headwaters Project. The Headwaters Project is a real-life demonstration of sustainable development principles and performance standards in a community neighbourhood environment. The Project is co-administered by the James Taylor Chair, whose role is information management and project facilitation.

Sustainable Planning Principles
The first phase of the Headwaters Project is the East Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan. The Neighbourhood Concept Plan is unique in that it is guided by and applies 7 sustainable planning principles:

1. Increase density and conserve energy by designing compact walkable neighbourhoods. This will encourage pedestrian activities where basic services (e.g., schools, parks, transit, shops, etc.) are within a five- to six-minute walk of homes.

2. Provide different dwelling types (a mix of housing types, including a broad range of densities from single-family homes to apartment buildings) in the same neighbourhood and even on the same street.

3. Communities are designed for people; therefore, all dwellings should present a friendly face to the street in order to promote social interaction.

4. Ensure that car storage and services are handled at the rear of dwellings.

5. Provide an interconnected street network, in a grid or modified grid pattern, to ensure a variety of itineraries and to disperse traffic congestion; and provide public transit to connect East Clayton with the surrounding region.

6. Provide narrow streets shaded by rows of trees in order to save costs and to provide a greener, friendlier environment.

7. Preserve the natural environment and promote natural drainage systems (in which storm water is held on the surface and permitted to seep naturally into the ground).

These principles are the philosophical basis for the East Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan, and form the guiding precepts for the community development.

East Clayton is a Unique Neighbourhood
Once implemented, the Headwaters Project and the East Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan will represent the first time sustainability principles have been used in British Columbia as the basis for developing a new suburban community.

East Clayton will be a place where:

* houses are affordable
* transit is accessible
* commercial services are readily available, and
* natural systems are preserved and enhanced

The Neighbourhood Concept Plan will demonstrate more sustainable community development standards "on the ground" in a real community. It will also provide a blueprint for the development of other sustainable communities. The James Taylor Chair is recording the Project's evolution. At the completion of the project, a guide will exist to help other municipalities more easily develop sustainable communities.

The Site
The East Clayton area includes 250 hectares of land in northeast Surrey and will eventually provide homes for over 13,000 people. Situated upland of the region's Agricultural Land Reserve, the site also drains into three of the area's most significant water bodies (the Serpentine, the Nicomekle, and the Fraser Rivers).



Once the decision was taken to develop a sustainable community in East Clayton, the partners turned their attention to designing it. In most cases, community development can be described as a 'disintegrated' process, occurring step by step, with approval, completion or sign-off of one step required before the next can begin. A preexisting set of plans that has been applied in other developments is often, though not always, used. Each design specialist - representatives of the municipality, the developer, architect, engineers, planners, inspectors, contractors, landscape architects, hydrologists and suppliers - takes a crack at the plans and then passes the drawings on to the next specialist. Eventually, all the recommendations are integrated, though sometimes this means merely stapling them together. The ultimate purchasers are rarely, if ever, consulted or directly involved in the community development process. Their input is often limited to design details once they've agreed to purchase, such as opting for 3 large bedrooms upstairs rather than 4 small ones, or selecting the colour of carpets. Because most participants work pretty much in isolation on their own area of familiarity or expertise, there is little opportunity to design for efficiency. Instead, the lack of integrated planning during the design and development process can result in inefficiencies that not only end up costing the homeowner more (for example, in the form of higher energy or water bills), but also degrade the environment. East Clayton - Integrated Planning in Action The integrated process of a design charrette was the key to the successful creation of the East Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan.

A charrette is a time-intensive, multi-disciplinary, teamwork-oriented roundtable. In a charrette, everyone who has a stake in a particular building or community (we should give some examples - architect, municipal planner, engineers, contractor) gets together to design it together. This ensures that key synergies between design elements are captured and that those elements work together to yield significant energy and resource savings at the lowest possible cost.

Using this philosophy, the appropriate private, city and regional institutions, facilitated by design professionals, generated the East Clayton Land Use Plan during a four day design charrette held in the spring of 1999. The individuals at the charrette design table were either vested with sufficient authority to negotiate new standards "on the fly," or they were delegated to represent larger constituencies (such as local landowners). The charrette structure guaranteed that the local landowners' interests were represented, and it enabled a group of local individuals to appreciate how the underlying principles and features of the East Clayton plan came together to form a highly mixed-use and sustainable community. Carefully developed and strictly enforced guidelines helped to facilitate the charrette process.

These simple yet effective guidelines offered insight, inspiration, and a level playing field to all those involved in the process. They are:

1. Build capacity for integration through shared awareness and determination to act jointly.

2. Involve early on (preferably at the beginning) those people, agencies, and organizations that can influence plan policy and development standards (including their implementation).

3. Share information equally.

4. Share resources across mandates for mutual gain.

5. Build confidence in the process, in plan policies, and in alternative development standards. 6. Ensure the direct involvement of municipal staff.

7. Gain access to the necessary technical expertise.

8. Deal with issues efficiently.

Design professionals served to facilitate, not lead, the charrette event itself. This point is key, as the Headwaters Project was envisioned as a replicable model capable of overcoming the institutional barriers associated with more sustainable communities. It was recognized that, in order for this to occur, those individuals typically vested with the authority to guide development must be provided with new ways to break the suburban development deadlock. Thus these same individuals led the charrette while designers acted as facilitators capable of manifesting their ideas in form.



More than anything else, the East Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan is a "green infrastructure" plan. East Clayton will be North America's most significant example of an integrated system of green streets and affordable sites. Parks, playgrounds, and natural areas are essential and seamlessly integrated components of the Plan. In the East Clayton plan nature and city are one, and salmon habitat literally begins at everyone's front door. East Clayton has narrow streets; roadways throughout the site use one-third less blacktop than do status quo suburban sites. Storm water will be managed to enable natural infiltration to occur, thereby minimizing runoff and avoiding 80-100% of detrimental downstream consequences. Yard and street infiltration devices will eliminate nearly all downstream consequences of development.

What is unique about this project is that no other initiative anywhere has shown how a combination of efficiencies can decrease site infrastructure costs while also reducing dependence on the automobile. The East Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan benefits both the environment and the people who will live within it. The mixed-use plan means that people can live, work, and play in the same community throughout their lives if they choose to. Units will cost 20 - 30% less than a standard home in the same area, and secondary suites will provide a mortgage aid for homeowners while providing good housing for lower income families. Jobs will be located close to homes, and home-based work opportunities will be provided in the region's first live/work area located outside of the centre city. Finally, a "Rapid Bus" will connect all residents to major employment, shopping, and cultural centers to the east and west.


People may have a car but won't have to use it.
Reduction in vehicle miles traveled per person per day: 40 %+
Reduction in per capita production of greenhouse gas per capita attributable to auto use: 40%*

Parents can send their child to the store for a Popsicle without fear.
Average walking time to the nearest store: 4 minutes
Arterial streets crossed to get there: 0

Parks are a part of each neighbourhood.
Average walking time to the nearest public park or green space: 2 minutes
Arterial streets crossed to get there: 0

Nature is invited back into the community.
Average walking distance to natural or constructed stream or wetland: 3 minutes

You can find a job.
Number of jobs available within the community: 1 per dwelling unit

You can afford to raise a family.
Average reduction in single-family home costs compared to conventional subdivisions: 20 - 40%
Probable reduction in number of cars per household over other new neighbourhoods: East Clayton: 1.2 - other new neighbourhoods: 1.8

Water and the salmon streams are respected and protected.
Reduction in impact on streams when compared to conventional subdivisions: 90-100 %.

You can take the bus.
Maximum wait for bus service to SkyTrain or Langley City from Fraser Highway: 7.5 minutes

East Clayton will be the region's first sustainable neighbourhood: its houses will be affordable; its transit will be accessible; commercial services and jobs will be available; and, most important, its natural systems will be preserved and enhanced.

From a regional perspective,


1. There would be 40 % fewer cars on the road.

2. Our region's contribution to global warming from the transportation sector would be cut by 40%.

3. Our streams would run clean.

4. The salmon would be protected.

5. The expected doubling of our population could be accommodated without destroying our environment.

6. Public expenditure per resident for maintenance and replacement of infrastructure would be cut in half.

7. Average wage earners could own their own homes and gardens.



The benefits of sustainable community design, described above, seem dramatic indeed and raise an obvious questions: If it's this good, why hasn't it been done before now? The answer is that changing the intricate, entrenched system of regulations and policies that govern local land-use planning and design is always difficult. Comprehensive, sustainable improvement is more difficult still.

A number of challenges still remain in implementing the East Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan.

Our next steps include:
1) to develop detailed design and engineering standards for the first development site in the community;
2) to demonstrate "green" building and energy systems technologies on this site;
3) to develop a marketing and communications program for attracting new homebuyers to this new type of community;
4) to develop an education and monitoring program to assess the short and long term benefits of the alternative drainage systems (on stream health, on consumer satisfaction, etc.); and
5) to develop a site design manual for sustainable communities that will serve as a tool for other communities, agencies, developers, etc. to develop more economically efficient, environmentally sustainable, and complete communities, like East Clayton.


The East Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan is generously supported by:

City of Surrey
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
Affordability and Choices Today Program (Federation of Canadian Muncipalities)
Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Environment Canada (Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative)
Greater Vancouver Regional District
Ministry of Agriculture
BC Investment Agriculture Foundation
Ministry of Municipal Affairs
Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia

The Project is interested in exploring partnerships with organizations that promote sustainable communities and any of the 7 guiding principles. If you would like more information about the East Clayton sustainable community, or about becoming a sponsor of this project, please contact:

Patrick Condon
James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments
Landscape Architecture Program
Faculty of Agricultural Sciences
University of British Columbia
2357 Main Mall Vancouver, BC
V6T 1Z4
Tel: (604) 822-9291

The James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments

This Endowed chair was formed by University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1994 in direct response to the 1987 United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, which concluded that the solutions to many global environmental problems are to be found at the local level and, particularly, at the individual site-development level. Operated through the Landscape Architecture Program at UBC, the chair is dedicated to advancing both the scholarship and practice of sustainable design. The chair's primary goal is to illustrate what our neighbourhoods and communities could look like if they were designed and built in conformance with emerging local, provincial, and federal policies regarding sustainable development.

+ Data sauce for this and all other projections: "Tool for Evaluating Neighbourhood Sustainability", CMHC/SCHL in partnership with Natural Resources Canada.
*The transportation sector accounts for 41% of greenhouse gas emission in the Lower Mainland (source: Environmental Trends in BC, BC Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks, 2000).

Illustration #1
East Clayton:
Local Context



Satellite Photo: East Clayton 2003













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