Hidden Climate Costs of Booming Highlands in British Columbia, Part Two

Opinion: One study showed that a neighborhood of high-rises would create 142 percent more carbon emissions than a low-rise area similar to Paris with the same population.

Article content

While politicians claim to be reducing the daily pollutants caused by rising glass and steel, this is not the end of climate concern.

Ad 2

Article content

Research reveals that rises come with higher “embodied” costs, which refer to the amount of greenhouse gases they emit over their lifetime. This starts with the construction process.

It is often overlooked during environmental assessments. But when the heights’ massive concrete foundations are taken into account, their contribution to global warming is skyrocketing.

“Corporate ’embodied’ emissions have been described as the ‘blind spot’ of the construction industry,” says Vancouver sustainability expert Paul Morris. “We need to consider the embodied emissions from extraction, transportation, manufacturing and construction. Concrete is the worst material for embodied emissions.”

In a groundbreaking study, Francesco Pomponi of Edinburgh Napier University has produced original ecological models that support the construction of cities in which more people live close to each other – but mostly in buildings 10 stories and under.

Advertising 3

Article content

Given the high-carbon materials needed to construct tall buildings, the Pomponi team concluded that a neighborhood of high-rise towers would create 142 percent more carbon emissions than a low-rise area similar to Paris with the same population.

A neighborhood of high-rises would create 142 percent more carbon emissions than a low-rise, Paris-like area — pictured here — with the same population.
A neighborhood of high-rises would create 142 percent more carbon emissions than a low-rise, Paris-like area — pictured here — with the same population. Jack Demarthon’s photo /AFP/Getty Images

“Our findings show that high-density and low-rise cities, such as Paris, are more environmentally friendly than high-density and high-rise cities, such as New York,” says Pomponi, lead author of the 2021 study in NPJ Urban Sustainability.

In other words, Pomponi found that over a building’s expected 60-year life, dense, low-rise apartments produce 365 tons of CO2 per person less than the skyscraper alternative.

One of the reasons for this, Pomponi said, is “to build so tall, you need heavier structures and stronger foundations.”

Advertising 4

Article content

While Pomponi realizes that higher buildings can accommodate more people than lower buildings on the same footprint, this does not take into account “You cannot put two tall buildings near two lower buildings… for many good reasons such as privacy, ventilation and daylight, you must The tall buildings are far from each other.”

Although more low-rise buildings may be needed to match the population capacity of skyscrapers, Pomponi says, although additional land may be required, lower heights still produce fewer carbon emissions than taller buildings. He intends to conduct further studies on how the high and low debate relates to transportation emissions.

Meanwhile, Pomponi’s work is echoed in a study of 650 buildings led by engineering professors Martin Roque from Austria and Marcella Saade from the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. They found that so-called “energy-efficient” apartment buildings emit up to 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions during their lifetime. Much of that is due to “high carbon” from construction. The authors wrote, in 2019, “Profound changes are needed in the production and use of buildings.”

Advertising 5

Article content

Mayor Burnaby Mike Hurley and Shawn Bander, director of Green Buildings for the City of Vancouver, have acknowledged the dangers of “embodied” greenhouse gas emissions from building concrete, steel and glass towers.

“However, there are wide variations from better to worse,” said Bander, who, along with Hurley, confirmed how their boards have recently committed to further reducing these emissions, including through the use of “eco-concrete mixes.”

On May 17, Bander said, Vancouver’s board voted to get developers to cut embodied emissions. “The recommended requirements will come into effect by 2025 and put Vancouver on a path to achieving” a 40 percent reduction by 2030, he said.

Advertising 6

Article content

Gareth Sirotnick regrets that Vancouver Council members no longer expect developers to make significant contributions to community life, the streets or green spaces.
Gareth Sirotnick regrets that Vancouver Council members no longer expect developers to make significant contributions to community life, the streets or green spaces. Photography by Francis Georgian /beng

For her part, Chancellor Colin Hardwick said that while other council members often talk about “green concrete”, her understanding is that it “reduces emissions by only 15 percent”.

Hardwicke said studies showing strong emissions from altitudes are completely reliable. “It makes me wonder why the council has never been offered anything but a tangible, advanced solution in the first place for our housing and affordability needs.”

There is another concern – a third method of environmental impact assessment of highlands, which focuses on their effects on society and the environment.

“Green congestion.” “Intensity without amenities.” These were two terms environmental ethicist Wendy Sarkissian used in her study to describe the arguments of those resisting former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan’s campaign to use the heights to create EcoDensity.

Advertising 7

Article content

Sullivan has often been accused of “green” developers campaigning for more heights, which are more profitable.

Sarkissian’s concerns are echoed in a recent book by Khair Al-Kadmani of the University of Chicago. In a chapter titled “Unsustainable Tall Building Developments,” the urban design professor joins planning experts like Jane Jacobs and Jan Gilles in critiquing towers.

Kodmany writes that low-rise neighborhoods “emphasize the value of the human scale and provide an abundant opportunity for healthy social interaction.” “So, in any metropolitan area, no matter how dense it is, keep buildings four stories high or less.”

Kodmany also found that tall buildings stacked together create an “urban heat island effect… dark roofs that absorb heat from the sun, lack of green space, and wasted heat and vehicles leading to warming.”

Ad 8

Article content

Then there are wind tunnels. “Tall buildings have a negative impact on the microclimate due to the flow of winds and turbulence around their bases, causing discomfort to pedestrians.”

Birds suffer too. “Bird and glass collision is an unfortunate side effect of the developments of tall buildings around the world,” says Kodmany. Billions of birds die every year from crashing into glass towers.

Shows flyers for the Broadway plan of the city of Vancouver.
Shows flyers for the Broadway plan of the city of Vancouver. jpg

To enable people to connect and combat heat islands, sustainability specialist at SFU Alex Boston is among those who would like to see more green space included in the Broadway plan.

Gareth Sirotnick, who lives in the apartment block of the first new high-rise building approved for the Broadway lane, apparently regrets that councilors can no longer expect developers to make significant contributions to community life, street landscapes or green spaces.

Advertising 9

Article content

“I live on the 14th floor of an 18-story condo at the top of the Burrard-Granville Slopes that I bought 30 years ago. To get six stories above the 12-story guideline, my building developer signed off on nearly 30 percent of the property. as a permanent public park, which we maintain,” says Sirotnik.

“Gone are the days of these amenities. The city just approved a 39-story building a block away with virtually no public amenities other than a grocery store.”

Even in the face of strong environmental concerns, some who argue the necessity of heights object that those striving for density via shorter buildings seem to want to turn every city into a version of central Paris, with blocks of repetitive six-story apartment buildings.

Advertising 10

Article content

However, Pomponi says cities do not need to get monotonously low. “Not every building should be the same as the next, with a very fixed and definite height. It is more about having an upper bound, unless you have a really good reason, not to go over it.”

[email protected]


More news, less ads: Our in-depth journalism is made possible by the support of our subscribers. For just $3.50 per week, you can get unlimited ad access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post, and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | boycott.

Ad 1

comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining an active and civil forum for discussion and encouraging all readers to share their opinions on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour to be moderated before they appear on the Site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We’ve enabled email notifications – you’ll now receive an email if you receive a response to your comment, if there’s an update to a comment thread you’re following or if it’s a user you’re following. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

%d bloggers like this: