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Vancouver houses a greater percentage of its citizens in condominiums than any other North American city. That’s why the looming condo crisis will resonate so widely here. Many multi-unit buildings constructed during the first condo-building wave, in the 1960s and ’70s, are at the end of their useful lives, and as Frances Bula reminds us in “The Tipping Point” (page 58), death usually brings with it conflicting desires and expectations. As roofs and elevators and water systems fail, huge special assessments are being levied. Some owners can afford them; some can’t. Messy fights over whether to retrofit old buildings or sell out to developers are ending up in court.
Perhaps a solution can be found in a full-term approach to the disposition of faltering buildings. Just as the makers of microwaves and refrigerators are being made to take responsibility for the ultimate disposal of those products, developers could be asked to contribute end-of-life planning to their projects. Condo owners could avoid legal stalemates through legislation compelling the sale of a building if, say, a simple majority of unitholders so desires.
Or perhaps the solution could be more deep-rooted. David Macfarlane profiles John Robinson, the driving force behind the new CIRS (Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability) building on the UBC campus. It may be the greenest structure on the planet, but its real genius lies in the way it was conceived. Stakeholders and contractors were engaged from the start. Architects, mechanical engineers, heating experts, landscape architects, lighting designers—all met and interacted and contributed ideas before the building was even conceptualized. The result: not only does the CIRS building do no harm to the environment, it actually makes a positive contribution. The end of its life, many decades from now, has been factored into its living equation. It represents not only a model of sustainability, but a way of thinking about the urban fabric that developers and planners might do well to emulate. This will always be condo city, and the Vancouver of tomorrow will be mainly a function of the farsighted intelligence we bring to bear today.