Pushing the Limits of Sustainable Urbanism at the Olympic Village

Olympic Village

Post by Sandra Caballero, MURP candidate ’15

One of our Vancouver highlights was a trip to the Olympic Village to tour the Neighborhood Energy Utility System. Before I jump into NEUS, I’ll give a little context on its location and Olympic Village. The Village is an ultra green mixed-use residential development built for the 2010 Olympic Games. It holds the title of the first LEED Neighborhood Platinum certification and stands as a model for sustainable neighborhood development.

NEUS is the first energy system that uses recovered heat from wastewater and raw sewage to provide heat and hot water to all the Olympic Village buildings. Throughout the meeting, I spent most of my time perplexed and trying to understand how such technology could even bepossible. Is sewage really hot enough to power all the buildings around me?! Eventually, I gave up on trying to understand the technicalities of the system and focused on the community design and its integration within Olympic Village.

Key Take Aways:

  1. The System is Community Based:

As is the case in most cities, no city is 100% self sufficient in energy generation. Though there are worldwide efforts to transition out of fossil fuels and into renewables, that transition has been slow and expensive. What’s striking about NEUS’ model is it attempts to present a new type of solution, break up the city into smaller energy parcels and focus on self-generation within those smaller communities. Perhaps the solution to energy concerns really does lie at the community level.

  1. Smart Design and Location:

Based on my experience in Los Angeles, energy utility districts tend to be unattractive, imposing eyesores within the city or on the outskirts of it. NEUS design was quite different and brilliant! It still lies on the edge of the Olympic Village but it’s actually quite an attractive place. Two-thirds of the facility lies below ground and the other one-third lies above ground but is tucked under Cambie Bridge. The facility is surrounded by a community garden and is adjacent to an adorable park.

  1. Integrated with the Community:

Alongside the facility stand 4 big colorful towers that change colors according to the energy use of the Olympic Village residents. Beyond being an interesting art piece, they’re an active indicator of energy demand. Its unclear how much effect they have on residents, nevertheless its an interesting concept especially considering that we’re never really lauded or shunned individuals based on energy use.

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