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Calgary’s University District, of which a rendering of townhouses is seen, hopes to be the third and largest residential development in Canada to be LEED-ND-certified when it is completed.

The master plan for Calgary’s new University District community has been awarded the highest certification achievable by the Canada Green Building Council.

Upon completion, University District hopes to be the third and largest residential development in Canada with a Platinum Certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighbourhood Development (LEED-ND).

It’s a certification that signifies the highest level of sustainability excellence across a wide range of metrics including energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and recycling as well as community health, connectivity and walkability.

“We’re pleased to have achieved this level of recognition,” West Campus Development Trust president and chief executive James Robertson says, “but we didn’t set out to do it. Our priority was to create a community plan, which was mindfully made, engaging experts in best practice along the way. We realized that LEED-ND aligned with our values and we wanted an external review of that plan so we reached out to Canada Green Building Council.”

A rendering of townhouses in Calgary's University District, which will break ground later this year.

The 200-acre community west of the University of Calgary breaks ground later this year with building partners Brookfield Residential and Truman Homes offering presales for townhouses and apartments this fall.

It’s the culmination of four years of planning that has taken Mr. Robertson and his team to review other examples of university districts across Canada and North America.

“We’ve travelled extensively looking at university districts in B.C., Boston and Philadelphia. We wanted to look at the uniqueness of winter cities in particular because we’re building a four-season community here in Calgary.”

According to Thomas Mueller, CEO of the Canada Green Building Council, achieving Platinum status as a greenfield development is tough.

“There are more points available for urban redevelopment sites to achieve a platinum score than for greenfield sites. A lot of the credits are aimed at managing urban sprawl and reducing leapfrogging, that sort of thing, so to score this highly as a new, inner-city community is impressive.”

The development hopes to be the third and largest residential development in Canada to be LEED-ND-certified when it is completed.

University District will also be five times the size of Vancouver’s Olympic Village and Victoria’s Dockside Green, Canada’s other Platinum-certified residential developments.

Mr. Mueller says the aim of the LEED-ND certification “goes way beyond being green; it’s ultimately about cultivating healthier living spaces using a multifaceted approach.”

“Having density isn’t enough any more,” he explains. “Being walkable isn’t enough. This is about being those things plus building communities which are water and energy efficient, have extensive and effective recycling opportunities, have exemplary schools that are healthy learning environments, park spaces for urban escape, a small environmental footprint. The list is extensive and it’s all of these things together that make a difference.”

The benefits of making a difference, Mr. Mueller believes, will extend to residents of communities such as University District for generations to come.

“Thirty-five per cent of greenhouse gasses in Canada come from buildings, rates of obesity aren’t just linked to food but also to mobility, urban sprawl comes at a cost to society through taxpayer dollars. This isn’t just a paper achievement, it’s an achievement that creates impact on lives.”

The development is the culmination of four years of planning, which was based reviews of other examples of university districts in Canada.

University District will also create a long-term impact for U of C and the City of Calgary through it’s unique trust fund revenue and investment model.

The land on which the community will be built is endowment land gifted to U of C from the province. It is managed on behalf of the university by an independent, self-funded trust, the West Campus Development Trust, which is the first of its kind in Alberta.

“Trusts present great opportunities for universities with endowment lands and they’ve proven successful across Canada since UBC established theirs 25 years ago,” Mr. Robertson says. “It’s a creative and leading-edge way of thinking. I believe universities need to explore ways to be sustainable.”

When the community becomes profitable, revenue will be invested by the university into teaching and research.

“The endowment lands are a valuable asset and one which we’ll work hard to maximize to create long-term impact that furthers the mandate of the university,” says Elizabeth Cannon, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary. “We hope to see revenue by 2020.”

Dr. Cannon says other university districts she’s visited, such as around Simon Fraser University and UBC, “have an impressive synergy between the community and the research facility.”

The land on which the community will be built is endowment land gifted to University of Calgary from the province.

She believes the advantages of building a vibrant community beside the University of Calgary will be mutually beneficial to both the institution and the residents who chose to live nearby.

“I see more options for students, more opportunity to attract and retain talent and more options for retiring staff to continue to contribute to our establishment on a community level.”

Mr. Robertson agrees – the benefits of the relationship between community and university are great.

“Calgary University is the largest employment centre outside of downtown; we’re building a village for those people. The proximity of a large public facility with arts, culture, speaker series, recreation centre and evening classes presents an exciting opportunity for future residents.”

“Acknowledgement of the environmental and community impact of our plan is wonderful, as is reinvesting revenue from the development into the university,” he continues, “but ultimately we’re striving for a community that people want to live in and everything else is a bonus.”