01/14/2014 06:16 EST | Updated 03/16/2014 05:59 EDT

Wesbrook Village Builds Community Around Landscape

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It's rare for a community's landscape to be built before any of its homes or buildings are in place. But that's exactly how Wesbrook Village on the University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus got its remarkable start.

Bounded by the old-growth forest that makes up Pacific Spirit Regional Park, Wesbrook Village has many distinctive qualities, like a vast amount of parks, green spaces and water features.

The Wesbrook we see today is the result of years of collaboration between many creative minds, from UBC Properties Trust board members to UBC Campus Planning, input from consulting experts, university administrators, and members of the public. Today, each of those people can point to the features of Wesbrook's green space as their idea.

Building the landscape first is an unusual method of building a community, but the board members of UBC Properties Trust knew from the beginning it would be the best way to show potential residents their ultimate vision for the neighbourhood.

Every second street in the community is a "green street," a car-free walkway that makes it easy for residents to explore and get around without a vehicle. These green streets combine to form of a network of walkways, connecting the village's many parks and playgrounds with the grocery store, coffee shops, pharmacy and other amenities. Also importantly, it helps foster community participation and partnership.

On the green streets, the homes face directly onto the walkway, creating pleasant vistas and a social space where neighbours can choose to strike up a conversation with each other while they move through the village.

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The parks of Wesbrook Village are designed to be flexible spaces. At Nobel Park, residents have access to a softball diamond as well as community gardens, where they can grow their own produce and flowers. Each park also has a play area for children to explore and make friends. Benches and seating are also incorporated into each park, allowing residents to enjoy the community's scenery and tranquility.

Another unique quality of Wesbrook is the abundance of water. Water features line each of the green streets, carrying rainwater from a pond located in a community park. Rather than having rain taken away via underground pipes, residents of Wesbrook wanted to see the water move and be part of their community design.

Another advantage of designing the green space before the buildings is that it gives the trees and plants a chance to grow and become established. By the time residents move in, the landscape around them is mature and complements the adjacent forest and retained trees.

While it was a revolutionary concept to build the green infrastructure of Wesbrook before the residences themselves, the success of the neighbourhood today makes one wonder why this method isn't used in community building more often. As Wesbrook's population continues to grow, so will its trees and plants in which the community is rooted.