Ecocity Insights

Ecocities Emerging in Vancouver: Transforming Oakridge Shopping Mall into an Ecocity Fractal

Written by Jennie Moore

An ecocity fractal is a place where all the elements of an ecocity come together in a small area (between two and seven city blocks). It provides a post card, snapshot of a place designed for access by proximity where people can live, work and play without relying on automated transportation.

To achieve this requires taking advantage of three-dimensional land use planning. Subterranean spaces are matched to activities that do not require daylight, e.g., movie theaters, storage. At grade is reserved for daily life without motor vehicles and roof-tops provide full solar access for generating power, growing plants, or leisure activities for “fun in the sun” such as swimming, hiking, or just relaxing on a park bench or at a café. Buildings are designed to take full-advantage of passive solar and natural daylight. Streams and natural areas are protected to provide nature at the door step.

Oakridge human mobility

In most cities, land economics dissuade developers from investing in this type of development project. However, in some cities, this is starting to change. Suburban style shopping malls surrounded by a sea of parking provide lucrative opportunities to transform the vast expanse of parking into multi-unit residential housing. Co-location with rapid transit provides incentive for commercial and/or institutional development as well.

One such example is the transformation of Vancouver’s Oakridge Shopping Mall into what may be one of the best examples of an emerging ecocity fractal in the city. This 29 acres site will include a 10 acre park, 85% of which will be built above grade. Although it will still provide sub-surface parking, at grade and above is a 100% pedestrian-oriented environment providing a mix of housing, commercial and institutional space including 2,600 residential units planned to accommodate up to 6,000 people. There will be a total of 4.5 million square feet of built area encompassing residential, retail, work, recreation, and civic space (Retail Insider, 2018).

What impresses me most about this project is its use of design to create archology structures of mixed work and living spaces, with integrated park and retail. Thinking holistically about providing opportunities for people to live, work and play in a compact space eliminates the need for motor-vehicles. The project is set to achieve a 90% walking, cycling, and transit mode split – freeing this part of the city from automobile dependence.

Oakridge archology

A critical analysis will quickly identify that not all the elements of an ecocity are fully integrated in Oakridge shopping mall’s transformation. For example, the project blatantly caters to the wealthy elite in the City. Although there will be civic spaces, including a public library, a program for developing access to safe and affordable housing and development of an equitable economy are lacking. Nevertheless, the project lays a foundation for a physical built environment that strongly aligns with ecocity design principles and for this it deserves recognition. I am hopeful that the seeds of this new project will, overtime, continue to evolve towards full evolution of an ecocity fractal in Vancouver.


Patterson, Craig. 2018. Oakridge Centre Retail Transformation to Anchor Vancouver’s ‘City of the Future,’ Retail Insider, April 3, 2018. Available online: (Accessed December 22, 2019).


About the author

Jennie Moore

Dr. Jennie Moore is Director, Institute Sustainability at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Dr. Moore has extensive experience in the realm of ecological sustainability and urban systems including climate change and energy management, green buildings and eco-industrial networking. Prior to joining BCIT she worked for over a decade at Metro Vancouver as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Her research explores the potential for Vancouver to achieve one-planet living. Jennie is a senior associate of the One Earth Initiative and a core advisor to the International Ecocity Framework and Standards.


  • Great project, hope it will succeed in the way planned!
    I have just one little question on the definition of the ecocity fractal: Why is it between 2 and 7 city blocks and not up to 9 city blocks? Barcelona has developed the great ideas of superblocks where most car traffic is banned and replaced by liveable space on an area of 3 x 3 = 9 city blocks. Wouldn’t this fit under an ecocity fractal?