The Future is Now

Feature from Lifestyle Magazine (September-October Issue)
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste

The 21st-century movement to a greener, smarter and healthier environment is one that’s being embraced by community developers.

“The entire construction industry is trying to go more green,” says Rick Gooyers, vice-president of new homes with London’s Sifton Properties. “Everyone is going to be focused on doing it better, doing it tighter, reducing their carbon footprint, reducing energy requirements.”

The federal government, through Natural Resources Canada, is promoting the movement to net zero homes and buildings, meaning the energy consumed is equal to renewable energy generated, through measures such as solar technology. Its ‘Path to Net Zero’ project is part of a four-year study to develop a framework and methodology for construction recommendations aimed at gradually improving energy efficiency in homes toward net-zero.

Sifton Properties is not only embracing that commitment but taking it to a higher level with its new community, West 5. Homes and businesses in this development will be built on a smart grid, generating all needed electricity and then some.

“West 5 is going to be a sustainability leader in Canada,” says company president Richard Sifton. “We’re going beyond just building a community; we’re shaping the future of how communities are made.”

Sifton calls the development a “revolutionary new experiential lifestyle destination” for London, a multi-faceted place where people can live, shop, play and even work.

The 70-acre mixed-use community will comprise retail and office spaces as well as some 2,000 residences, encompassing condominiums, townhomes, apartments and retirement residences. It will also offer a wealth of green space, parks, playgrounds and a network of walking and biking trails.

Buildings will be powered by solar energy, which Sifton maintains is widely acknowledged as the future of alternative energy. It’s unlimited, reliable, non-polluting and an important tool in curbing the negative effects on climate that result from the use of fossil fuels, he says. There will even be solar streetlights and parkades, where solar canopies will shade cars and generate power for electric vehicle charging. Other energy-efficient technologies include green roofs, rainwater harvesting for irrigation and flushing toilets, and high-performance road surfaces that help melt snow and ice, reducing salt use.

Sifton’s new head office, currently under construction as the first building in West 5, will feature a host of cutting-edge technologies, Gooyers says. Dynamic window glass will automatically tint and adjust to sunlight, reducing heat and glare. Occupancy sensors will keep heat low and lighting off in rooms that are not occupied but automatically turn lights on and the heat up when people enter. And, heat will be taken from one side of the building that is too hot, and supply it to the other side, which is too cold.

“It’s all new technology and we’re really excited about using it,” Gooyers says.

But, there’s more than technology to creating a healthy community. Richard Sifton is enthusiastic about the lifestyle and experiences that West 5 will offer. A walkable community of connected neighbourhoods, it’s designed to promote physical activity, something he maintains will improve overall health and quality of life.

“Studies show that community design, and the availability of open spaces, strongly influences how much activity people do on a daily basis. So, at West 5, we’re making it easy to get your heart pumping. A system of trails will lead to the centre of the community, where you can walk and get a bite to eat or watch a performance. Whether you’re walking into the centre square, along a spacious trail that winds through the community, or enjoying a game of soccer with your family in one of the parks, there will always be something to keep you moving.”

A pedestrian network will connect the streets and lanes and there will be dedicated cycling lanes. Social interaction is also incorporated into the West 5 design.

“There will be specialty retailers, seating areas outside storefronts for relaxing or people watching, and lively public spaces with various activities,” says Sifton.

The Central Park will be a hub, buzzing with activity ­— farmer’s markets, food festivals, music in the park and holiday events such as a Christmas tree lighting. “We’re talking arts, music, food and culturally-themed festivals that will have everyone eagerly anticipating every year,” he says.

With a century of building in London under its belt, Sifton believes his company is taking the next step into the future.

“My hope is that West 5 will provide a model for other builders across the country to follow — and help kick start a new wave of eco-conscious development and living.”