UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

City stories : from narrative to practice in Vancouver's Olympic Village Westerhoff, Lisa Michelle


Calls for a more thoughtful and wholehearted inclusion of the humanities and social sciences in defining and answering questions of sustainability have highlighted the importance of integrating a more comprehensive range of values, knowledges and perspectives into our efforts to transition towards sustainable societies. Far from an abstract gesture, such a shift has practical implications for the way sustainability policies and projects are conceived and carried out, including the design and assessment of urban sustainable neighbourhoods. In this dissertation, I show that the study of narrative offers a potent means of untangling the underlying assumptions and meanings embedded within decisions and characterizations of sustainability and sustainable neighbourhoods, which I explore in the context of Vancouver’s Olympic Village. I tell the story of this unique urban development from the perspectives of the many voices that have created it, from its first planners to its present beneficiaries. By combining narrative with insights and methods from social practice theories, I show how the sustainable intentions of the Olympic Village have challenged and intersected with the lived narratives of its residents and managers, two key constituencies in the neighbourhood’s unfolding. I investigate the neighbourhood as an intervention both structural and symbolic to reveal the normative (i.e. discursive) and performative (i.e. material) dimensions of the neighbourhood’s particular narrative of sustainability, and the way these have intervened into residents’ and managers’ practices, perceptions and identities. I conclude that while broad metanarratives of sustainability in both policy and media have played strong roles in shaping the lives of the neighbourhood’s residents and managers, the neighbourhood continues to evolve as its constituents perform new practices in the landscape. I show the important intersection between social and ecological goals, highlighting the need to consider and support liveability in the pursuit of sustainability. Finally, I show that while the neighbourhood has been instrumental in pushing sustainability efforts forward, it also missed key opportunities to address the expectations and experiences of its future inhabitants.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada