Life Begins in the 'Hood

September 29, 2000

By Michael Jessen

If a developer can win an award for integrating his own home into an existing neighbourhood, you know he's doing something right. Harold Kalke is that kind of developer and he has an impressive list of award-winning real estate projects in neighbourhoods from Kitsilano to Chinatown to Ladner.

Built six years ago, Kalke's 3,100-sq. ft. home in the Dundarave section of West Vancouver won a heritage award after one year. A combination of sustainable design and timeless architecture, the home is heated and cooled by water pumped under its lawn and built with materials recycled from deconstructed buildings.

"It's so well integrated into the microneighbourhood that people stand at the gate and argue about when it was built," Kalke told an audience of 60 people last week. "That's about fit -- fitting in."

"The microneighbourhood is the cell group, the foundation of everything humanity has achieved in its time on Earth," Kalke said. "It's the last battleground."

"We need to recognize that vibrant neighbourhoods consist of a range of people, of different ages, with different interests, activities, and incomes," says Kalke. "We need to pull our growth together -- to densify from within -- instead of expanding out." He cites single family developments targeted specifically at first-time homebuyers as problems in the making. "In 15 years, such a development will not meet the needs of teenagers, which leads to both family and community conflicts," he says.

Kalke was in Nelson to speak at the first of four lectures in the Nelson and the Kootenays Designing Community Project cosponsored by Selkirk College and the Nelson and District Community Resources Society. "It's all about fit" was the title of Kalke's talk, but it's also the heart of his development credo.

A combination of developer, philosopher, environmentalist, and ethicist, Kalke believes every one of his projects must meet three objectives: materially and positively affect the occupants' lives; make a positive contribution to the neighbourhood; and show the development industry that "there is a better way."

Kalke is the founder of Kalico Developments and several other business ventures in both Canada and the United States. He has a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering from the University of Alberta and an MBA from the University of Western Ontario. He has served as the chair of West Vancouver's Advisory Planning Commission and is the former chair of the University of BC Board of Governors. Kalke is also a member and director of the Urbanarium Development Society, a non-profit organization devoted to increasing understanding of urban planning and development issues.

His most famous structure is the Capers Building in Kitsilano -- another Vancouver neighbourhood -- where Kalke built a four and five story building comprised of 75,000 square feet of commercial space plus 78 condominium residences. It was the first complex in Western Canada to use the earth's geothermal energy to heat and cool the office and retail space as well as provide all of the hot water in the condos. Kalke praises geothermal for its energy efficiency. "As a society in general, we should start to take stock of the energy we are using."

Known simply by its address "2211 West Fourth", the project has been recognized as a direct demonstration of conservation and civic responsibility and Kalke was awarded VanCity's Ethics in Action Award for his efforts. Other environmentally friendly features of the building include ample natural light, openable windows, and a double exterior wall system that achieves outstanding thermal, acoustic, and moisture performance. Carpets made of recycled plastic bottles were installed.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, buyers will pay substantial premiums to be part of a development with identified green features. Kalke handpicked the major tenants for the Capers Building including a bookstore, a deluxe natural food store, and a garden supply store. As a result, 100 percent of retail space and 85 percent of office space were leased prior to completion and contracts were signed for 85 percent of residential space. Kalke's 12.3 percent return on investment was one-third higher than that of conventional retail/office projects in his market. Kalke attributes these premiums to positioning the project as green, coupled with quality construction, and integration of the project into the community.

Among Kalke's other award-winning projects are a duplex project on the Dundarave waterfront, a heritage project in Vancouver's Chinatown, and Canoe Pass Village -- a floating home project in Ladner.

Kalke believes communities need to have a purpose, direction, and mission for growth with principles to guide development 200 years into the future. "When it comes to building we don't think that far ahead, but we need to move in the same direction in terms of our urbanity."

He said there is a "pent up demand for a sense of neighbourhood, a sense of place" and warned that many people will be moving to Kootenay communities. Kalke's advice is to tell developers to integrate their use into your reality. If developers try to blackmail city councils with threats of moving elsewhere, Kalke urges "You've got the key, don't let them in."

"Nelson is a spectacular place in a spectacular setting," Kalke told his audience. "Nelson is being watched closer than you think. The future of Nelson is in your hands."

The developer believes the Real Canadian Wholesale Club store planned for Lakeside Drive in Nelson will have a "huge negative impact." Kalke said such stores have their place but he's against big box stores in a city of only 10,000 people. "A stand alone with a parking lot is nonsense."

He dismissed Chahko-Mika Mall as "mall design 23" and said locating the new Regional District of Central Kootenay building on Lakeside Drive was "odd behaviour." He said RDCK employees would not be able to go out for a bowl of soup and pickup their laundry during lunch hour because of the building's isolated location.

He cautioned Nelson to think carefully about waterfront development. "The interface between water and land is precious and you need to respect it."

Stating that left/right and winner/loser approaches have "no place in the built form," Kalke suggests those on opposite sides of a development issue go to lunch together, find things they have in common and build on them to reach consensus.

Good advice whether you're fighting a big box store in Nelson or development at Rossland's Red Mountain. Kootenay residents should first develop 200-year principles for the direction of their neighbourhoods and communities. Then they should insist on developers with the social and environmental conscience of Harold Kalke.

ONE SMALL STEP - If you have a computer and you are concerned about climate change, two new interactive web sites will both inform you about what you can do and even fax a letter of concern to Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Premier Ujjal Dosanjh. The Pembina Institute's EcoAction site is at and the David Suzuki Foundation's Stop Climate Change site is at

RESOURCES - More information about the Capers Building can be found on the web at and An excerpt from the book "Green Development: Integrating Ecology and Real Estate" is at The book, based on 80 case studies from the Rocky Mountain Institute's extensive worldwide research and consulting work, can be ordered on that web site. An article about the benefits of green buildings is on the Institute of Real Estate Management web site at

Michael Jessen is the owner of toenail environmental services, a consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses and communities profit from environmental leadership. He can be reached by e-mail at His firm's award-winning web site is at

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