Bamberton » Overview


The Bamberton project proposal marked a significant turning point for the developer, the participating team members, local government, area residents and the practice of sustainability itself. Started in 1988, Bamberton was arguably the first major proposal that sought to bring all the elements of sustainability together into one, cohesive plan. At the project’s inception, little was known about this relatively new principle; sustainable development — what exactly it was and what it entailed when applied in accordance with the recently established definition.

Bamberton was proposed during a period of rapid growth — Victoria, British Columbia during the late 1980s and early 1990s. New developments were planned based on what was known at the time — essentially the suburban sprawl model. Density was a word that much of the public translated directly to ‘excessive profit’ and reacted accordingly. The Victoria region was already well known for its resistance to change and a proposal the size and scope of Bamberton became a lightning rod for both anti-growth and healthy-growth advocates.

While there was a growing sense of discontent with life in suburbia anywhere, no understanding of the underlying reasons for it had reached the general public. This growing discontent, this sense of something not being quite right with current patterns of growth, generated a lot of interest in Bamberton. There was significant cynicism around the Bamberton proposal, much of which was allayed by information.

During the planning, everyone associated with Bamberton — whether directly or indirectly, supportive or opposed — developed a deeper understanding of what sustainability meant in both theory and practice. There were almost daily news stories, and, in the absence of the internet, there were newspaper placements designed to invite the general public to join the team on this journey to do things a new way … a better way.

Providing the foundation for what was to unfold at Bamberton was David Butterfield’s history (see complete biographical information) starting from his living-off-the-land days as a young man in Lund, British Columbia to his formation of a real estate company in Victoria British Columbia where he developed relationships with trade union pension fund administrators and played a significant role in the creation of social housing within the growing city. David’s guiding mantra for Bamberton was to create North America’s most livable community and one which made a giant step towards a sustainable future.

Butterfield acted as the development manager of the Bamberton project on behalf of four Canadian pension funds.


One of the most significant events that laid the groundwork for sustainable development was the release, in 1987, of the World Commission on Environment and Developments (WCED) now well-know and often-cited report entitled “Our Common Future.” The commission cited non-sustainable patterns of consumption and production, primarily in the northern hemisphere, and called for a strategy that united development and the environment and created a definition for sustainable development that still guides this discipline today.

The commission was chaired by Norwegian Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland and the report is often referred to as “The Brundtland Report.”

To offer some additional context of what was going on in the world during the planning for Bamberton, consider this background on the emerging technologies of the day:

  • The internet had been born although was still not in general use. There was not even consideration given to securing The internet was barely out of the technology canal and there were very few local users; it was primarily a vehicle for those immersed in computer technology. The development company office had only one computer in the beginning — it cost $50,000 and ran a basic accounting program.
  • Cellular telephones were still a novelty. Only a few members of the Bamberton team had these early, large, cumbersome models.
  • Fax machines had only just begun to appear in offices. This now nearly out-moded technology was, at that time, a novelty. Our own organization resisted purchasing one for some time as we didn’t know anyone else who had one.

Project Overview

At the center of Bamberton is a derelict and abandoned cement works set on the western shore of the Saanich Inlet, located 32 kilometers north of Victoria, British Columbia. It is presently zoned for forestry and heavy industrial use.

Bamberton was planned with the extensive participation (300+ hours of meetings over four years) of surrounding residents and environmental groups to become a community which emphasized human-scale architecture and embodied the traditional values associated with small town life, ecological sustainability, and a positive vision of the future. The planning followed a process laid out by Christopher Alexander in his ground-breaking book entitled “A Pattern Language.” At the core of this book is the idea that people should design for themselves their own houses, streets and communities based on simple design patterns, which had evolved over centuries. The planning involved area citizens and representative groups, business organizations, environmental practitioners and activists who met for over 300 hours to design this new town. The culmination of this planning effort is laid out in a document entitled “Bamberton: Issues & Principles.” This document laid out 95 separate issues and generated 300 design principles which guided the architectural planning process.

It was through this extensive process that the Bamberton team gained insight into the social and environmental problems associated with automobile dominated development patterns and committed to having Bamberton stand for a new way of planning, building and living. This commitment was articulated in the Bamberton Code (included at the end of this document). The plan was later to be known as “New Urbanism” but at the time, the phrase was uncoined.

The New Urbanist plan and layout would have transformed the 1,560 acre site into a vibrant community that would be in dramatic contrast to conventional suburban developments.

Project Details

The entrance to the Bamberton properties are located 32km north of Victoria, B.C. off Highway #1. The lands comprised a total of 2,200 acres broken into three connected parcels. The primary focus of the planning efforts were on the waterfront lands that were home to an abandoned cement plant and uplands that had seen significant and destructive logging practices over numerous decades prior to the pension fund purchase of the property.

Over a 20-year period, the project was intended to become home to approximately 12,000 people. In addition to the town center, which was located on the waterfront, three distinct neighborhoods focused around their own village centers and greens.

This design ensured easy access to services and amenities without the use of an automobile. Narrow, winding streets controlled vehicle speed and gave priority to pedestrians.

As part of the development plan, up to 50% of the site was preserved as parkland, open space and native habitat areas. A building and site preparation code ensured the protection of significant vegetation and rocky out-croppings.

Many strategies, including complete tertiary sewage treatment and reuse, storm water management, waste reduction, recycling, environmentally sound building practices and sustainable transportation systems were designed.

To support Bamberton's local economy, encouragement was given to environmental technologies, environmentally sensitive builders and suppliers, value-added wood products, education, the arts, and tourism. Advanced communication technologies encouraged sophisticated home-based business.

Bamberton was designed as a town where people could live, work and play. The scale and harmony of the architecture was designed to foster a strong sense of community.

What Happened?

A key driver of the plan for Bamberton was the requirement for tertiary level sewage treatment to ensure there would be no negative impact on the waters of the Saanich Inlet. At that time the sewage technology was such that a single, large plant was required which in turn necessitated approval of the overall master plan for 5,000 homes or 12,000 residents. Today’s technology would allow for several, smaller plants and the ability of the proposal to grow in smaller, more publicly palatable stages.

An internet search will often lead readers to a conclusion that the project was stopped due to overwhelming opposition. On the contrary the project received local, political support and had passed 1st , 2nd and 3rd readings by the Cowichan Valley Regional District and an independent poll of Southern Vancouver Island residents pointed to 2 to 1 support for the project.

Ultimately due to internal pension fund politics, and provincial political delay, the pension fund decided not to proceed with the project. However, Bamberton's planning created a new standard for sustainability that served as a model for many developments including the Trust’s next project near Tucson, AZ — Civano.

At the time the project was halted, there were over 5,000 people on the mailing list. Over 350 people had formed a business network and over 150 health professionals were working on a community health care plan. The Bamberton Community Association held three years of Christmas parties and summer get-togethers in anticipation of moving in. Volunteers staffed the Visitors' Information Centre for over three years without compensation.

In many ways Bamberton was the first "virtual" community. Its demise was a sad event, but the lessons learned in "building" the plan and the community paid huge dividends in the creation of Civano, the plan which was referred to as "Bamberton in the desert". The Trust was formed in large part to keep together the knowledge gained from the Bamberton Project

Key Members of Bamberton’s Team

Lead Consultant J.D. Tait & Associates (Victoria)
Municipal Planning Doug Mackaroff of Rabnett & Associates (Vancouver)
Architects Cambell Moore Group Architects (Victoria)
Waisman Dewar Grout & Carter (Vancouver)
Duany Plater-Zyberk Group (Miami)
Market Analysis Economic Research Associates (San Francisco)
City Spaces Consulting (Victoria)
Sustainable Development Guy Dauncey / Randy Hooper / Roger Colwill