Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Lower Mainland flops on efforts to slow down sprawl

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Corey pointed to this article yesterday in a comment on the 80c/l forecast for Gateway.

The share of new urban and suburban growth that went into pedestrian-oriented development in Metro Vancouver declined from 2001 through 2006, according to the Sightline Institute.

The Sun story picks out the few municipalities in the region that were trying to increase densities. Most weren’t – or would have liked to but were denied the necessary transportation infrastructure that makes such development possible. There are pockets of quite high density townhouses in places like Langley Township. Trouble is they are remote from anywhere and have no – or very little  transit. Pedestrian oriented development means you can walk to jobs, shops and schools. I would also like to have seen much more Transit Oriented Development but we (collectively) have been  putting much more money into roads than transit, and transit growth has barely kept up with population.

In some cities there was a determined push to break out of the constraints of the LRSP. Doug McCallum, the former Mayor of Surrey was frankly dismissive of it and followed a strategy of Highway  Oriented Development in the southern part of his city, recognising that it looked and worked just like Whatcom County. So he went for big box retailers and more office parks, because they produce more tax revenue, and pretty much left the developers to produce whatever housing types they liked. To be fair he did also allow some Smart Growth on one site in conjunction with  Patrick Condon, but that fell foul of municipal codes which insisted on conventional drains that the design had eliminated as unnecessary. The Surrey Centre (never to be called “Whalley”) has in fact now recovered and got going despite the governments best efforts to undermine it by slashing SkyTrain service to Surrey in half and killing the ICBC relocation. Poor old Port Moody did its very best to do TOD in the expectation that the province would live up to its commitments to provide a rapid transit line – and is, of course, still waiting for a shovel to hit the ground. Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows got two new road bridges – but no transit.

For a long time, I had discussions with the planners in Coquitlam and their attitude was that they could have done a lot differently if they had had SkyTrain along its designated corridor before the people moved in. But that is not the way things are done here. Kevin Falcon repeats his mantra that the population has to grow before we can afford transit – but that means we will never ever get  transit oriented new development – only in areas where redevelopment can occur.

Pointing the finger at municipal politicians is easy. But they have to work in constrained circumstances. And if the province (and the federal government) are not doing their part – or, in this region, actively working to promote sprawl – then this outcome is in fact not as bad as it could have been. The point of the LRSP is that it committed all levels of government to a growth strategy. And Gordon Campbell was one of its authors and main proponents. But once he got into power in Victoria, his priorities changed.

I think Doug Ward, the author of the Sun’s report, should have made a bit more effort on the why. The census shows us what happened – but that is like steering the ship by staring at it wake. We need to understand that there was a deliberate policy at play that held the values of the LRSP in contempt. It only values the ability of the private sector to make as much money as possible whatever the social, environmental and long term economic consequences might be. Of course, such an analysis is anathema to the Asper family. But it has been clear for some time that business is what our government cares about. And it likes diversions such as the Winter Olympics to take out minds from what they are really doing. “The best place on earth”? Not by the time they have finished with it.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 22, 2008 at 8:25 am

Posted in Olympics, privatisation, Urban Planning

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