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

Massive Mall near Abbotsford Interchange stirs debate

with 7 comments

Vancouver Sun

Of course this is exactly what opponents of the Gateway always said would happen. 

Artists rendering of a proposed $170-million, 600,000-square-foot shopping mall near Abbotsfords Mount Lehman interchange.

Artist's rendering of a proposed $170-million, 600,000-square-foot shopping mall near Abbotsford's Mount Lehman interchange.

“The potential regional draw for that centre is enormous,” Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said in an interview about the $170-million, 600,000-square-foot Shape Properties development, dubbed Abby Lane.

“It’s huge and it’s got amazing freeway access. I think this will be the largest mall in the region. It will be relatively easy for people to get there from Langley, Chilliwack and Mission. Millions travel that freeway and they’re all potential customers.”

And for the Mayor that seems like a Good Thing. For many however, it seems like a very Bad Thing indeed. For a start the freeway between Langley and Abbotsford runs through what is currently green space. In many parts of the world that is seen as a desirable quality – and there has been legislation (in the UK and other places) to stop “ribbon development” and the gradual coalescence of places into “megalopolis”. That indeed has been one of the main principles in regional planning of both Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

But also very significant is the recognition of the traffic generation this kind of development produces – which is something that the Gateway proponents have tried to ignore or at least downplay: “it happens anyway”. Well you might try telling that to the stores that will close in those places. The amount of time and money that people have to spend shopping is finite. The money that gets spent in Abby Lane won’t get spent elsewhere. You can see this all over North America – in fact, thanks to the economic decline of recent years, the process has accelerated. There are already too many shops – and older malls and town centres have been in steady decline. Even in good times that happens – and one of the features of North American buildings is their very short design life. So when the two new plazas at No 5 Road and Steveston Highway opened, the shopping centre at Shell and Williams closed, was demolished and is now town houses.

Obviously if in future more people from Langley and Chilliwack decide to shop in Abbotsford that is a longer car trip than happens now. That means more pollution – both common air contaminants (the stuff that causes our current air quality advisory) and greenhouse gas emissions – that’s the stuff that means the glaciers melt and the pine beetle thrives. It is not only the polar bears that suffer! And note that this is happening beyond the reach of the Gateway project – which ends at the Langley boundary – although a new hill climber lane is being built westbound out of Abbotsford at present. So of course there will be even more pressure to widen the freeway through Abbotsford and upgrade the interchanges. That is the lesson of everywhere that has widened freeways – it creates the “need” for more widening and is never ending.

Well never ending up to now. Because the other thing that the Mayor is ignoring is that peak conventional oil has passed – and peak oil is close too. So there will not be lots of cheap gas for all those car trips. And maybe in future even the charms of yet another corporate clone big box “power centre” will be much less if if costs too much to get there. This development might not be such a good idea after all. It will certainly cause others to close – but in the not too distant future we may well not be quite so keen on shopping. We may prefer to find happiness in other ways – and relearn how to make things last longer.

It is certainly a choice – and the last election showed that most people are not yet willing to make that change voluntarily. Which means when it does come they are not going to be very happy about it at all. And  George Peary could well be the target of their wrath.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 5, 2009 at 11:44 am

7 Responses

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  1. Project details available at the link below:

    “Lifestyle Centre” built to the lot lines with a hotel and with 2 levels of underground parking (including one big box tenant wholly located on the P1 underground level). i.e. better built form than older malls such as Oakridge Mall, Lansdowne Mall or Richmond Centre.

    Click to access abby_west_broch.pdf

    Ron C.

    June 5, 2009 at 12:29 pm

  2. I love malls and indeed have visited many more malls than museums in the past 10 years. My 2 favorites are in Japan:
    # 2 is in Kyoto Main JR station. The giant glass and steel atrium of that station is truly a wonder. There is a big department store, a hotel and an underground mall linked to the subway system.
    #1 is in North Osaka (Kita Umeda)and is a maze of 3 interconnected underground malls (one has 3 floors) that spread far and wide. This giant mall is linked to the stations of 3 different railway companies (JR, Hankyu, Hanshin)that are conveniently built around an odd shaped square. Each station has also its own department store and there are numerous office buildings, hotels and many more stores, restaurants etc. etc. all around. It took me 3 long visits to get a handle on the basic layout of the underground malls but they are expanding and renovating the whole area even more. This is a perfect example of the efficient use of space. The railway yards will soon go under giant slabs that will be covered by parks, housing etc. etc. Naturally most customers come by trains, subways, buses and cabs on their way to work or back home..

    Red frog

    June 5, 2009 at 11:55 pm

  3. I was horrified to read this article this week. One of the most shocking quotes from the mayor was something to the effect of, “This development shows that Abbotsford has really arrived”.

    If that is the mayor’s definition of his city becoming successful, then we’re in for a lot more trouble in the future!

    A real measure of success would be that Abbotsford has a dense, vibrant and complete downtown where everyone wants to live and hang out.

    Having said that, this development doesn’t really seem like the worst case scenario does it? Much of the parking is underground and at least there is a hotel to diversify.

    I supposed the downside is that it is still going to draw people in cars from miles and miles away and there is no real transit service.


    June 6, 2009 at 10:00 am

  4. […] Let’s Save Wreck Beach [Vancouver Observer] Massive Mall near Abbotsford Interchange stirs debate [Stephen Rees Blog] Down with the car, Part XXXIV: Less parking downtown [State of Vancouver] […]

    re:place Magazine

    June 6, 2009 at 10:39 am

  5. I don’t really see a down side to this development . This is land that is not really being used for much . I see this as a project that will keep shoppers in Abbotsford , rather than feel there is something more exciting out of town . It will also create many permanent jobs . In addition , with all the freeway and overpass improvements , I don’t see this causing more traffic issues . As I said , if people shop at home they will be avoiding longer shopping trips out of town , therefore less driving . I get around a lot and find Abbotsford has been behind the times in commercial development . I say give it a chance and you’ll probably enjoy these new shopping options .

    Jim V.

    August 5, 2010 at 6:31 pm

  6. And what is the betting that Jim V has some kind of financial interest in this development?

    Stephen Rees

    August 6, 2010 at 11:40 am

  7. Who cares? I want stores that I dont have to drive to vancouver for anymore. Id love to see buckle for example. We have garbage out here for store selection. It better have good stores thats all I have to say.


    August 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm

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