Thursday, July 20, 2017

Building affordable, walkable, and transit-friendly neighbourhoods a priority for Metro Vancouver residents.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District recently released the results of their survey “Shaping Our Communities.” They surveyed a representative sample of people throughout the region to see what people thought about their neighbourhoods, and what attributes people think are important when selecting a neighbourhood to live in.

Even though there are 21 municipalities in our region, the survey results did not vary significantly from one municipality to the other. In Metro Vancouver, we have shared values when it comes to our neighbourhoods.

There was a difference in values between people who live in urban centres such as Langley City compared to people that live outside of urban centres.

In urban centres, walking, cycling, transit, and car sharing are more of a factor than outside of urban centres where driving is the transportation mode of choice.

What was interesting to see is that people in urban centres generally felt that their neighbourhoods were getting better over the last five to ten years, while people living outside of urban centres thought their neighbourhoods has not changed or had gotten worse over the last five to ten years.

Survey participants were asked what they considered important if they were moving to a new neighbourhood. The following chart ranks these attributes in order of importance:

Results of survey question: What do Metro Vancouver residents prioritize in their community? Select chart to enlarge.

It’s not surprising that housing affordability is the number one factor that people would consider. People also placed a high value on being close to daily essentials like grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants. People ranked being able to walk to shops, services, and amenities as more important than driving. In fact, driving and transit access were almost tied as important factors.

Building walkable, transit-friendly neighbourhoods is desired by people who live in Metro Vancouver. Local governments should ensure that their land-use plans and transportation networks support these kinds of neighbourhoods.

One of the interesting things about the survey is that it shows a cognitive dissonance among residents in our region. For example, survey participants prioritized affordable housing, but placed a low value on having different types of housing in a neighbourhood. A variety of housing types supports affordability.

There was also a disconnect between how improving cycling infrastructure is related to giving people a way out of congestion.

You can read the full survey results by looking at the July 14 Metro Vancouver Regional District Planning Committee agenda.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TransLink accelerates purchase of 28 additional SkyTrain cars to meet demand

People like taking SkyTrain in Metro Vancouver. It is fast, efficient, and gives people a way out of congestion. So many people are using the Expo Line and Millennium Line with Evergreen Extension that more SkyTrain cars are needed sooner than later.

Forecasted Expo Line passenger volumes, and provided capacity. Select chart to enlarge.

As part of phase one of TransLink’s 10 Year Vision, 28 new SkyTrain cars were purchased. As I posted about earlier, phase two of the plan calls for the procurement of 86 additional SkyTrain cars.

TransLink is now proposing to move forward the purchase of an additional 28 SkyTrain cars, getting them into service two to three years earlier than planned.

This acceleration will be funded by moving some of the original phase one projects into phase two.

Phase One - Phase Two project swap to enable accelerated purchase of SkyTrain cars. Select table to enlarge.

These changes will be voted on at the next Mayors’ Council meeting which is scheduled for July 27th.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A photo tour of some Langley City parks, plus a first look Hunter Park restoration work

This year Langley City is investing around $3.9 million to upgrade our parks system, and around $2.0 million to maintain the system. This level of investment hasn't been seen for many years.

Last night, Langley City council was given a tour of select parks by City staff who highlighted some of the recent investments made, and enhanced maintenance performed, due to increased funding for our parks system.

I thought I would share a few pictures from the tour. If you haven’t visited a Langley City park recently, I’m hopeful that these pictures will prompt you to rediscover (or discover for the first time) our parks system.

I’ve also included some pictures of Hunter Park which is currently being restored.

Douglas Park

New outdoor fitness equipment at Douglas Park. Select image to enlarge.

Hunter Park

New path being graded at Hunter Park. Select image to enlarge.

Hunter Park, looking west. Select image to enlarge.

Hunter Park, looking east. Select image to enlarge.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pastoral Capitalism, Business Parks, and Metro Vancouver. Why are we protecting suburbia?

A lot has been said about the spread of suburbia in Canada and the United States, both about the residential development and the accompanying retail development that followed. There have been strong critiques about suburbanization and sprawl. New Urbanism, the antidote to suburbia, is a direct result of these critiques about suburbia. New Urbanism is about building walkable, human-scale communities.

In Metro Vancouver, you can see how New Urbanism principles have been incorporated into the planning ethos. While not always ideally executed, new residential and retail development in South Surrey and in Willoughby in the Township of Langley are rooted in New Urbanism ideals.

One of the areas where there has been a gap in the suburbia critique is around the business park. While we are all about building walkable communities in our region, business parks seem to be the exception.

Farrell Estates - Campbell Heights Commerce Centre. A typical building in a business park in Metro Vancouver. Select image to enlarge.

The one vestiges of mid-twentieth century suburbia that is alive and well in Metro Vancouver is the business park. In fact, our regional growth strategy which is otherwise about building walkable, complete communities, protects and promotes the “mixed-employment” zone; business park suburbia.

Annacis Island is the prototypical mid-twentieth century industrial park. Campbell Heights in Surrey represents the twenty-first century iteration of the industrial, now business park.

Why are business parks and industrial parks even a thing, and why is it the only form of suburbia that we are actively protecting and promoting in Metro Vancouver? One reason is because there has been a lack of critical discourse about business parks, industrial parks, and lesser known research parks.

Earlier last month, I stumbled upon a book call “Pastoral Capitalism” by Louise A. Mozingo who is a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. In her book, Mozingo provides a brief history of pastoral capitalism. Pastoral Capitalism has its root in the Garden City Movement and the believe that plopping buildings in the middle of green grass with a pond surrounded by some trees, was good for the soul. Cities were thought to promote moral decay.

The Garden City Movement was a response to the polluted, industrial city. Mozingo noted that while pastoral capitalism is rooted in the morality of green grass, there are other insidious undertones behind pastoral capitalism.

Racial and class tensions in the US resulted in white people leaving urban centres; some of the first business parks were in the Southern US and New York. The design of the business park, with no access to public transit, no sidewalks and far from urban cores, ensured that only white, middle- and upper-income people could work in these places.

In the US, there was also a federal mandate to hollow out central business districts because of the fear of nuclear Armageddon.

Mozingo notes three suburban landscapes of pastoral capitalism: the corporate campus, the corporate estate, and the business park. In Canada, there aren’t too many examples of the corporate campus or estate, but we certainly have the business park.

Interestingly enough, the Academic Quadrangle building at SFU’s Burnaby campus is an excellent example of the corporate campus, and has been used as such in movies and TV shows.

The business park in America is different than the business park in Canada. One of the big differences is lot coverage and access. In the US, business parks usually have 25% lot coverage. In Canada, lot coverage is higher. For example in Campbell Heights, lot coverage is 40% to 60%. Sidewalks and transit access are also included in Canadian business parks which are not in American business parks.

Why we promote the business park in Canada and Metro Vancouver is a mystery to me. The pastoral qualities of business parks in Canada are dubious at best. Business parks were designed to isolate people from other people whether by class, race, employer, or union status. Is this really a form of development that is worth protecting?

Pastoral Capitalism” is right up there with the “High Cost of Free Parking” and “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” as must-read books for anyone that cares about placemaking.