Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Comparing Metro Vancouver and the Edmonton Capital Region

This weekend I was in Edmonton for Thanksgiving. When I returned back home yesterday, I was struck by the difference in scale between the Edmonton Capital Region and Metro Vancouver. From an urban design perspective Edmonton is a region of strip malls and ring roads while Metro Vancouver is a region of mixed-use development and transit corridors.

When my aircraft was on its final descent into VYR yesterday, it came in via the northern mountain ranges. It was really interesting to see Langley, Surrey, and Delta from my window seat. The first thing I noticed was the vast amount of green-space that has been preserved for conservation and agriculture. The most impressive site to me is actually Burn’s Bog which is such a massive conservation area. The second thing I noticed was how compact our developed footprint is. All the new residential development going on in Willoughby (which some claim is suburban) from my airplane window actually looked no different than many parts of the City of Vancouver. If you want to see true suburban development, fly out of Edmonton where you can see vast quantities of former agricultural land being transformed into suburban single-family housing. The second thing I noticed was that commercial properties in Metro Vancouver have less surface parking. Even on the ground, I noticed this.

I was staying in Strathcona County which is a true suburb of Edmonton. Wye Road is one of the main roads in Strathcona County. While one of the newer developments had a multi-use trail along one side of the road, there were no continuous sidewalks along the road. In fact most of the commercial streets in the Edmonton region looked like the Langley Bypass. The only areas where there is real transportation choice, walkable communities, and a diversity of housing options are in Downtown Edmonton and the core areas around it. The follow map is from Edmonton's Municipal Development Plan which outlines Transit Avenues which “support medium and higher density, mixed land use and the provision of a range of community services, facilities and amenities.”

Transit Avenues in Edmonton (Red)

Edmonton also has a light rail transit system which has been around since 1978 and while Edmonton has plans to build transit-oriented development around the stations, I didn’t see any when I was there.

Now this post isn’t meant to be harsh on Edmonton, but rather show that in Metro Vancouver we have the groundwork in place to build a truly sustainable region. I get concerned when I see our region expanding highways at a stunning rate while at the same time under-funding transit. I feel like our region is slowing shifting away from building a multi-modal transportation system that supports sustainable communities and moving toward building a transportation system that will build more Langley Bypasses. It is ironic that the Edmonton Capital Region wants to become more like Metro Vancouver while Metro Vancouver is currently on the path to looking more like the Edmonton Capital Region.

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