Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Standardized prototype design and ugly communities

This morning, I was reviewing last week’s Township of Langley Evening Council Meeting Agenda. I saw that there was an application to redevelop the exterior of the A&W restaurant on 88th Avenue and 204th Street in Walnut Grove. The new design for that restaurant is called a standardized prototype design. It does not take into account the character of a neighbourhood and if you look at any new A&W restaurant being building or redeveloped (in municipalities that don’t have form-based design guidelines), they will all look the same. And not to pick on A&W, but the design certainly is a throw-back to the tacky, ugly highway strip malls of the mid-twenty century.

Proposed A&W Drive-Thru redevelopment in Walnut Grove

Chain stores and gas stations usually have standardized prototype designs that pay no attention to local community character. In the 1990’s, the City of Surrey got sick of these standardized prototypes and actually updated their Official Community Plan (OCP) to ban standardized prototype gas station. There is a whole section in the OCP on how to design a gas station to better fit into the character of their community.

The Township of Langley official community plan even talks about how each of its “individual communities should have distinctive characters and identities.” Of course, it also talks about building walkable communities and how “buildings [should] be oriented to the street, to encourage walking, neighbourhood interaction and monitoring.” For the most part, Township Council spends a good amount of time making sure that most new residential development conform to the spirit of the official community plan. I also know that Fort Langley gets the eagle eyes of Council when it comes to ensuring that new development conforms to that community's distinctive character. One of my biggest complaints about the Township is that Council seems to allow poorer-quality, auto-oriented commercial development in other parts of the municipality.

Even while the OCP talks about building pedestrian-friendly commercial centres that speaks to a community’s character, auto-oriented strips malls, power centers and big-box stores (like along 64th Avenue) still get approved in the Township. The OCP says that “commercial development [should] occurs at an appropriate scale and encourages pedestrian oriented shopping” even while many new commercial areas of the Township look like any-highway in anywhere North America. Why is that the case? Is Walnut Grove’s character tacky 1960’s strip mall? I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to A&W (I eat there from time-to-time) or even larger format retail, but I believe that the Township can and should require higher quality, more pedestrian-friendly designs that fits better into the community. Council really should look into restricting standardized prototype designs like Surrey does.

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