Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Going Full Circle: Commercial Development in the Township of Langley

Historical street networks consisted of main/high streets which usually saw a mix of commercial, industrial and residential uses, and side streets that were primarily residential. In response to the wide-spread use of the automobile, the road network evolved into superblocks where high-speed traffic would travel along the edge. The pedestrian-friendly centre of the block was where shops, schools, and other service would be. This slowly turned into the hierarchical road network of today with arterials, collectors, and local roads. As the road network changed, so did the design of new commercial areas. In Langley, we can see this shift in design from places like Fort Langley, Aldergrove, and Downtown Langley to places like the Langley Bypass.

Diagramatic illustration of the streets, paths and open, common spaces in a "Pedestrian Pocket"(after Peter Calthorpe).

This weekend I was at the new Willoughby Town Centre, and it occurred to me that Langley is slowly changing back to how city road networks used to work.

Willowbrook, which is a regional town centre, is probably the ultimate example of the auto-oriented, hierarchical road network. Up until the beginning of this century, Willowbrook is where the majority of commercial development occurred in Langley. Starting in the earlier 2000s, the Township of Langley experimented with mixed-use, trying to incorporate pedestrian-friendly design within an auto-oriented, hierarchical road network context.

202nd Street in Walnut Grove. Select image to enlarge.

Recently, the Township has seen more pedestrian-friendly development. Willoughby Town Centre is likely the first larger scale, greenfield development of this type in Langley. What I find interesting is that the while the project boarders 208th Street and 80th Avenue, instead of fronting these main streets, the project is internal-facing like the superblock designs of the early 20th century.

Willoughby Town Centre site plan. Select image to enlarge.

With the recent update to the plan for the Carvolth area in Willoughby, the Township will return to a street network of mixed-use high streets and side streets.

I'm happy to see this slow shift back to traditional, pedestrian-friendly community design though I wish the change would happen faster. I have to wonder if in another 25 years, people will look back at the 20th century as a failed experiment on urban design.

1 comment:

Teresa said...

Nice analysis. Growing up in Langley, I was frustrated by how much we had to rely on cars. It's good to see a shift toward the kind of walkable, small-business friendly neighbourhoods that we enjoy in Vancouver.