Thursday, January 8, 2015

Protecting farmland and preventing sprawl part of orginal 1950s regional plan

On Tuesday, I posted that the Trinity Western University District and court challenge by Metro Vancouver almost unravelled 45 years of regional land-use planning in BC. In Metro Vancouver, our first regional land-use plan was developed in 1952, 63 years ago.

Land-use in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley in the 1950s. Select map to view.

I was browsing Metro Vancouver's website, and came across our region's first land-use plan.

While reading the 1952 regional plan, it was interesting to see that we are still grappling with some of the same issues identified some 60 plus years ago.

In the 1950’s, Metro Vancouver, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Kent where part of the same planning area.

According to that mid-twenty century plan, “future development should be guided by four principles:”

  1. We must conserve land suitable for industrial development
  2. We must conserve land suitable for large scale recreational use
  3. We must guide residential growth away from low-lying farmland into more suitable and less valuable upland areas
  4. For social, economic and military reasons, we must limit the size of future cities and develop smaller, dispersed towns by guiding future industries into decentralized area.

The last item deserved some clarification. Reading further into the document, the 1950’s planners were concerned about our region would become nothing but urban sprawl. The planners noted that sprawl will “mean that children have farther to walk to school and housewives to stores. [It] also mean longer roads, water mains and drains and thus higher taxes”

Our current regional growth strategy is about creating a region of many walkable town centres that can be connected by high-quality public transit. The 1950’s regional planners even warn against highway-oriented development which “clutters up main roads, making them unsafe and inefficient. And creates communities which are socially and economically unsatisfactory.” The Langley Bypass is a good example of this kind of development.

The original regional plan spent a good deal of time talking about the importance of preserving farmland. What did the plan have to say about the South of Fraser?

In Delta, the plan noted that the area should remain “a highly productive farming area.”

The plan noted that “the whole of the Surrey uplands is ideal for urban purposes” though it noted that “one of the mayor problems of Surrey will be proper control over its urban development.”

It was really interesting what the planner in the 1950’s thought about Langley.

Langley [City] is not really a suitable site for a town. It is low-lying, has drainage problems and is situated in first class agricultural land. However, it is an established community and has industrial possibilities owing to the presence of suitable land alongside the railway. Moreover, the uplands to the west [Clayton Heights in Surrey] and northwest [Willoughby] are excellently suited to urban development… development in Langley should be guided in this direction.
Only the limited high ground at Fort Langley is suitable as a town site, the rest being below flood level. Moreover, the historical circumstances which brought it into being vanished long ago, and no new factors are yet foreseen which would revive it. Growth in Fort Langley therefore cannot be encouraged.

If you are interested in the history of regional planning in Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley, “The Lower Mainland looks ahead” is a great place to start.

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