Thursday, March 19, 2020

The history of the future of Metro Vancouver: 1952’s “The Lower Mainland looks ahead”

Understanding the history of where we live is important. It is important because history creates a sense of place, helping support a sense of ownership in where we live. It is also important because knowing the past can help us understand why things are the way they are today, and hopefully guide us in making better decisions. This is especially true for local governments.

The mid-twenty century was a time of change when it came to how we designed our cities. This is when suburban North America really took off, when we started designing our cities around cars and not people. In Metro Vancouver, we saw the impacts of this choice quickly.

Even today, as we are once again shifting back to designing our cities and regions around people, the effects of land-use and transportation decisions made in the mid-twenty century are still being felt today.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District has posted planning documents from the mid-twenty century online. One of those documents is called, “The Lower Mainland looks ahead.” It was published in 1952.

Back in 1952, our region’s major industries were:

  • Lumber
  • Shipping and transcontinental transportation
  • Fishing
  • Manufacturing

Today, shipping and manufacturing are still important industries in our region, but fishing and forestry is a thing of the past. One of the things that people in the 1950s didn’t predict was that the service and knowledge economy would become critical components of the economy in Metro Vancouver, though they did call out that tourism “appear[s] to face a promising future” (12) in Metro Vancouver.

Those folks in the 1950s also got our population statistics wrong. They underestimated the number of people that would call Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland home.

Population growth estimates for the Lower Mainland from 1952.

Back in 1952, Abbotsford was a tiny village surrounded by Matsqui and Sumas. There was also a Village of Mission and District of Mission. Fraser Mills was a municipality that was located south of Highway 1 in Coquitlam today.

Langley City (Langley Prairie) and White Rock were not municipalities at that time, though as you can see in the following map, both where major urban centres in their respective district municipalities.

Lower Mainland local governments and land-use map from 1952. Select map to enlarge.

As stated earlier, North American suburbs really took off in the mid-twenty century. By 1952, they were already creating challenges.

Scattered communities mean that children have farther to walk to school and housewives to stores. They also mean longer road, water mains and drain and thus higher taxes. (29)

Unfortunately, it would take us until the 1990s before we started to design our communities at the human scale again.

So, what did those 1950s planners want our region to look like in the year 2000?

The Lower Mainland Region - A Pattern for Tomorrow. Select map to enlarge.

They envisioned a compact, walkable region. This is a similar vision that we have for our region today. It was interesting to see that there was a bigger focus on airports in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the Lower Mainland Planning Board did not have the tools to implement this vision, and urban sprawl occurred at a rapid pace for close to 30 years.

The introduction of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in the mid-1970s helped put a stop to some sprawl. The first regional growth strategy with a strong toolkit to limit sprawl outside of the ALR was adopted in 2011, 59 years after “The Lower Mainland looks ahead.”

In reviewing this 1950s planning document, it was interesting to see how its vision is still seen in modern planning documents for Metro Vancouver today.

PS: I wrote a post about “The Lower Mainland looks ahead” back in 2015.

1 comment:

DB said...

Note the near total non-alignment between the land use vision and transport. Look at all the highways proposed for south of Fraser (many of which were built); meanwhile, all the "other urban" growth is north of Fraser, far away from any proposed road or rail (curious if that rail was transit or not) infrastructure. Why would these planners think that (sub)urban growth would not follow those transport investments?

Point Roberts International Park is also interesting.