Child poverty in Metro Vancouver

A detail from the 2014 Child Poverty Report Card. Areas of highest concentration (over 40 per cent) include a set of communities east of Vancouver's downtown, Squamish territory at the north end of the Lions Gate Bridge, and Metrotown in Burnaby.

A detail from the 2014 Child Poverty Report Card. Areas of highest concentration (over 40 per cent) include a set of communities east of Vancouver’s downtown, Squamish territory at the north end of the Lions Gate Bridge, and Metrotown in Burnaby.

Some Canadians are much healthier than others. Poor health outcomes are more likely among: children and families living in poverty; the working poor; the unemployed/underemployed; those with limited education and/or low literacy; Aboriginal and remote populations; newcomers; persons suffering from social exclusion; the homeless; and those who have difficulty securing affordable housing. — Final Report of the Senate Subcommittee on Population Health, 2009

In late 2014, the BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition issued a Child Poverty Report Card organized into 10 fact sheets, including a fact sheet on Metro Vancouver.

For this website, the takeaway is that poverty thrives in all parts of Metro Vancouver, though it may not show up at street level.  Besides the often-documented Downtown Eastside, there are zones where poverty is common in Richmond, Burnaby (including Edmonds, discussed in our February 2 post), Surrey, Langley — and in fact, in almost any urban centre.

Poverty detail 2

Drilling down to neighbourhood level census tracts, the frequency of child poverty is highest in the Downtown Eastside and nearby areas (an estimated 50 to 65 per cent of all children), but is also estimated at over 45 per cent in Squamish First Nation territory on the North Shore and in the  burgeoning tower complexes of Coquitlam Central.

Coquitlam Central, November 2014.Poverty is mostly out of sight here, and  perhaps out of mind.

Coquitlam Central, November 2014. Poverty is mostly out of sight here, and perhaps out of mind.

The Report Card equates poverty to Statistics Canada’s “Low Income” category, which takes in households with less than 50 per cent of median adjusted income. “‘Adjusted’ means that household needs are taken into account.” Those who dismiss poverty as an issue have argued that poor people are simply bad at managing their money. The evidence suggests, au contraire, that poor people actually don’t have much money. In 2012, an average low-income single parent with one child living in B.C. collected on the order of $13,950, peanuts in a high-cost metropolitan area like Vancouver.

The economic costs of ignoring widespread poverty — putting aside the human costs — have got to be huge. Children are too hungry and insecure to learn, and we lose much of their potential to become productive citizens; parents are too insecure to look after their kids, or to grow as productive citizens. Going out on a limb, I will suggest this is a counter-productive way to run a railroad.

The Report Card points out that government action helped to reduce the incidence of poverty among Canadian seniors by about two thirds between 1989 and 2012. The incidence of child poverty increased during that time. The Coalition offers numerous recommendations for tackling the issue, for example:

  • Address the demand for affordable housing and eliminate homelessness.
  • Increase the combined Canada Child Tax Benefit/National Child Benefit to $5,600 per child.
  • Raise the provincial minimum wage and index it annually.
  • Intensify federal and provincial government efforts to help immigrants and refugees adjust to life in Canada
  • Improve employment standards
  • Make the tax system fairer and reduce income inequality.

The document notes that recent federal tax perks that are branded as family friendly — already a Conservative party talking point as we approach an anticipated 2015 federal election — will not benefit low-income families.

Northumberland Court, Maple Ridge, was demolished in 2011 after 10 years of complaints over its condition

Northumberland Court, Maple Ridge, was demolished in 2011 after 10 years of complaints over its condition

Determinants of Health infographic. Available at

Determinants of Health infographic. Available at

The mayors’ case for a transportation tax


Replacement of the 1937 Pattulo Bridge over the Fraser River is part of the Metro Vancouver mayors' long-term plan. The photo is taken from the plan document.

Replacement of the 1937 Pattulo Bridge over the Fraser River is part of the Metro Vancouver mayors’ long-term plan. The photo is taken from the plan document.

Vicki and I attended a luncheon last week to hear from advocates for a Metro Vancouver transportation tax. The tax proposal will be the subject a ballot going out to households in March.

In 2014, regional transit mayors issued a long-term plan for upgrades to rapid transit, bus transit, regional roads and HandiDart service. The British Columbia government responded that any proposal for new fees or taxes to support the plan must be tested in a referendum. (The parties use the term “plebiscite”, but the difference seems academic.)

With a minority opposed, the mayors’ council decided that the ballot will ask Metro Vancouver residents to approve a one-half per cent increase in the seven per cent provincial sales tax. This increase would be dedicated to transit and regional roads.

Mayor Greg Moore. Photo from the Mayor's Facebook page

Greg Moore. Photo from Mayor Moore’s Facebook page.

The lead-off speaker at the luncheon was Greg Moore, mayor of the City of Port Coquitlam and chair of the Metro Vancouver county authority. His presentation lacked clarity and punch, but he made some compelling points.

  • 1) There is no funding in the current transportation plan to support regional road upgrades, including the replacement of the obsolete Pattulo Bridge shown above.

2) The planned 25 per cent increase in bus service hours will include the creation of new frequent express bus routes. The number of “B-lines” is to increase from three to 11, serving most parts of the region. New frequent bus service will target areas of new employment growth. Eighty per cent of the new jobs created between now and 2040 would be served by either rapid transit or frequent bus service.

3) The benefits of transit system expansion, even defined in the simplest way, are shared across the region. Fifty-two per cent of riders in the city of Vancouver’s Broadway corridor — reputed to be the busiest bus corridor in North America — come from outside the city. Four per cent, for example, come from Port Coquitlam, a smallish city far from the Vancouver city boundary.

4) TransLink, the transportation authority, already subject to regular independent audits and special audits, will be subject to a new public audit to ensure that the proceeds of the sales tax are channelled to the expansion plan. There will also be a new external  approval process related to the allocation of federal fuel tax dollars for transportation.

BC Chamber of Commerce CEO John Winter also spoke. He said a “no” vote will communicate to the provincial and federal governments that people in the Vancouver area don’t care about transit. And when the senior governments are asked to contribute to the next rapid transit project, they may ask: “Why should we?”

Both speakers emphasized that population, employment and traffic will increase significantly in the next 25 years in Metro Vancouver.

Won’t the increase in population translate into increased fares and property tax payments for the transportation system? Yes, fares already cover half the cost of transit, and revenues from fares and property taxes will grow, but it’s not enough. We’re becoming a more transit-dependent region. The next million people to set up households in Metro Vancouver will be far more transit-oriented than the previous million, by virtue of location, economics and preference.

The benefits from transportation investment are often diffuse. The flaws in Metro Vancouver’s system of transportation governance are acute. The TransLink brand is broken, and with voters eager to punish TransLink, a lopsided “No” vote seems likely. In some cases the reasoning is perverse; people who say their local service has been inadequate in the past are ready to vote against better transit in the future. A few critics have suggested that the system should be privatized; the result would be that the communities who complain most loudly about poor service would get no service at all.

A link to the mayors’ “Yes” campaign site is provided here. Mr. Winter’s Better Transit and Transportation Coalition has not launched a website as of this writing.

A detail from the main map in the 2014 mayors' plan. Elements here include new rapid transit in Surrey and Langley, and frequent bus service for Scott Road, Langley-to-Maple-Ridge, and Langley-to-Coquitlam.

A detail from the main map in the 2014 mayors’ plan. Elements here include new rapid transit in Surrey and Langley, and frequent bus service for Scott Road, Langley-Maple Ridge, Langley-Coquitlam and Vancouver-Simon Fraser University.

Accepting the shift in Burnaby Edmonds

Residential towers adjacent to the High Gate Centre, Edmonds

Residential towers at Highgate, Edmonds

With a population of 234,000, Burnaby is the third-largest city in Metro Vancouver and in British Columbia. It has no single centre. City Hall sits in science fiction isolation beside tranquil Deer Lake and its park. Commercial and residential growth is focused in “town centres,” three of which are anchored by enormous shopping malls: Brentwood, Lougheed and especially Metrotown.

Edmonds, a fourth town centre, is the runt of the litter. I travelled there to measure its shapeKingsway 3 and size in summer 2014,  landing at Greenford Ave. and setting out along the south side of  Kingsway. Other than a block of shops on the north side, Kingsway seemed kind of a mess, mixing automotive lots with ageing towers.

I held out hope that Edmonds Street, narrower and quieter, would offer  more charm. Edmonds and Kingsway was the site of the first Burnaby municipal hall, built in 1899 when this was still a rural district. Edmonds Street, five kilometres east of Metrotown, has some of the makings of a village shopping street, supported by decent public transit and a stock of nearby walk-up apartment buildings.

Edmonds Street: Mixed use vs automotive in the Edmonds Town Centre planning area

Edmonds Street: Mixed use vs automotive

But Edmonds Street made no sense to me during my summer visit. It has 1960s single-storey storefront space, some of it in poor condition; 1970s strip malls;  automotive shops; a two-storey  office block striving for elegance; a couple of attempts at residential-commercial mixed use. A dentist here, a tattoo place there, but not enough services to grow a walkable village.

Edmonds Street just east of the Town Centre boundary: Drive-thru burger stand under renovation, dance studio, lumber wholesaler

Edmonds Street just east of the Town Centre boundary, foggy morning: drive-thru burger stand under renovation, dance studio, lumber wholesaler

The municipal website provided no guidance. There’s an Edmonds rapid transit station, and an Edmonds provincial electoral district, but is there an Edmonds community? The Edmonds socio-economic study area covers Edmonds Street and its surroundings east of Kingsway.  The Edmonds Town Centre  defined in a development plan adopted in 1994, takes in some of Edmonds Street but is dominated by areas west of Kingsway.

Edmonds Street, just east of the Town Centre planning area: abandoned structure, purpose unidentifiable

Edmonds Street: this structure seemed abandoned, its previous purpose unidentifiable

Recently completed mixed use complex next door to the unidentifiable structure

Recently completed mixed-use complex next door to the unidentifiable structure

The logic of this contradiction became clearer on my second visit, in late January 2015. Edmonds Street is stranded, going back to the late 1980s by the placement of the “Edmonds” rapid transit station a kilometre or more outside the old neighbourhood. The 1994 municipal plan is an attempt to bridge the Kingsway junction of the old rural street and the  station precinct, with towers established along the Kingsway corridor and around the station itself. On Edmonds Street at Canada Way I asked for the nearest supermarket and was directed to the Highgate development, a vigorous fifteen-minute walk across an urban tangent.

Seniors' housing, Edmonds

Seniors’ housing, Edmonds

The route took me between the New Vista towers, a ’70s-vintage social housing development for seniors. The modern Town Centre boundary is just beyond, at the new Edmonds community recreation centre, with its concrete yard and an extensive green park under renovation. (A 2014 map outlines the boundaries.)

A block of carefully protected 80s detached homes, two blocks of older walk-ups, and then the first new residential towers pop up, followed by the Highgate shops, now the true Edmonds centre; its main entrance, or most decorated entrance, is on the residential tower side. The bricked streetscape here is a bit like the manufactured streets of Port Moody’s Newport. The far side of the development looks out on busy old Kingsway, very close to where I had parked my car six months before.

Standard 1960s vintage walk-up, Linden Street, Edmonds

Standard 1960s-vintage walk-up, Linden Street, Edmonds

For many years, the older apartments off Edmonds Street  have been a receiving zone for new immigrants. The health authority has a New Canadian Clinic nearby. Most faces on the street are Asian or African, as are many of the businesses in the deteriorating spaces on Edmonds and further east on Sixth Street.

So in a different world, Edmonds Street might have been a multi-ethnic shopping area of regional interest. Instead, it’s tattered and inconsistent,  and  local residents will walk or drive to Highgate, with its 38 listings including the immigrants’Burnaby town centres clinic, or to one of the bigger malls.

Messy or otherwise, the urban area in the 500-metre radius around Highgate offers the components of a successful urban village. There’s old housing, new housing, and seniors’ housing. Transit buses will run you to Metrotown, Canada’s second largest concentration of retail outlets, as often as every seven minutes, and there is a fine library near Edmonds and Kingsway. And at the same time, there is a sense of “what if.”

[This is post #25 in our Urban Villages series.]

Entrance to High Gate centre from the east, more or less

Entrance to the Highgate shopping area from the residential side, looking toward Kingsway.

Towers 3, Edmonds

A rendering of Highgate and the towers shown in hese photos, from the Bosa Properties website (

A rendering of the Highgate shops and towers as seen from the Kingsway side, from the Bosa Properties website (

The freeway islands, Langley, British Columbia

Commercial development, right, is surrounded by components of the 200th Street Interchange

Commercial development, right, is surrounded by components of the 200th Street Interchange

In 1999 or thereabouts, the British Columbia government and Langley Township agreed to locate commercial development within a new Highway 1 interchange at 200th Street, replacing a crumbling structure from the Diefenbaker era. Interchange traffic would be controlled by several sets of traffic signals, a departure from freer-flowing design traditions. Continue reading

On South Fraser Street

Fraser St 1 reduced

My niece recently left home and moved to a different part of the world. From counter-culture Commercial Drive, she made the six-kilometre trek to South Fraser Street and found an affordable rental apartment.

A rare example of side-street excitement, South Hill, Vancouver

A rare example of side-street excitement, South Hill, Vancouver

They say the resident mix is evolving, although there’s no influx of trendy cafes or retail stores at this stage. The South Fraser area is beyond walking distance from rapid transit; in Toronto, many such areas would be served by streetcars, but this is not Toronto. There’s a standard Vancouver high street, heavy on ethnic butcher shops. There’s a low-rise condo project under construction; limited multi-unit housing on the side streets, with a couple of seniors complexes a bit further away; and rental mini-houses popping up in the laneways, Kitsilano-style. The park on 41st Avenue is the home of little league baseball in Vancouver. Continue reading

Metro Vancouver election results: build, baby, build

On November 15, voters in most of British Columbia voted for continuity in local government. Where there was change, it was generally more generational than ideological.  (And if there was no competition, such as for the mayor’s position in the District of North Vancouver, there was no voting at all.) In Metro Vancouver, continuity means further densification, often through tower development. For the most part, anti-development movements were turned back at the ballot box.

Port Moody Centre croppedLet’s start with the single partial exception. In Port Moody, city government had proposed a dramatic plan to densify the central area, responding to the anticipated opening of a new rapid transit line. An opposition movement bloomed, peaking in late 2013, vowing to protect Port Moody’s (fictitious, I think) “small-town feel.” I do not know what this means; Port Moody has allowed monster detached homes to run halfway up Heritage Mountain, and its manufactured urban villages are heavy with towers. In any case, the  opposition leader ran for mayor, and did okay, but he was defeated by incumbent mayor Mike Clay. The mayor lost some allies on council, and at least one newcomer has vowed to protect the “small-town feel.”. Both sides say they won. Clay says his central area plan, scaled down in 2014 to appease the critics, will be implemented. Over time. Continue reading