An urban hub for Metro Vancouver’s northeast sector

The Coquitlam urban core, from a 2013 municipal presentation. City Hall is upper left.

The Coquitlam urban core, from a 2013 municipal presentation. City Hall is the low-rise complex upper left. At least three new towers have joined this set within a 16-month period.

The streets behind the Coquitlam Centre mall feel like a pop-up city, construction dust still filtering down from unfinished towers.

Coquitlam transit-oriented areasThis is the core of a designated Coquitlam City Centre planning area, slated to double in population to more than 50,000 in the next two decades. The municipal government’s area plan sees the densified city centre as the future “arts, entertainment and cultural focal point for the Northeast Sector of the Metro Vancouver Region.” The northeast sector, by most definitions, stretches from Port Moody to Maple Ridge, and will house (hypothetically) half a million people by 2040.

The Coquitlam urban core is organized to feed off the Evergreen rapid transit line, still under construction. The neighbourhood is not quite as new as it feels; there have been several years of tower development with rapid transit in mind, as noted in one of my earliest posts.  City planners and politicians deserve credit for anticipating the transformative effects rapid transit will have.

2015 Browns croppedHowever, the  core is only stating to show a flicker of personality as street-level commercial services take hold and create some mental distance between these tower-dominated streets and the nearby mall. As in Burnaby’s Metrotown precinct, which also continues to sprout towers, the names on the restaurants and professional offices suggest a heavy influx of Asian immigrants, especially Chinese.

I recruited our friend David Jung to come along as co-tourist on a Sunday afternoon tour. David once lived in nearby residential area, before any of the towers were built, and now lives up the hill on the Westwood Plateau. We looked at the street layout and the shop fronts, and also for evidence of poverty, working from a 2014 child poverty map of Metro Vancouver that shows a high concentration of low-income residents in the Coquitlam core, as in Metrotown..

Detail from the Metro Vancouver child poverty map, derived from Statistics Canada data. The black wedge corresponds to the Coquitlam city core.

Detail from the Metro Vancouver child poverty map, derived from Statistics Canada data. The black wedge corresponds to the Coquitlam city core.

We did not see the homeless or the addicted, as you might on any afternoon in my Maple Ridge neighbourhood; and we did not see agencies to serve such people. In fact, a scan of Coquitlam social service agencies shows a concentration in a much different part of the city, eight or nine kilometres south and west.

I suggested the poverty in the core might be transitional; Asian immigrants working at low wages, living in close quarters but saving money. David’s parents took an  apartment in Vancouver’s Chinatown when they first arrived in Canada more than half a century ago. If they immigrated today, they might land in Coquitlam. David had a supplemental thought, suggesting that many Asian residents draw financial support from families across the water and don’t report income in Canada.

2015 Chinese sign compressed

The Evergreen Line above Pinetree Way, seen from outside the public library

The Evergreen Line above Pinetree Way, seen from outside the public library

A boarded-up house east of Pinetree, one of a row waiting for redevelopment. On the day of our tour, someone had set fire to the house.

A boarded-up house east of Pinetree, one of a row waiting for redevelopment. On the day of our tour, someone had set fire to the house.

The pace of change here is astonishing. The concrete light-rail guideway appeared almost overnight in early 2015. There’s more here than I expected. Coquitlam, one of British Columbia’s largest cities, has always lacked focus. It seems this will change. I’ll return soon to look at the wider City Centre area — the college, the lake, the quieter residential streets — that might blend together someday to make this a community.

The East Village — “the heart of East Van”?

New commercial + 3 structure at Hastings and Templeton, Vancouver

New commercial + 3 structure at Hastings and Templeton, Vancouver

Vancouver’s Hastings Street east from Templeton Street is seeing rapid change. Ageing one-story shopfronts are going down in favour of four-storey complexes like the one pictured above.

I walked through here recently with my sister Morna, who has lived close by for more  than thirty years. The big fruit and vegetable stores are hanging on, but the Italian deli is gone, and the shoe stores. Instead, the trend is to latte bars and niche veterinary practices. It’s becoming more like Kitsilano, an affluent and sought-after quarter over towards the University of British Columbia.Fruit

This commercial strip, with a bit of Hastings further west and some industrial properties on the north side, has been rebranded as “The East Village.” The local Business Improvement Association website promises A real neighbourhood / A long heritage of cultural diversity / A community that means business / The heart of East Van for over 100 years / At the crossroads of the lower mainland

East Village BIA mapTo be honest, though, the BIA map does not show a  neighbourhood. It shows a busy, noisy section of Hastings Street  coupled with a dozen industrial blocks looking down on the Vancouver seaport. The reasons for marrying commercial and industrial are unclear; perhaps it helps spread the cost of funding security patrols. To muddle our story further, The East Village spans two neighbourhoods, by the City of Vancouver’s official definition: Hastings Sunrise on the east, from Renfrew to Nanaimo, and Grandview-Woodlands on the west.

Judging from comments attached to a January 23, 2013 Globe and Mail report on the rebranding, the emergence of The East Village was not welcomed by all residents. Folks were used to calling their area Hastings Sunrise, or East Hastings. A colleague of mine said recently,  “They just wanted to get rid of the word Hastings, because it makes people think of the Downtown East Side.”

In any case, there is a village in here somewhere, distinct from either Sunrise or Grandview-Woodlands; it’s just not very clear how far it goes, or how far it’s going.

Inner-city Vancouver has the biggest concentration of poverty in British Columbia. The detailed child poverty map mentioned in a recent post shows the Downtown East Side’s black shading extending to the northwestern intersection of Hastings and Nanaimo, in the centre of the East Village. People in this rental-apartment zone are part of the real East Hastings village, but it’s unlikely that they’re the prime target of the BIA’s marketing plan.

The detached homes to the east and south of the rental zone, meanwhile, have doubled in value in the past five years and are selling for close to a million dollars each, judging by recent stats from the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board. Does this mean that homeowners in the walkable perimeter around the East Village are getting more affluent? Maybe; but then again, some newcomers will be struggling to meet their mortgage payments. Either way, it’s pretty clear that the number of residents in this perimeter is not rising, and this poses a challenge to the high street merchants.

A 2004 Hastings Sunrise “visioning” report suggests that the City planners who worked with residents failed to get support for any residential densification whatsoever — not for duplexes or townhouses, not for multiple suites in houses, not for mid-rise apartments on arterial streets. And in this case, it appears the City government paid attention. Within the walkable-to-East-Village area of Hastings Sunrise alone, we are talking about more than fifty blocks almost entirely given over to detached housing, albeit with some secondary suites.

Jack's croppedSo how can East Village business people attract new customers? They will track the changing profile of people living in nearby detached homes, to see if they can get a bigger share of their attention; they’ll encourage apartment development in the narrow strip along Hastings Street, even if the four-story Kitsilano style is getting boring; and they’ll encourage consumers to drive into the village from outside the walkable zone. Motorists will develop less awareness of the full range of services than pedestrians do, and they’ll be less loyal, but who am I kidding: Canadians drive everywhere to shop or attend appointments, and marketing to motorists has to be part of the mix.

[This is post #26 in our Urban Villages series.]

Hastings School, Penticton and Franklin streets

Hastings School, Penticton and Franklin streets

Apartments over a used-car showroom, Hastings Street, at the western end of the East Village

Apartments over a used-car showroom, Hastings Street, at the western end of the East Village

Arcade shopfronts, 1990s, Hastings near Penticton

Arcade shopfronts, 1990s, Hastings near Penticton

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 HealthCareTransformation.ca

Determinants of Health infographic. Available at HealthCareTransformation.ca

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.) Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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