A sort of urban village at Coquitlam City Centre

Lafarge Lake, at the edge of the new Coquitlam downtown

Lafarge Lake, at the edge of the new Coquitlam downtown

The walkable urban village at Coquitlam City Centre has emerged recently, with a new area of residential towers, neighbourhood offices and cafes forming a bridge from older housing to the vehicle-dominated Coquitlam Centre megamall.

The Regional City Centre precinct is projected to reach a population of something around 50,000 by 2041, forming a commercial and cultural hub for the northeast part of Metro Vancouver.

Coquitlam City Hall approached from the new downtown core

Coquitlam City Hall approached from the new downtown core

Coquitlam resident David Jung and I toured the tower zone in March 2015 for a previous post, and returned to look at the older residential area to the north in May 2015.

Some living opportunities on the north side of the core look not too bad. On the Fraseropolis Urban Villages index (very subjective) the City Centre scores at about the same level of livability as Burnaby Heights, or Marpole in south Vancouver. The imaginary subject of the index is me in 10 years: early 70s, still mobile and active, but looking for ways to enjoy life without driving a car. Coquitlam City1-IMG_0117 Centre is not the cutest among the urban villages on this blog site: the Lougheed Highway edge is a mess of large plazas and parking lots, and the area is scored by major roadways, north-south and east-west. However, it offers a full array of commercial services, a college, an arts centre and (as of 2016) a new rapid transit line.

Abandoned townhomes backing on to Hoy Creek, Coquitlam Centre

Abandoned townhomes backing on to Hoy Creek, Coquitlam Centre

The walk around Lafarge Lake was pleasant, connecting by a pedestrian bridge to a piece of the Trans-Canada Trail running along Hoy Creek. It’s quiet here — too quiet, perhaps, around the ’70s condo development near Johnson Street that appears to be marked for the wrecking crew.

We looped back to the towers, at the core, which appear to be going for a Yaletown feel. David and I enjoyed our lunch at the Urban Gate, an Iranian-flavoured pub attached to a bright new produce store.

[This is #28 in our Urban Villages series, not counting ringers and repeat visits.]

Townhomes reduced

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At Crescent Beach

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The historic heart of Crescent Beach is partly screened from the rest of the city of Surrey, British Columbia by a railway line — operated today by Burlington Northern and Santa Fe, a 32,500-mile network controlled by Warren Buffett with all of 30 track miles in Canada.

Two and three generations ago, the railway line brought people out from Vancouver to enjoy days along the shore. Some built modest cottages and stayed for a few weeks during the summer, and a few of the old cottages still stand. On a clear morning, the promenade along the dyke from Blackie Spit park around the corner to the seafront cafes is one of the finest short walks in the region.

House 6Increasingly, and not surprisingly, it’s a subdivision for the rich. On the day we visited, the ocean-facing house  shown to the left was on sale for $3.8 million. Port Metro Vancouver has received approval to expand its coal-handling facilities, and part of the new coal supply is to come up Mr. Buffett’s railway from the U.S. along the seafront at White Rock and then through the streets of Crescent Beach. On our visit, we noticed knee-high “No U.S. Thermal Coal” signs sprouting up on well-trimmed front lawns.

As I mentioned in a previous post,  Surrey ranks 141 of 209 in the 2015 Protest signMoneySense  best-to-worst list of Canadian cities and towns. A visit to Crescent Beach illustrates the hazards of investing in this kind of generalization. My co-tourist David Plug, who lives just up the hill from the beach, pointed out that Surrey is geographically bigger than Vancouver and Burnaby combined, with a population of half a million. Some parts are better than others.

1-Crescent Beach planJudging from a 1999 neighbourhood plan, the population of the Crescent Beach community (as defined by local government) is likely a bit less than 1,000. Densification here takes the form of a few coach houses built at the back of large residential lots. The plan proposed the creation of dedicated seniors’ housing to let long-time residents “age in place”, but there’s no sign this idea was ever adopted.

Commercial use, about six intermittent walkable blocks of it (counting both sides of the street), is bunched up along the western end of Beecher Street. Other than a couple of professional offices and a yoga studio or two, most commercial space is taken up by cafes. In season, hundreds or thousands of people arrive in Crescent Beach every day to stroll on the dyke or play on the shore. Some stop at the cafes for ice cream or fish and chips.

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We enjoyed our lunch at The Cabin, a pub-style restaurant, but David pointed out that this was the third restaurant business at this location in recent memory. In fact, he said,  restaurants in Crescent Beach seem to struggle. Perhaps the dry season is too short, and there are too many restaurants serving too few locals during the long winters. Perhaps the thousands of July/August beach-goers crowd out potential restaurant patrons by parking their SUVs on the main street. Parking meters might help. The parking shortage really is a problem; if you want to make the visit in high season, come early in the day or there may not be room.

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“Best places”, taxes and crime in the Lower Mainland

Oceanfront houses, Delta

Oceanfront houses, Delta

MoneySense.ca, “Canada’s top personal finance magazine,” has posted a list of the “Best Places to Live” in Canada, ranking 209 cities and towns on a 103-point scale.

Top marks for 2015 go to Boucherville, Quebec, a south-shore suburb of Montreal, while New Glasgow in Nova Scotia comes last, making it either the 209th-Best or the Worst Place to Live in Canada. Continue reading

Oak Bay: behind the tweed curtain

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The District of Oak Bay, population 18,000, is the third most heavily taxed municipality in British Columbia, of 161 listed in provincial tax tables. Property taxes on a representative house are 29 per cent higher than in the City of Victoria next door, and close to 90 per cent higher than the B.C. average.

The numbers suggest an affluent population prepared to pay for services such as an  independent police force — as in the highest taxed local jurisdiction in B.C., the District of West Vancouver. Continue reading

An open letter about a fatal crash

2015 05 10 crashThe following letter was sent by email on May 18, 2015 to Doug Bing, member of the British Columbia Legislature for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.

Dear Doug,

Re: Fatal crash on the Haney Bypass

On Sunday afternoon, May 10, 2015, two vehicles collided at the intersection of the Haney Bypass and Callaghan Avenue  near our home in Maple Ridge. A 14-year old passenger died in hospital the next day.

I was reminded of the letter I wrote to you in February 2014 about the frequent crack-ups and near-misses at this corner. Our elderly neighbour had just walked away from a pile-up that he was lucky to survive. Continue reading

Transit use is highest among lower income households

The University of British Columbia and health authority partners recently published a snapshot of transportation habits in Metro Vancouver based on an online survey of more than 28,000 people.

Transit mode shareAmong respondents, 29 per cent said they commute by public transit, compared with 55 per cent who travel in personal vehicles. A high-level map suggests that transit use is above average in tower-dominated Skytrain nodes and in many urban villages, even remote spots like downtown Langley and  downtown Maple Ridge. Continue reading

Revisiting fabulous Cloverdale

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I recently returned to Cloverdale for a solo Sunday afternoon tour, three years after my first report on this historic commuter railway village in Metro Vancouver.

A local paper had suggested the business association might be falling apart, with the cancellation of major public events in 2015 due to a “lack of sponsorships.”

The eastern side of Surrey, British Columbia’s second largest city, has developed rapidly in recent years. Cloverdale’s special status as a somewhat self-contained urban village is acknowledged in the city government’s area plan (2000) and updated land use map (2013). Eight or 10 blocks of adjacent medium-density housing provide the beginnings of a customer base for local merchants and professional services. A minor campus of Kwantlen University is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the main street shops and restaurants. Continue reading