Renovating Austin Heights

The City of Coquitlam, which has a current population of about 130,000, was a Angle parking in the key pedestrian block of Austin Avenue, Coquitlamsuperstar of sprawl in the 1970s and 80s.  The City government has  changed course in its more recent neighbourhood plans.  The Austin Heights plan, dated April 2011, would see 5,000 additional residents housed  between Blue Mountain and Linton streets.

“Coun. Doug Macdonell, who grew up in Austin Heights and attended Austin Heights elementary, said the area needs to be modernized. ‘It’s come to a time now where it’s pretty tired,’ he said, adding, ‘We need the density to rehabilitate this area and make it a thriving community again.’ (Tri-City News.)

Housing on the south side of the Austin Heights commercial coreOver the next 20 years, the City intends to create a high-density zone around the commercial core on Austin Avenue and new medium-density pockets to the north and south, all of it pedestrian- and transit-friendly.  It’s a tall order.  The planning area is solidly single-family in its residential make-up, except for a strip of older walkups north of the commercial core.  The approval of a first  19-story tower at the edge of the core generated bitter neighbourhood protest.  Mayor Richard Stewart and those councillors who approved the tower were re-elected in November 2011; two of the three councillors who opposed the tower were also re-elected, with the third challenging Mr. Stewart for the mayor’s job and losing.  In the ensuing months, the new Council rode out a further Austin Heights controversy around a four-story condo  project (it was approved).

A separate deterrent to attracting development to the Austin core is that the recreation services and transit hub that serve the area were Rec Centre, Poirier Street, Coquitlamlocated — no doubt according to the planning orthodoxy of the 1960s — well away from the commercial core. From the Ridgeway Avenue shops to the rec centre shown here is over a kilometre and a half; only a small fraction of the area’s population will walk to both. Transit service around the recreational precinct is fair, but through the commercial core it’s infrequent, even with the Lougheed Centre rapid transit hub just a few minutes down the hill.

Ridgeway Ave., Austin Heights, CoquitlamFinally, while the core itself offers lots of services and appears prosperous, with evidence of investment and energy from the Korean community, the built form is a mish-mash of planning mistakes from the past – intrusive angle parking, big plazas and little plazas, and even two long blocks of business park-type development. It’s hard to see how this will be knit into a pleasing whole.

I walked the core with two co-tourists, my nephews Brendan Heaney and Martin Heaney. They grew up in Burquitlam, the next neighbourhood to the east, and played little league baseball at Blue Mountain Park.  We ate at the John B pub, which I recommend. Brendan and Martin wondered whether redeveloping the Austin Heights area would reduce housing affordability, although they weren’t personally worried; both of them have moved to other parts of the Lower Mainland, like many of their friends.

[This is post #13 in our Urban Villages series.  The "urban village" is treated on this site not as a commercial area, but as a walkable mixed-use area centred on a set of services. Livability in an urban village is measured as a function of housing availability for a diversity of folks, public transit, civic amenities and incentives to walk and cycle as well as a range of commercial services. ]

Concept for a high-density Austin Avenue, Coquitlam

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2 thoughts on “Renovating Austin Heights

  1. Hi Ian – this is my mom’s neighbourhood, she would have been a very interesting tour guide for you. She is 82 and lives on a street about 10 blocks down Bluemountain in a house that her & dad bought in 1978. She doesn’t drive and walks up to Austin for all her errands. Doctor, dentist, bank, Safeway, beauty parlor and BC Biomedical Lab (which she has to visit weekly). She takes a taxi home. The amazing thing is that there isn’t a single Tim Hortons or Starbucks close buy.

    • On my first urban village tour for this site, my co-tourist Nathan Pachal said, “Follow the seniors!” If the area is working for seniors on foot, it’s taken a big step (!) toward success.

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