The Main Street jumble

Just-off-the-high-street commercial space - a chocolaterie on Twenty-First Avenue

Just off the high street: a chocolaterie on 21st Avenue

The urban village, the subject of frequent posts on this site, is a walkable area that combines a diversity of services and housing choices with adequate transit.

Setting the boundaries of any urban village is partly a guessing game. By one convention, the average body will walk up to 1,000 metres to get access to village services. But which services? What’s in, and what’s out? In the City of Vancouver, with the most complex development patterns in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, villages often overlap. This is certainly true of the neighbourhoods up and down Main Street: one of my favourite streets, but the result is difficult to photograph and to describe. Continue reading

Searching for controversy in the West End plan

Projected development in Vancouver's West End. The blue towers, mostly on Georgia and Burrard, represent future densification.

Projected development in Vancouver’s West End. The blue towers, mostly on Georgia and Burrard, represent future densification.

Two recent posts on Fraseropolis focused on Vancouver neighbourhoods — Grandview-Woodlands and Marpole — where resident activists have forced big delays in the City government’s area planning process.

Denman Street 2, Vancouver reducedIn the West End, however, City Council moved ahead with the adoption of a new community plan in late November. This area is the finest urban village in British Columbia for access to services and urban life, at least as measured by the Fraseropolis index, and the City plan is advertised as a tool for preserving and enhancing these qualities. (The plan actually defines three West End villages — Robson, Denman, and Davie — but for an outsider from the deep ‘burbs, they blend comfortably together.) Continue reading

Conflict in Marpole

apartments 1

Urban affairs journalist and blogger Frances Bula recently noted a heating up of resistance to densification in Metro Vancouver, especially in the City of Vancouver. A consortium of neighbourhood interests called “Liveable Vancouver” is spotlightlighting the controversy in Marpole, where the City government is trying to develop a plan to accommodate a forecast population increase. On a recent visit, we saw many lawn signs protesting against rezoning; a Marpole neighourhood group claims there are thousands.

The City’s current concept would protect Marpole’s significant stock of rental housing; enable townhome construction on many of the residential streets where there is now single-family housing; and allow condo apartments or towers on the arterial streets. Continue reading

Downtown Langley: grey to green

Fraser Hwy 1

The City of Langley is one of those pocket-sized, hemmed-in British Columbia municipalities — like Comox, White Rock, or the City of North Van — whose only hope for new development is to densify.

This realization has come late to Langley City. The northern edge of the downtown area gives way to an atrocious patchwork of vacant and underdeveloped commercial and industrial lands. In response, the city has worked for the past decade on a plan to expand the “realm of influence” of the charming core. Continue reading

Ambleside: “Living here is like being on vacation”

Ambleside waterfront reducedWe parked on Fulton Avenue, at the top of the functioning Ambleside village, and  walked down towards the high street. We met a man carrying two small bags of groceries; he said he had lived in a nearby condo apartment for more than 20 years and loved the village, the services, the scenic waterfront, all of them close together. “Living here is like being on vacation,” he said. With slight drawbacks:  it’s rainier than the big city, and it’s hard to plan for shows or meetings in Vancouver because of the unreliability of the three-lane Lions Gate Bridge.

Ambleside is located in the City of West Vancouver, the most affluent municipality in Canada measured by income and probably by municipal revenues per resident. For example, spending on public library operations (as reported here) is three times as high as in much of the rest of the Lower Mainland. The public services available in the village (rec centre, seniors activity centre, public space for artists) are perhaps the best in the region; commercial services such as the garden centre and the storefront hardware are rarely seen elsewhere; even the quality of the commercial architecture is a step or two above the norm. Continue reading

Aesthetic Maple Ridge: Rolling the dice in Selkirk East

A condemned house in the Selkirk lands before its demolition in 2011

A condemned house in the Selkirk lands before its demolition in 2011

For more than two years, my home community of Maple Ridge has been waiting to see a private-sector vision for a key parcel of land in the town centre.

The vacant three-acre site, bounded by Selkirk Avenue on the south and 119 Avenue on the north, with an interior street through the middle, is critical to the future of the Maple Ridge Town Centre urban village. Careful development, if it occurs, will bring pedestrians and new life to the city’s core. Continue reading

Tsawwassen’s “small town” centre

A restaurant fronting on mall parking, Tsawwassen, B.C.

A restaurant fronting on mall parking, Tsawwassen, B.C.

Tsawwassen is a cluster of neighbourhoods in the affluent municipality of Delta, in Greater Vancouver. It sits on a peninsula in the Pacific Ocean, warm and dry, getting half as much rain as many other parts of the region. As our waitress said, Tsawwassen lives in its “own little bubble,” away from the big-city mainstream.

Oceanfront housing, Beach Grove, Tsawassen

Oceanfront housing, Beach Grove, Tsawwassen

Newish housing, English Bluff Road, Tsawassen

Newish housing, English Bluff Road, Tsawwassen

The local government’s official plan describes Tsawwassen’s character as “semi-rural”  (schedule D1-6); in fact, it’s a 1960s-style suburb with mostly quiet streets and average-sized lots. Construction activity is brisk, though, as the original 60s and 70s homes are knocked down and replaced. Continue reading