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

The plan to grow Richmond Brighouse

Saba Road, Richmond

Saba Road, Richmond

We visited Richmond to see the Brighouse district, tagged by local government as an emerging urban village. We parked on the mall roof, an unvillagey place to start. After a walkabout of the area, our friend Bob Smarz decided that this is a real neighbourhood,  judging from the vitality of the Asian shops and the Public Market. I am undecided.

Richmond Centre mall

Richmond Centre mall

In its 2011 census, StatsCan put Richmond’s population at 190,000, with more than 40 per cent of residents speaking a language other than English at home.  Richmond city officials want to focus future population growth in the central area (see page 2-3 of the 2009 Central Area Plan), mostly in six designated urban villages. As I said in my previous post, I find the “village” vision difficult to grasp: the same six precincts would see significant growth in commercial, industrial and public-sector employment, and would also provide cultural and entertainment services on a regional scale. Continue reading

A wider definition of “urban village”

Behind the Public Market, Brighouse Village, Richmond City Centre

Behind the Public Market, Brighouse Village, Richmond City Centre

We launched the Fraseropolis Urban Villages project in March 2012, six months after opening this site. Our amateur definition of “urban village” focuses on places where residents can find everyday services, transit and housing choice within easy walking distance. Not everyone wants to live in a village; but a successful village attracts enough people that business and community life flourish.

Richmond City Centre

Richmond City Centre

The City of Richmond, British Columbia, in its 2009 whopper of a City Centre Area Plan, looks at the urban village in an expanded way. The Plan describes villages as a key part of the City’s City Centre development strategy, and identifies six of them. (“Candidate villages” might be a better name, since most of them exist only on the drawing board.) The Plan says that “‘Urban village’ is another name for the type of compact, walkable, transit-centred community encouraged by Transit-Oriented Development.”  Page 1-10 lays out a grid of required or encouraged village features. Continue reading

West Broadway village: genteel densification

Coach house, Trafalgar Street, Vancouver

Coach house, Trafalgar Street, Vancouver

For decades, the City of Vancouver has pursued a strategy of creating new, densely-populated residential zones around unused industrial lands. (Yaletown is a good example.) Efforts to densify residential zones have generally been more cautious. When Council goes for the gusto, as with the multi-tower King Edward Village in the neighbourhood around Kingsway and Knight, public opposition is often bitter.

Larch Street: two units accessible from the main floor, one from the ground floor.

Larch Street: two units accessible from the main floor, one from the ground floor.

Vancouver’s West Broadway area is an example of creeping densification, an approach  designed to improve housing choice without triggering civil war. It’s achieved mostly by placing new mini-homes on large properties (as shown above), or by dividing vintage homes into multiple units (as on the left.) Continue reading

Downtown New West goes for the big time

Columbia Street

The riverfront city of New Westminster enjoyed a long history as an industrial and commercial hub separate from Vancouver. But as suburban populations and shopping malls grew to the east, north and south, New West lost something of its distinctive position and much of its commercial market.

The City government responded with repeated beautification efforts and a failed attempt to launch a new Granville Island development at Westminster Quay; but through 1980s and 90s, Columbia Street, the downtown area’s high street, grew increasingly frazzled and transient. Continue reading

The high street in White Rock: hold for development

Johnson Road, White Rock

White Rock, a part of Metro Vancouver, is a small city on the U.S. border with a dry, warm climate (relative to areas north of the Fraser River ) and a splendid promenade and cafe district along Boundary Bay. People in fashionable new neighbourhoods in nearby Surrey sometimes claim to live in White Rock, but there’s at least one key difference. 2011 federal census figures show that close to 30 per cent of White Rock’s population is over the age of 65, compared with 12.1 per cent in Surrey and 13.7 per cent in the City of Vancouver. Continue reading