Industry in the big city: evolution, decay or disappearance

Fraseropolis Southeast False Creek 1

Automotive shop, possibly c. 1920, at the boundary of Southeast False Creek and the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area

Old-time Vancouverites often describe 1986 as the year that everything changed.

Expo 86, staged on the north shore of False Creek, brought the world to Vancouver. Once a rail, seaport and mill town, Vancouver became a place where the primary economic activity is the purchase and sale of promises.*

The Craft Beer Market on 1st Avenue, Southeast False Creek, Saturday morning

Around the False Creek perimeter, most of the classic industrial structures disappeared or were reimagined as restaurants and bars. In the mid-2000s, the lands in the southeast quadrant were mostly vacant, dotted with a few abandoned mills; today, Southeast False Creek is home to something like 10,000 people, although this is just my guesstimate. Development in the City of Vancouver is so relentless in so many places that the Southeast False Creek Plan has not been updated since 2007, and the City’s website page (at this writing) is dated 2011.

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The Argo Cafe, a cheeseburger joint on Quebec St. and a survivor from an earlier era in the industrial zone

Across 2nd Avenue from Southeast False Creek, the city government has given a priority to continued industrial land use in the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area, home to a a hodgepodge of small factories, repair shops and labs. However, the City’s definition of “industry” has evolved over the past decade. Since 2017, revised zoning regulations around Quebec Street have allowed the construction of up to six storeys to house animation studios, tech support companies and the design/construction sector. The arrival of these quasi-industrial employers and the popping up of Southeast False Creek’s instant neighbourhood go hand in hand.

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Fashion design house, 6th at Quebec

1940s (?) structure next to hundred-year-old home, 6th Avenue

The old one- and two-storey industrial shops, in other words, are giving ground slowly. Some have been taken over by chic retail bakeries and craft beer tasting rooms, or by marketing firms. Others have been demolished in favour of newer, bigger, diversified complexes.

The Mount Pleasant Industrial Area is also dotted with three-storey wood frame houses, dating from before the First World War. These still function as single-family homes or apartment buildings; some are fading and some have been tastefully renovated. I support this integration of residential and industrial land use, although I’m not sure that I would volunteer to live here.

Co-tourist Nathan Gowsell and I started with a bagel and coffee at Solly’s, on the edge of the newish Cambie at Broadway retail and office development. We traversed the Mount Pleasant zone on 7th and 6th avenues, stopping to chat with friends who live nearby.

Crossing into Southeast False Creek, Nathan noted that a few of the streets have a European feel. I said it’s because the automobile has been demoted; the pedestrian and the cyclist have achieved a sort of equality with the driver, although some drivers are clearly unhappy with this notion.

As we left False Creek, one street was blocked off, with auxiliary police constables standing guard. Somebody was testing a driverless shuttle bus, and it crept past us in perfect silence as pedestrians asked, “What is that?”

*By the way, the “1986 transformation” account is an exaggeration. Investment in Granville Island, a former industrial site on False Creek that is now one of Canada’s leading tourist attractions, began in 1973. In fact, the city’s gentrification has been ongoing throughout its history.

A food truck on the main square in Southeast False Creek. The square features an upscale supermarket and a drug store, but is dominated by oversize pubs.

Athletes Way; these buildings were a part of the former Olympic Village during the 2010 Winter Games

This is the back end…

Unnamed pedestrian passage

Empty industrial structure, holding for redevelopment

The Interurban Tram, 1950-51

Fraseropolis Interurban tram 1951 from YoutubeMy sister Morna has shared a link to a one-hour video record of interurban trams in Vancouver and Burnaby, dating from 1950 and 1951.

A brief history on the TransLink website states that these self-propelled street railway cars were “like streetcars, only larger and more powerful.” The video speaks to a time when the pace of life was slower. The area that is today’s Metrotown (at about 20 minutes) appears semi-rural.

Seeking the best cities for work in B.C.

In early December, BC Business published its annual “Best Cities for work in B.C.” index.

Infill housing, Sapperton, New Westminster, 2017

The publishers and their research partner, Environics Analytics, deserve credit for collecting and posting data on 46 B.C. cities, from Squamish (ranked #1 for 2019) to Port Alberni (ranked last).

Unfortunately, I don’t know what they are trying to communicate. Is the District of North Vancouver (ranked #3) a good place to find a job, or a good place to live if you want to look for a job? What kind of job? How does high average income in a community affect the on-the-job experience of a teacher, a firefighter or an electrician who happens to work there? Or are we simply talking about the local opportunity to earn a higher income in our chosen profession? ($51,000+ is available to a Step 1 Category 4 schoolteacher in New Denver in the Kootenays, $48,000 for the same teacher in North Vancouver, so…) Why are municipalities that sit next to each other so far apart on the scale? Continue reading

A new SkyTrain plan for Surrey

Surrey-Langley SkyTrain route fraseropolis

Route for the proposed SkyTrain extension from Surrey Central to downtown Langley, posted by TransLink in early 2019. The former light rail route from Guildford to Newton has been demoted to express bus status.

From 2011 until last year, city government in Surrey (population 500,000) worked diligently on a plan for light rail transit. This would be the first at-grade LRT system in British Columbia; similar systems are in service in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. By 2018, $1.65 billion in funding from regional, provincial and federal sources was in place, with construction teams to be selected in 2019.

But a new municipal government elected in October 2018 moved quickly to kill the Surrey LRT scheme. LRT, according to an active group of opponents, was too slow, and it would get in the way of cars and trucks. SkyTrain moves more people over longer distances, and it has big city prestige. Continue reading

2018 local elections: backlash, reform, status quo

Coquitlam Central, 2014

October’s local elections in urban southwest British Columbia showed no clear trend. Each of the more than 30 municipal jurisdictions has its own political cycle, based on local history and personalities. In Surrey and Maple Ridge we saw a return to the past; in Coquitlam, New Westminster and North Vancouver, something like the status quo; and in Mission, Port Moody, City of Langley and elsewhere, the rise of a new generation. Continue reading

A pop-up village at the University of British Columbia

A promotional photo from showing new high-rise development at UBC

In just seven years, the University of British Columbia has created a highly densified residential neighbourhood on its southern perimeter.

Not everyone loves the Wesbrook project. The University sits outside the City of Vancouver, and there is no local government to put the brakes on the University authority. The University Board develops its lands as it pleases, with some provincial government oversight. Continue reading

No quick fix for North Vancouver traffic

A detail from the 2018 joint agency report on North Shore traffic, with a bunch o’ recommendations on how to reduce congestion.

It seems Fraseropolis got it wrong in 2014 when we downplayed reports about traffic jams on the North Shore. I said that with almost zero population growth, an ageing demographic and improving transit, traffic volumes in North and West Vancouver should be subsiding.

A photo used to promote a public forum on traffic, from the North Van Parks and Rec Commission.

However, a new report from a multi-agency task force points out that industrial and commercial development on the North Shore is drawing thousands of workers from across the Burrard Inlet, and heavy truck traffic is increasing as well. North Vancouver is now one of the region’s traffic hot spots, especially around the two major bridges in the afternoon rush.

“Employers have expressed their frustration and challenges with attracting and keeping employees who either must commute from other parts of the region on congested roads and bridges or make a long transit journey.” Continue reading