On November 15, voters in most of British Columbia voted for continuity in local government. Where there was change, it was generally more generational than ideological. (And if there was no competition, such as for the mayor’s position in the District of North Vancouver, there was no voting at all.) In Metro Vancouver, continuity means further densification, often through tower development. For the most part, anti-development movements were turned back at the ballot box.
Let’s start with the single partial exception. In Port Moody, city government had proposed a dramatic plan to densify the central area, responding to the anticipated opening of a new rapid transit line. An opposition movement bloomed, peaking in late 2013, vowing to protect Port Moody’s (fictitious, I think) “small-town feel.” I do not know what this means; Port Moody has allowed monster detached homes to run halfway up Heritage Mountain, and its manufactured urban villages are heavy with towers. In any case, the opposition leader ran for mayor, and did okay, but he was defeated by incumbent mayor Mike Clay. The mayor lost some allies on council, and at least one newcomer has vowed to protect the “small-town feel.”. Both sides say they won. Clay says his central area plan, scaled down in 2014 to appease the critics, will be implemented. Over time.
In the City of North Vancouver, there have been complaints about the pace and scale of development in the central and lower Lonsdale areas, as mentioned recently on this site. The citizens website set up to focus the dissent became milder in tone before the election, hinting at compromise, and mayor Darrell Mussatto swept to victory with what appears to be a fully supportive council. North Van City will continue to be the key growth node on the North Shore; it aspires to be an entertainment and cultural hub just across the water from Gastown and the convention district.
The big smoke — the City of Vancouver — witnessed a sometimes undignified tussle between its main civic slates. The dominant Vision slate led by Gregor Robertson had offended many local residents over the Marpole and Grandview-Woodlands area plans. The challengers, known unpoetically as the NPA, campaigned on the theme that Vision was a secretive, unfeeling machine. NPA often used the area planning failures as examples. But Robertson was re-elected, with a supportive majority on council. Vancouver will continue to feel its way toward densification, through a combination of tower and low-rise redevelopment — along Kingsway, Cambie, the south end of Granville, south Fraser, and elsewhere as opportunities arise. In truth, it’s unlikely that an NPA council would change this direction, despite the claims of some supporters during the campaign.
In the large suburban cities it was no contest.
Surrey lost mayor Dianne Watts to retirement. Her party, responsible for the burgeoning Surrey City Centre and its new, somewhat pricey city hall, took every seat on council including the mayor’s seat.
Burnaby, home of Metrotown, re-elected mayor Derek Corrigan with 69 per cent of the vote in a six-way race, and gave his party every seat on council.
Richmond, with a central city development plan that is enormous in scale, re-elected mayor Malcolm Brodie (Richmond has had three mayors since 1974). The six councillors who stood for re-election were all successful. Coquitlam was ditto, with Mayor Richard Stewart and colleagues re-elected to continue the tower development near the terminus of the new Evergreen Line.
Off to the side, we saw generational change in New Westminster, with Jonathan Cote upsetting long-time mayor Wayne Wright. Cote has a master’s degree in urban studies and has bravely called for tolls on the proposed new Pattullo crossing of the Fraser River. My hunch is that Cote will continue with New West’s Brooklynesque “city near the city” project, made possible by its excellent transit and vintage architectural assets.
To sum up, there was finger-wagging, and even heartache and tears where individual hopes came crashing town; but the region-wide result show a bias, or at least permission, for continued rapid development and redevelopment.
Yes, there is resistance to densification at the back-yard level. Draft residential-area plans that propose multi-unit housing, especially rental housing, are watered down or turned back. Even so, taxpayers see that municipal revenues can be had from multi-unit housing, and there’s strong market demand. As a compromise, we build clusters of towers along highways or at the margins of industrial zones, especially in the larger suburban cities mentioned above. The emergence of pedestrian-friendly, human-scale urban villages is rare, although Fraseropolis will keep searching.