Voters in Greater Victoria, population 345,000, are looking at the possible amalgamation of their 13 municipal governments into a smaller number. Possible, but not likely, since so many urban British Columbians are passionate about the randomly-sized cities and towns where they live. Rather than amalgamation, a slight increase in the number of “shared services” — a joint parks department here, a joint library there — is a safer bet.
Esquimalt is one of the odd-shaped municipal bits that makes up Greater Victoria. Its Pacific shoreline is home to a naval base that employs 6,000 people. Otherwise, the city has waterfront parks, a modest urban village and an on-street bike lane connecting to the offices and retail stores in Victoria’s downtown.
The 2011 federal census counted 16,209 people in Esquimalt, a drop of 3.7% from the census of 2006. Shrinking households and a reluctance to densify, perhaps, although the city government is permitting some multi-family development and regional projections predict a recovery to former levels.
Around Esquimalt Road east of Admirals Road,developers and city government have brought together housing choice, professional services, civic services and a small shopping centre, making the area largely self-sufficient for any resident who likes to stay close to home. In the world o’ Fraseropolis, the eight storefront blocks are about the minimum required to anchor a functioning urban village. To build on this strength, City Council is moving ahead with a makeover of the former municipal works yard, intended to add more housing and services.
Our excellent hotel, the Magnolia, lent me an excellent little bike for my brief tour. I discovered that harbourfront pathways in Esquimalt and elsewhere have been closed to cycling, and also that the road system around the Esquimalt naval base is fraught with dead ends, so the cycling experience was somewhat hit and miss, but the residential streets are tranquil and I was in no hurry.
But while Greater Victoria retains a relaxed pace and relative housing afforability, real estate prices have started to follow the pattern of Vancouver. Oak Bay, on the eastern side of Victoria, has crossed into million-dollar territory. Prices for single-family homes in Esquimalt show more than a 15 per cent jump from April 2015 to April 2016. As this trend continues, we can expect to see the gentrification of smaller homes to disguise their working-class roots, the replacement of large heritage homes with even bigger models that offer more floor space, and accelerated demand for 40- to 60-unit low-rise apartment complexes.
[This is post #33 in our Urban Villages series.]