Transformation and demoviction in Burquitlam

1960s-vintage walk-up apartment buildings near Cottonwood Park. These structures, and others nearby, have housed refugees from the Middle East and Africa in recent years. Many are targeted for demolition. When this photo was taken (October 2019) Google Maps showed a much wider area of similar buildings standing on the now-vacant lands in the foreground.

North Road, which splits Coquitlam from Burnaby, is one of British Columbia’s oldest roads. It was cleared in 1859 as an escape route to the Pacific, in the event that American forces attacked the British military camp on the Fraser River to the south.

A house from Burquitlam’s semi-rural period, probably 1940, just east of North Road

Against this dramatic background, the Burquitlam neighbourhood emerged after 1950 as an unremarkable add-on to existing sprawl. The new shopping plaza created a focus of sorts with its enormous parking lot. The funeral home provided another landmark, built close by the early-arrival house shown on the left. In between, the developers added a few blocks of rental apartment housing, something that made sense given the real estate economics and tax policies of the time.

The 2017 opening of the Evergreen rapid transit line is transforming this area. SkyTrain has enabled tower cluster formation around perhaps 20 stations in Metro Vancouver in recent decades; Burquitlam offers an especially drastic example of supercharged redevelopment and demolition, all on the Coquitlam side of North Road. In 2015 there were two mid-rise towers here. Today there are a dozen residential towers located around the North Road/Clarke Road intersection, with more towers, mid-rise complexes and townhomes in the works.

Apartments, maybe 1965, Whiting Way; mostly vacant, and waiting for demolition, on the day of our tour

The story received little attention in community media through 2018 and 2019. I can only conclude that the longtime homeowners — the sort of voters who influence local politics — have not collectively registered any concerns about the pace of change. Granted, the people who are most affected are renters, often new arrivals to Canada who are unlikely to rock the boat. But the owners of big detached homes are sharing the experience, through construction noise, the transformation of viewscapes, and increased traffic on side streets and arterials. The answer may lie in the fact that homeowners anticipate a big payday from the local land boom. In fact, some have already cashed in.

I walked through the neighbourhood with co-tourists Ellen and John Heaney, my sister and brother-in-law. They have owned and lived in a detached house here for more than 30 years, on a street where property values are rising. I was struck by the number of redevelopment notices and properties that have been cleared for redevelopment. In a 2016 post, I wrote about the demolition of the old rental stock around Metrotown in Burnaby and the eviction of renters. My impression from our tour is that the Burquitlam situation is event more acute.

The Metrotown demovictions triggered a protest movement that boosted the Green party’s fortunes in the 2018 local elections. Interestingly, representatives of the Metrotown protest movement arrived in Burquitlam as I was preparing this post. Spokesman Murray Martin told the Tri-City News that Coquitlam has had “a free ride for the last few years” with regard to the displacement of renters.

Fraseropolis Burquitlam towers

Towers under construction on Foster Avenue, seen from a residential property to the south

Fraseropolis Burquitlam shopping centre

A 1970s strip mall, the stub of a much larger property that was cleared for the new Safeway and towers in the background.

Ellen was a children’s librarian for many years. She now teaches English to adults and presenting story times to small children through local social service agencies. Her clients are mostly immigrants, especially refugees from war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa. Some of the people she has taught lived in affordable apartments on Foster Avenue, and were dispersed by the construction of the towers shown above. Others fear they will soon lose their homes.

These are resilient people, my sister says, and quick to form support networks along national or religious lines. Most of them will find their way. Even so, we are looking at a long-term trend where an increasing number of people ejected from affordable housing across the Lower Mainland are competing for a shrinking supply.

The City of Coquitlam has tried to address the rental shortage in its 2015 Housing Affordability Strategy. Unlike in Metrotown in 2016, current project signs in Burquitlam show that the new towers will include some market rental units. However, this is not a one-for-one substitution; the three of us agreed that the new units will probably rent for twice as much as the existing ones.

As in Metrotown, many new Burquitlam residents will be working immigrants, especially Chinese and Koreans. We had our dinner at Katsuya, part of a quasi-trendy Japanese schnitzel chain based at a Burquitlam-like crossroads in Toronto — and part of a diverse Metro Vancouver restaurant market that caters increasingly to Asian tastes.

[This is post #42 in our Urban Villages series.]

Fraseropolis Burquitlam Station

Burquitlam Station

Fraseropolis Evergreen line

Burquitlam Station on the Evergreen Extension of the Millennium Line. The station sits at the summit of an old road from the Fraser River to the Pacific Ocean.

Burquitlam European moden

A low-rise complex with a “European modern” design, which some folks like and others don’t

Detached home on Adler Avenue, awaiting low-rise or townhome development

Fraseropolis Burquitlam redevelopment 2

Sign on yet another condemned property, not on a park

Fraseropolis Burquitlam house for sale

A house for sale at the edge of the redevelopment zone. At the time of publication of this post, it was listed at $2,400,000..





Imagining downtown Maple Ridge as a social services precinct

Services available for low-income people, seniors and families in trouble in downtown Maple Ridge, summer 2019. This may not be the complete list. (Graphic by Farnsworth Designs.)

Like some other sprawling urban jurisdictions in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, Maple Ridge (population 80,000) has a downtown core built around an old rural crossroads. The construction of the Lougheed Highway through farmland in 1929 generated a commercial cluster at the intersection of 224 Street. The original Fuller Watson furniture store is still in business at this corner, and other 1929-era structures nearby are  home to newer retail businesses such as the gelato store and a micro-brewery.

There is money in Maple Ridge. The 2016 Canada census indicates the median income is relatively high — well above those in the City of Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, Coquitlam or Richmond. Managers and professionals commute from Maple Ridge to downtown Vancouver, the International Airport or the North Shore, online entrepreneurs and investors generate millions from their hillside estates, and double-income couples work in public-sector positions as university teachers, school teachers, nurses, bus drivers, municipal officials, police officers and prison guards. The money from these government jobs is not always spectacular, but it is steady and it comes with generous pensions.

Of course, there are lower-income people too. Many have settled in apartment complexes north or east of City Hall, where the can walk to buy groceries or to catch a bus. Some once worked in the lumber mills and factories that have disappeared over time; others have emerged a Maple Ridge jail without skills or aptitudes; the largest number, doubtless, work at a low wage in the hair salons, dollar stores and for-cash contracting businesses that form a big part of the local private-sector economy.

In a dynamic that has rolled out over many years, Maple Ridge has also spawned or attracted a prominent homeless population. For the B.C. news media, homelessness is a big part of the Maple Ridge brand; and for many local political candidates, homelessness became almost the sole issue in the 2018 municipal election campaign.

Other cities in the region — Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Surrey and New Westminster, for starters — also struggle with homelessness and related problems such as public drug use and property crime. However, it may be that the homeless are more visible in Maple Ridge than anywhere else, partly because the city’s founding families (think 1929) still own much of the inner-city land and have left it vacant.

The Port Haney homeless camp, Maple Ridge, on March 3, 2019, just after the City of Maple Ridge ordered residents to evacuate. In the next few days, 400 cubic metres of refuse were removed from an area the size of a standard residential lot. The City eventually allowed registered residents to return to the camp, under heavy security, but refused to admit any new campers. As as of summer 2019, the population had dwindled to something like 8  residents, down from a peak of 60 or more. The homeless, however, are still visible on the street, and appear to be scattered to gullies and the Fraser River shore.

Scored on the Fraseropolis urban villages index, devised for middle-class city dwellers such as myself, downtown Maple Ridge scores in the low to mediocre range. There is housing choice within 750 metres of the main streets, the transit system is improving, and there is growing urban interest around the farmer’s market. On the negative side, the retail and commercial services sprawl across too wide an area to encourage walking, the retail quality is often low, and retail businesses and restaurants frequently fail.

I developed the map at the top of this post simply on a hunch, to see what it would look like. My 2012 Fraseropolis index does not consider the density of social services — for the very poor, families in trouble, or low-income seniors. This is not a dimension of urban life that business improvement associations or local newspapers have focused on. However, the availability of such services is critical in pointing people towards employment, healthier choices and affordable housing. In exploring the urban villages of B.C. since 2012, I have frequently sensed a conflict between the need for social services storefronts and the consumer appetite for the chic and the trendy. The challenge, I guess, is to integrate services for the poor into trendy neighbourhoods; or alternatively, to think of ways to eliminate poverty.

Dewdney Trunk Road at 224 Street, Maple Ridge. Some visitors to the downtown may be driving in to shop in one of the strip malls, take a yoga class or have their truck repaired; others may be walking from apartments nearby to see their probation officer or negotiate free clothing at a charity store.



Apartment development in Surrey: crowdfunding as a doorway to home ownership

Tower construction seen from alongside the proposed new development on 104 Avenue, Surrey

I recently joined our friend David Plug on a real estate investors’ bus tour around Surrey Central. The tour’s purpose was to encourage passengers to commit at least $25,000 in financing for a proposed apartment housing complex.

With a large number of smallish investments, the development company hopes to raise at least $7.5 million, a big chunk of the estimated $13.5 million cost of purchasing land. The project prospectus lays out three scenarios. In the minimum scenario, under present City of Surrey zoning, the builders would construct 210 units in a 6-storey wood-frame complex; with revised zoning, they might achieve 359 units, and a higher rate of return to investors. Continue reading

Suburban sprawl, German style

Garage entrance and back yard, Brunsbüttel

On a trip to Europe this month, Vicki and I stayed with friends in Brunsbüttel, a town of 13,400 on the North Sea. The town’s most notable feature is the entrance to the mouth of the world’s busiest artificial waterway, the Kiel Canal. Ocean-going ships sail past the eastern end of the high street on an hourly basis.

This pedestrian-cycling pathway also provides local  vehicle access to garages and laneway housing. The home on the right has solar panels on the garage and on the main roof.

Our friends are from southern Germany, but they own a retirement home in a newish subdivision on the northern edge of Brunsbüttel. They were among the first to build here in about 2002. Like its counterparts in similar-sized towns in North America, the neighbourhood is laid out in a cunning pattern of nesting crescents and dead ends to discourage vehicle traffic. Continue reading