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

Transforming Metrotown

Paterson SkyTrain station, looking to new residential towers south of the Metrotown shopping complex

The older retail blocks on Kingsway near the mall have struggled over the years. Tenants include payday loan shops, tattoo parlours and porn outlets.

The City of Burnaby has adopted a new long-term development plan for the Metrotown district. By 2040, Metrotown is to be transformed by the redevelopment of its signature shopping malls into a “finergrained network of public streets, lanes, pedestrian connections, plazas, squares, parks, and open spaces.” Metrotown is to become a classic downtown core in a suburban city of 240,000 that has lacked a focus until now.

The July 2017 plan replaces a 1977 document that, visually at least, had a creepy, adopted-by-aliens vibe. The old plan facilitated the growth of the Metrotown shopping complex, Canada’s second-largest indoor shopping centre, along with a surrounding ring of apartment towers. The shopping centre is a busy place with an enormous variety of services, but it shows blank facades to the outside world. As I pointed out after my 2012 visit, the streets and concrete plazas around the mall lack life and colour. Continue reading

A development surge in Vancouver’s River District

The River District, in Vancouver’s extreme southeast corner, offers a quiet riverside walk, lunch at a good pub restaurant overlooking the water, and a feeling of imminent transformation.

The area was identified for conversion from industrial to residential use at least as early as 2004. At that time, residential development was already proceeding in a former industrial area to the west, in a two-block-wide band between Marine Drive and the Fraser River. Continue reading

In the shadow of Vancouver’s traffic viaducts

Vacant lands next to False Creek in downtown Vancouver. The city government’s plan will see the removal of two elevated roadways, the extension of a waterfront park and up to 20 new residential towers.

The first Georgia Street automobile viaduct was built in 1915 as a bridge over railways and industrial lands. The current Georgia and Dunsmuir Street viaducts are orphan remnants of a failed plan to run a freeway from Highway 1 into downtown Vancouver.

2011 study reported that the viaducts carry about 40,000 vehicles every day. However, Vancouver Council voted in 2015 to tear them down and tidy up the underlying street network. The viaducts are ugly, and they’re a waste of land: it’s estimated that their removal will enable the development of housing for as many as 10,000 people. Continue reading

Pitt Meadows 1 — Osprey Village

The recently completed commercial core of Osprey Village. The brick-faced structure in the foreground was approved as a live-work development, with shopowners living above their businesses.

The city of Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, population 18,500, has shown how a small municipality can function effectively in a large urban region. Residents enjoy relatively low property taxes and much the same services as  Surrey, a nearby city with a half a million people.

Osprey Village, a Pitt Meadows neighbourhood overlooking the Fraser River, was built over the past decade with patience and (I think) good taste, at least compared with the competition in other Fraseropolis suburbs. The commercial zone pictured above is short on everyday services and heavy on dog spas and craft galleries, but it’s attractive and cozy, and is now a mini-tourism destination for cyclists and for families looking to walk along the river. (Osprey is at the western end of a regional pathway network, and not far from the Golden Ears Bridge; cycling links to Coquitlam and Langley are excellent.) The 2009 land use plan adopted by City Council in 2009 provides for up to 25 live-work units on the main street or immediately behind, and the community hall by the river park acts as a regional conference centres, so there’s continued pedestrian traffic in the Osprey village centre even on weekdays. Continue reading