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..





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

The Evergreen Line and tower development

Skytrain-oriented development at Suter Brook, Port Moody, October 2016

SkyTrain-oriented development at Suter Brook, Port Moody, October 2016

A developer's rendering of the

Burnaby’s “City of Lougheed” project, captured from a real estate site. The Evergreen Line enters from the right to join the existing Millennium Line.

Metro Vancouver’s Evergreen rapid transit line is set to open before the end of 2016. Planning for this SkyTrain link to deep Coquitlam started almost 20 years ago, and residential towers sprang up almost immediately near the proposed route, beginning with Newport and Suter Brook in Port Moody. The Coquitlam Centre precinct was rapidly densified and complexified through the 2000s. We recently saw the astonishing announcement of a 23-tower project at Lougheed Town Centre site in Burnaby, rising to heights of 65 storeys, with a potential for 11,000 apartment units. And it ain’t over yet. Continue reading

The Traboulay-PoCo Trail

The Traboulay PoCo Trail alongside the DeBoville Slough, Port Coquitlam

By DeBoville Slough, Port Coquitlam

As an easy but interesting and varied urban bike trail, the Traboulay-PoCo Trail in Port Coquitlam measures up to anything I’ve experienced in Canada. This 25-kilometre loop passes alongside five different bodies of water. It’s virtually 100 per cent separated from traffic, with only occasional road crossings.

I was reminded of this route when I purchased a book called Easy Cycling Around Vancouver  as part of a plan to spend more time on my bike. None of the trails in the book are in Vancouver, if that matters; they’re all in the suburbs or beyond. The mountains, rivers and inlets that carve up our region are a barrier to car commuting, but they’ve helped planners and local governments build a remarkable inventory of recreational multi-use trails for the use of residents and visitors. Suburban cities like Port Coquitlam are working hard to make their downtown villages complete and attractive; a facility like the PoCo Trail connects neighbourhoods with the downtown, and puts the outdoors at the doorstep of downtown residents. Continue reading