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?

To keep it short, I’ll look at a simple pairing. Coquitlam is ranked #11 on the index, and New Westminster, across the freeway, is ranked #43. The unemployment rate in both places is 4.5 per cent, presumably because they both sit in a larger Statistics Canada zone. Average shelter spending is $21,236 in New Westminster and $23,917 in Coquitlam, giving the edge to New West under the contest rules. Average household income is higher in Coquitlam, vs. $107, 029 vs $88,727, but what does this mean? Average commute times for residents in both places are more than 30 minutes, indicating that many residents are earning their incomes in Vancouver or Surrey in any case.  Coquitlam households spend more on recreation than households in New West ($5,000 per year vs. $4,000), but what does this have to do with their status as places to work?

It’s possible that BC Business is appealing to ambitious readers who want to adopt — or mimic — an upwardly mobile lifestyle in the financial or real estate sector, and who want to live among people who are doing the same, but this is just a wobbly guess. If I wanted to meet a rich mentor so I could ride around on his yacht, I would not move to Port Alberni (#46 and last), but neither would I move to Prince Rupert (#6), which is (a fine and respectable place but) even more stormy and remote.

Austin Heights, Coquitlam, 2012

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

Walking in circles at Lougheed Town Centre

The Lougheed Town Centre mall with 1970s apartment towers

The Lougheed Town Centre mall with 1970s apartment towers

Who would choose a mall parking lot as a place to take a walk?

By the common definition, Lougheed Town Centre is a second-tier mall at the eastern edge of the city of Burnaby, with a Walmart and a London Drugs. Alternatively, it’s a nearby rapid transit station and a different set of parking lots. Continue reading

A sort of urban village at Coquitlam City Centre

Lafarge Lake, at the edge of the new Coquitlam downtown

Lafarge Lake, at the edge of the new Coquitlam downtown

The walkable urban village at Coquitlam City Centre has emerged recently, with a new area of residential towers, neighbourhood offices and cafes, bridging Douglas College and an area of older housing to the vehicle-dominated Coquitlam Centre megamall.

The Regional City Centre precinct is projected to reach a population of something around 50,000 by 2041, forming a commercial and cultural hub for the northeast part of Metro Vancouver. Continue reading

An urban hub for Metro Vancouver’s northeast sector

The Coquitlam urban core, from a 2013 municipal presentation. City Hall is upper left.

The Coquitlam urban core, from a 2013 municipal presentation. City Hall is the low-rise complex upper left. At least three new towers have joined this set within a 16-month period.

The streets behind the Coquitlam Centre mall feel like a pop-up city, construction dust still filtering down from unfinished towers.

Coquitlam transit-oriented areasThis is the core of a designated Coquitlam City Centre planning area, slated to double in population to more than 50,000 in the next two decades. The municipal government’s 2002 area plan sees the densified city centre as the future “arts, entertainment and cultural focal point for the Northeast Sector of the Metro Vancouver Region.” The northeast sector, by most definitions, stretches from Port Moody to Maple Ridge, and will house (hypothetically) half a million people by 2040. Continue reading

Coquitlam’s waterfront plan


Looking across Como Creek to the proposed site of the Coquitlam waterfront village. The hillside in the left background is New Westminster.

Looking across Como Creek to the proposed site of the Coquitlam waterfront village. The hillside in the left background is New Westminster.

As it stretches along the south side of Highway 1, much of Coquitlam’s United Boulevard is zoned “Highway Retail Industrial.”

Furniture reducedThis loose designation has enabled the development of a sprawling big-box retail precinct. A City handout counts 18 large-scale furniture stores along United Boulevard, blending into the warehouse and fabricating shop uses that extend down to the Fraser River. [This document was taken out of circulation; as of 2016, the City website referred to a “multitude” of stores.] Continue reading