A pop-up village at the University of British Columbia

A promotional photo from DiscoverWesbrook.com showing new high-rise development at UBC

In just seven years, the University of British Columbia has created a highly densified residential neighbourhood on its southern perimeter.

Not everyone loves the Wesbrook project. The University sits outside the City of Vancouver, and there is no local government to put the brakes on the University authority. The University Board develops its lands as it pleases, with some provincial government oversight.

It’s another  example of convoluted governance in Fraseropolis.  UBC is part of what’s called Electoral Area “A” within the Greater Vancouver Regional District. This entity is made up of a bunch of disconnected bits including  Barnston Island in the Fraser River and a few residences on the highway to Whistler. Together, these voters send a single representative to the Regional District council, a part-time assembly made up mostly of municipal government leaders who gather to meet and greet and to set the budget for regional parks and sewer lines.

Anyway. Longtime residents of the UBC lands, some living in detached homes valued at $3 million or more, resisted the push for high-rise development when the Wesbrook plan was updated in 2016.  To the extent that they could resist, that is — through writing critical comments at an open house, which took place just as the updated plan was being adopted by UBC. The map on the left shows the potential for a dozen highrises at in the Wesbrook precinct.  At this date the streetscapes look okay to me, pedestrian friendly and nicely scaled; but we’ll see how it goes as more towers are added.

I walked the area recently with three co-tourists. The village core, a modest six storefront blocks or so, was bustling on a Saturday. We enjoyed our lunch at Biercraft. What we noticed in our walk was the size of the UBC campus — it’s a 10-minute walk from Wesbrook to cross the playing fields to the north, and another 10 to the historic campus centre.

The core of the Wesbrook development combines office, retail and residential uses.

Tens of thousands of people travel to UBC every day to study or work. This is creating traffic congestion across the west side of Vancouver and a big push for rapid transit. Wesbrook, if earlier projections were accurate, should have a population approaching 7,000 by now, almost all of them living in apartments. The target population at completion is 12,500. This will permit some fraction of the University community to live close to work or school, although there will competition for these residences from people working elsewhere.

Fraseropolis Wesbrook core UBC

A pedestrian zone in the Wesbrook core

Fraseropolis UBC Wesxbrook connection

A pathway connecting Wesbrook to the campus centre

Fraseropolis UBC campus centre

University of British Columbia – centre of the campus

[This is post #40 in our Urban Villages series.]

Trouble in Brookswood


Brookswood, a classic 1950s subdivision in the Township of Langley, has been locked for years in a dispute over the pace of development. It sits just minutes from malls and highways, but it has a deep country feel.

In late 2017, on the third try in four years, Township Council approved a plan that contemplates significant population growth in the Brookswood-Fernridge planning area. From fewer than 14,000 residents, the population is supposed to grow to 39,000 when projected development is complete. In percentage terms, Langley is growing faster than any other major municipality in Greater Vancouver, and it needs land for medium-density housing. The question here is whether the preservation of an old, sprawling suburb might be justified because of its special character. Continue reading

Your own pond at New Westminster Quay

Fountain and pond south of Quayside Drive, New Westminster

With its Riverfront Vision, the City of New Westminster is building a zone that will attract visitors from around the region, in the same way that Fort Langley and White Rock have become local destinations.

30 years after the establishment of the high-density Quayside neighbourhood, tower construction continues near the public market.

This marks a new push in a 30-year-old program to transform the city’s trackside industrial waterfront. The market building at New Westminster Quay was constructed in the 1980s, on a public market model that has failed in many places (Surrey, Calgary, Robson Street in Vancouver). The Quay struggled for many years, but the residential densification of New West’s downtown has brought new customers, along with the conversion of part of the market building to office and meeting space. Continue reading

Vancouver’s Chinatown: heritage site, urban village, tourist zone

Gore Street at Keefer in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Vancouver City Council voted in November 2017 to seek World Heritage Site status for the Chinatown district. This founding neighbourhood began as a segregated zone for Chinese-speaking labourers and merchants outside the railway and lumber camp that covered today’s Waterfront and Gastown areas.  It functioned for many decades as a commercial and cultural hub for Chinese-speaking immigrants, and takes a prominent place in the modern English-language literature of  the Chinese-Canadian community. The retail hub, it should be said, has been supported by apartment housing, Chinese seniors’ housing and small-lot detached housing, either in the core or in the old Strathcona neighbourhood to the east. Continue reading

Sapperton in bits

Columbia Street, showing the Sapperton area’s “Brewery District,” a nearly-complete development built on the site of a vanished industrial brewery. The head office of the regional transportation authority (TransLink) sits in the foreground. A new residential tower peeks out from behind.

An abandoned house, pre-1900, across looking across Columbia Street to the new Brewery District offices

Sapperton, as defined in the City of New Westminster maps, is a long rectangle with no adjacent residential neighbourhoods to the east or north. With recent development, Sapperton has become more self-contained and livable; proposed further development would add thousands more residents at the eastern edge, with unforeseeable results.  

As I drove to meet co-tourist Bob Smarz for a walk through Sapperton, an item on the radio reminded me that this is, in one sense, the birthplace of British Columbia. The Fraser Cemetery on the hill is the oldest in the Lower Mainland region: its dead include veterans of the American Civil War who moved to Canada, and presumably some Sappers, or British Royal Engineers, who landed on the Fraser River shore around 1860 to build B.C.’s first administrative capital. Continue reading

Revisiting the Heights

Confederation Park, Burnaby Heights, Friday morning

At the suggestion of a Fraseropolis.com reader, I returned to Burnaby Heights this past week, five years after my first visit to the community.

Hastings Street in northwest Burnaby is the city’s most interesting commercial strip, with an array of ethnic food outlets, cafes and specialty shops. The urban trees have grown up quickly, providing cover for architectural flaws. The border with the City of Vancouver is just blocks away, with frequent bus service to downtown. Burnaby’s city government has laid on excellent services such as playing fields, an aquatic centre and a big library. All this makes a great foundation for an urban village, if you’re prepared for the heavy traffic and noise as you shop or stroll. Continue reading

Pitt Meadows 2 – Uptown (aka Downtown)

An apartment/commercial complex at Harris Road and Ford Road in Pitt Meadows. This was built in about 2010 on the site of a failed shopping plaza

Pitt Meadows City Hall, at the southern end of the commercial zone

Municipal governments in B.C. have a limited menu of responsibilities. They send delegates to regional bodies to haggle over various things, but their direct control is restricted mostly to fire protection, local streets, community recreation space and urban land use. And policing, in the odd handful of municipalities that have opted out of using the federal Mounted Police… Continue reading