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…

Anyway, the urban land use decisions have the most durable consequences. Each of the close to 30 cities and towns in the Lower Mainland has a slightly different look and feel, based on local council votes that took place 20, 30 or more years ago. This includes how much space to devote to pavement, but more important are the decisions around where to locate commercial development and how to connect it to neighbourhoods.

Pitt Meadows, with a population of 20,000, has an urban area that is bounded on the west and north by rich farming lands. Rhetorically, in my experience, Pitt Meadows councils have talked a lot about preserving a “rural feeling” and respecting the sanctity of the single-family lot.

However, the same councils have smuggled an urban village into place, very gradually, over a generation or more. This is despite the apparent lack of a detailed central area plan, or even a widely recognized name for the area. Town Centre? Downtown? Uptown? The 2009 official city plan uses Town Centre, and then devotes less than a page to the town centre’s function.

However, there’s a range of densified housing choice including a recent seniors’ complex, housing co-ops, condo apartments, and townhomes, and an interesting mix of retail services including a bookstore, independent travel agent and microbrew tasting lounge. The commercial area is split, inconveniently, by a busy rail line. To make the crossing, pedestrian visitors (and residents) are confined to Harris Road just at its noisiest stretch.

Co-tourist R.J. Smarz and I took a short walking tour south and east from City Hall that included a pleasant wooded trail. We had lunch on a Saturday at the Jolly Coachman pub, and it was very good.

[This is post #36 in our Urban Villages series.]

On 191B Street, a block off Harris Road. The tenants in this quirky shopping centre include Artista Pizza (recommended).

Ford Road east of Harris

Japanese restaurant, off Harris Road

A newly completed commercial/residential complex on Harris at 124 Ave.


Semiahmoo: 2030?

A 2008 proposal for the Semiahmoo core, looking up 152 Street from 16 Ave. captured in early 2017 from the Amanat Architect website

A 2008 proposal for the Semiahmoo core, looking up 152 Street from 16 Avenue. This rendering was captured in early 2017 from the Amanat Architect website

The City of Surrey’s 2014 official plan contemplates a city of 300 square kilometres organized around a city centre, intended to rival downtown Vancouver as it grows up, and five large-scale town centres.

Semiahmoo Town Centre within South Surrey, 2014 city plan

The Semiahmoo Town Centre within South Surrey

Each town centre is supposed to act as “the distinctive social, cultural commercial centre for its community… Support transit-oriented development…and build complete, walkable and green neighbourhoods.”  A successful town centre offers housing choice, walkable services, business and employment opportunities, and frequent transit. Continue reading

Steveston village: this ain’t Manhattan


The neighbourhood business association promotes Steveston as a place to visit, with its waterfront, cafes and gift shops. Co-tourist Robert Smarz and I walked the  ocean-facing pathway on the west side of the community and enjoyed lunch at the Shady Island pub on the boardwalk; we didn’t have time to stop at the Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, so there’s more to see.

development-reducedBut the designated core is attracting new residents as well as visitors, part of a general upscaling of Vancouver-area real estate. Postwar bungalows on the back streets are disappearing in favour of low-rise apartment buildings of three and four storeys. There are now enough essential services in place — such as food markets and professional offices — to make this a livable urban village with an affluent tinge. Rapid transit to downtown Vancouver is about 20 minutes away by bus, and bus service is frequent. Continue reading

Lynn Valley Town Centre: from humble beginnings

Intersection of Lynn Valley Road and Mountain Highway. The

Mountain Highway at Lynn Valley Road. The “Lynn Valley Life” site says the structure on the right, dating from 1912, is the only surviving commercial building from the original settlement. The photo is from realestatenorthshore.com

In the 400-page official plan of the District of North Vancouver, Lynn Valley’s commercial area is the designated “municipal town centre.”

On the first pass, this town centre is a crossroads row of shops flanked by gas stations and strip malls. And to an outsider, it seems an odd location for the action centre in a municipality of 80,000 people. It’s closer to bear habitat than to the Municipal Hall or the District’s busiest east-west street. But there are services and public amenities tucked away in various corners, and rapid new development may bring transformation over the next three to five years. Continue reading

Revisiting Downtown Maple Ridge

Donair reduced

Greater Vancouver’s Livable Region Strategic Plan, adopted in 1996, identified downtown Maple Ridge as one of eight town centres of regional significance. A year or two later Maple Ridge City Council agreed to finance an ambitious town centre development with an arts centre, office complex, recreation centre and park space, all aimed at bringing people and investment to the city’s core.

The planning and execution of the project split the community and created long-term political instability. In five of the six local elections since that financing decision, the incumbent mayor has been kicked to the curb. Downtown Maple Ridge has improved; but it remains a focus for civic conflict more than civic pride. In the single election where a mayor was re-elected, his opponent staged a concerted attack on central area investment, including an “unnecessary” sewer line replacement, and collected 40 per cent of the vote. Continue reading

Passionate about Esquimalt

Esquimalt House 1

Fernhill Road, Esquimalt. Garry oak, a tree peculiar to southern Vancouver Island, grows all around this house. The garage-under-the-dining-room feature was popular on the West Coast from the 1910s into the 1940s, but many of these spaces are now used for storage.

Voters in Greater Victoria, population 345,000, are looking at the possible amalgamation of their 13 municipal governments into a smaller number. Possible, but not likely, since so many urban British Columbians are passionate about the randomly-sized cities and towns where they live. Rather than amalgamation, a slight increase in the number of “shared services” — a joint parks department here, a joint library there — is a safer bet.

Esqumalt condos

New apartments, Carlisle Avenue, Esquimalt

Esquimalt is one of the odd-shaped municipal bits that makes up Greater Victoria. Its Pacific shoreline is home to a naval base that employs 6,000 people. Otherwise, the city has waterfront parks, a modest urban village and an on-street bike lane connecting to the offices and retail stores in Victoria’s downtown. Continue reading

The Newton town centre

72nd Avenue near the site of the historic Newton farm

72 Avenue near the site of the historic Newton farm (established 1886, now vanished)

As it turns out, there’s an urban village at the Newton Town Centre in Surrey, British Columbia. Finding it requires selective vision, looking past monster roadways, big box stores and industrial yards; but in its lopsided way, the village offers housing choices, commercial services, transit, and walking trails, straddling the former main highway between Vancouver and the USA.

Areas of Surrey, from the official community plan section of the City website

Areas of Surrey, from the official community plan section of the City website

Newton is one of seven planning areas in the vast city of Surrey. The municipality covers 316 square kilometres, an area as big as Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond combined — or four times the size of the island of Manhattan, if that’s clearer. Google Maps estimates that it might take you three hours time to cross Newton diagonally on foot. It’s too big to be a neighbourhood — a borough, perhaps — but there are broad demographic tendencies. Surrey’s fact sheet on languages reports that Punjabi is the most common mother tongue in Newton, ahead of English; in the Cloverdale area to the east, the English-to-Punjabi ratio is 10 to 1. Continue reading