Building a local economy on automotive repair

Crystal Glass and Boyd Auto Body, two blocks east of Maple Ridge City Hall

In most parts of Metro Vancouver, more than half the working population commutes to workplaces outside their home town — this is according to a Vancouver Sun analysis from 2014, which echoed findings from the previous decade.

A typical central area viewscape, with nature in the distance. T&T Auto Parts is on the left in this photo, Accent Glass & Locksmith (not visible) is in the strip on the right.

In my suburb of Maple Ridge, many people drive every day to the Tri-Cities (20-40 minutes one way), Burnaby (35-50 minutes one way) or even further. Not surprisingly, we have a big automotive sector. Auto dealerships are among the biggest employers, and they dominate the highway that connects Maple Ridge to the inner suburbs. Probably our most prominent head office belongs to Lordco Auto Parts, a chain with more than 120 retail locations around British Columbia. Continue reading

A democracy of beer

Brewing tanks at the Ridge Brewing Co. tasting room, Maple Ridge

Kory Tiemstra behind the bar at the Silver Valley Brewing Co. in Maple Ridge doesn’t usually advertise commercial enterprises, but we want to note the launch of The Growler, a print publication devoted entirely to a single burning question: where can I find fresh craft beer near my house?

The Growler illustrates a point that we often underline here: there is life in British Columbia beyond downtown Vancouver. The latest issue reports that there were four craft beer tasting rooms in Port Moody at the time of printing, four in Surrey or White Rock, and many more in the Fraseropolis region and in towns and cities around the province, with a full-page listing of venues that are “coming soon.” Each location offers a chance to sample what’s for sale, fill up a jar to take home, and talk philosophically about beer with the folks people behind the counter and whoever happens to be perched nearby. 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

Winnipeg, summer 2017

By six p.m., they’ll be lined up 15 deep.

“I don’t think Winnipeg is underrated,” says my brother Brian. “I don’t think it’s rated at all.”

He moved here about 10 years ago after an extended time in Canada’s far north. He and his wife Lorraine (she grew up in Winnipeg) decided that living the south would be better for the kids. They traded a three-bedroom house on the permafrost for a five-bedroom house on a quiet, shady crescent, and they made money in the process. Continue reading

Pedaling on the Central Valley Greenway

Under the SkyTrain guideway just east of Rupert station, Vancouver.

It would be nice, perhaps, if cycling was the dominant mode of transportation in our West Coast urban world. We’ll never know. In reality, most people cringe at the idea of riding side-by-side with cars and trucks.

Winston Street through industrial Burnaby, 11:30 a.m. Saturday

When I told a 60-something friend about my plan to pedal across Vancouver and Burnaby for fun, she said, “That’s dangerous!” I said, “No, we’ll be riding an off-road trail. Local governments built a safe route from downtown Vancouver to New West.” Continue reading

The Lower Mainland’s “best places”, crime and taxes

Oak Bay, British Columbia, rated #3 in the 2017 “best places in Canada” rankings

Our 2015 review of the “best places to live in Canada” rankings from has consistently been our most-visited page.

The rankings, now updated for 2017, emerge from a complicated formula that combines weather, local employment and incomes, crime rates, tax rates and much else. Continue reading