Area’s growth keeps planners busy


Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

BusinessBC reporter Derrick Penner asks key figures in the Lower Mainland about the challenges they face and how they’re planning for the future

Sun

CREDIT: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun Vancouver expects 90,000 more people and Larry Beasley, the city’s co-director of planning, says land for redevelopment is filling quickly.

VANCOUVER‘S CHALLENGE: HIGH-DENSITY HOUSING

Larry Beasley: Co-director of planning, City of Vancouver

Vancouver sees itself accommodating a population of up to 635,000 by 2021, an increase of almost 90,000 residents, in a city where available land has been fully developed for some time.

Larry Beasley, co-director of planning for the city, says available land for redevelopment is filling quickly. The challenge is to create more intensive high-density housing in a way that appeals to potential buyers and maintains the carefully choreographed urban structure the city has created, but doesn’t impinge on the “support areas” of the city — the downtown office core, zones for retail trade or commercial activity — that are vital to economic development.

“It’s a fine balance for us,” Beasley says.

The city has put a moratorium on the conversion of commercial and office space in downtown’s core business district into condominium sites, and the city is in the midst of evaluating Vancouver’s economic growth trends to deduce its needs for land allocations to maintain commercial growth.

“There’s a coherent urban design concept for the whole [city],” Beasley said, “so that there’s a building form and known, defined relationship among buildings and a relationship among buildings with the street.”

“All of it has been carefully choreographed in the city to create a product that people would really like to be a part of.”

FRASER VALLEY: FARMS VERSUS PEOPLE

Hugh Sloan: Director of planning, Fraser Valley Regional District

The major challenge for Fraser Valley Regional District planners is a conundrum: How does it accommodate a doubling of the region’s population and protect its critical agricultural sector when the property that is considered habitable is also the most fertile.

The FVRD comprises 14,000 square kilometres of fields, hills and forests.

Highly productive agricultural lands, however, cover only 5.4 per cent of the overall land base.

Some 90 per cent of the region’s population (237,500 in 2001) lives on only one per cent of the region’s overall landscape, which will have to squeeze in another approximately 212,500 by 2030 (a total of 450,000).

“The communities of the FVRD are committed to responsibly manage future growth,” said Hugh Sloan, the regional district’s director of planning.

“New development will take place only where services can be provided in a timely, economically, socially and environmentally sound manner.”

The regional district recently adopted a new growth strategy that identifies urban growth boundaries designed to contain the majority of population and employment growth over the next 20 to 30 years.

Growth is concentrated in the urban centres of Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission where 89 per cent of the Valley’s residents live.

The regional district’s demography has also changed.

The typical valley resident is now a 40-year-old, whereas he or she was 16 in 1971.

The challenge, Sloan said, is answering the questions of where the next generation of workers will live and how they will travel between work, home, daycare, hockey practice and band recital.

THE GVRD: ‘TOWN CENTRE’ DEVELOPMENTS

Johnny Carline: Chief administrative officer, Greater Vancouver Regional District

The Greater Vancouver Regional District’s vision for the future is complete, community-scale “town-centre” developments, focused in Surrey, Coquitlam or Vancouver and located on the major public transit links to ease pressure on the region’s ecological jewels such as the North Shore mountains and wildlife-rich Fraser River estuary.

It has to be, says Johnny Carline, the regional district’s chief administrative officer.

“We’re consistently ranked as one of the two or three most livable places in the world, and yet if every other city tried to follow the example of Vancouver, the planet will be in a lot of trouble,” Carline contends. “The planet cannot support cities like Vancouver.”

The GVRD’s Livable Region Strategic Plan characterizes the region’s early development as low-density sprawl — lots of single family homes spread out over a wide area. The legacy of that, however, is growth-stifling traffic congestion.

Carline adds that the GVRD is in the process of updating the plan, first released in 1999, to make sure it measures up with its membership municipalities in promoting compact communities where people can live work and play without enduring crushing commutes.

Carline says the region has done well at defending the “green zones” — he call them environmental jewels. And its transportation initiatives — the RAV line and Coquitlam light-rail project — are the right projects, if a little late, to help ease congestion.

The region has failed, however, at creating those contained communities where people live close to where they work. Carline notes that over the last 10 years, of the eight million square feet of office space built in the region outside of Vancouver, only one million square feet of that was built in defined town centres.

The rest is in office parks and commercial centres spread around the region. While they bring much needed economic development and tax base, Carline says such parks also use a lot of land and “a pattern of transportation that is almost impossible to serve other than by single-occupancy vehicles.”

SURREY: BALANCING GROWTH AND JOBS

Doug McCallum: Mayor of Surrey

Growth will be a challenge for the city of Surrey as it tries to accommodate the approximately 1,000 new residents moving into its borders every month, but a burgeoning population isn’t its biggest challenge, Mayor Doug McCallum says.

“The biggest challenge we have, in my mind — and it is a priority in the city — is to create jobs,” he added.

“We’re in a very fast growing city, probably the fastest growing in Canada, and you need to provide jobs so we can support families and social infrastructure.”

Surrey, for a long time, has served as a suburb to Vancouver and bedroom community for other municipalities where industry is more heavily concentrated.

McCallum said the result has been an “80/20″ live/work ratio, which means only 20 per cent of Surrey‘s residents work in the municipality.

The city is aiming to shift that to a “60/40″ ratio, where almost half of Surrey‘s people work within the community where they live. To do so, however, means attracting 170,000 new jobs over the next several years.

McCallum noted that the city’s own expansion helps sow the seeds for growth in its workforce. Builders are experiencing shortages of personnel in the building trades — framing carpenters and plumbers, for instance.

He added that Whalley is an example where the city is successfully urbanizing itself. The neighbourhood is home to Central City, which includes Simon Fraser University‘s newest satellite campus and a total of one million square feet of office space that has been entirely filled.

McCallum said his council has also approved the construction of eight new residential highrise towers, including one right next to a SkyTrain stop.

The city, in turn, is working hard at building its social infrastructure.

Two or three new schools are being built, major additions to the city’s hospital have been planned, Kwantlen University College is building a new campus in Surrey‘s Cloverdale area and the city is buying up large tracts of land to turn into parks, the mayor said.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005



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