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Legacy Lost? – Prospects for Metro Vancouver’s Vision

October 3, 2013

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just over a month ago – in a post titled How Motordom Works: Promoting the Next Big Project - I predicted that the next stage of Motordom (the commitment to car-dependent urban planning and transportation) would be the construction of another multi-billion-dollar bridge over the Fraser at No. 8 Road, connecting to Boundary Road.

However, when the Premier announced the go-ahead of the Massey Bridge, she ruled out such an alternative structure.  My comment: Motordom doesn’t give up easily.

Less than a fortnight later, from the Georgia Straight:

With a new bridge, Delta could be the next prime real-estate location, says an industry analyst. …

Picture1Delta realtor Dean Bauck’s credentials include a diploma in urban land economics. Because of his interest in urban planning, he’s a little disappointed about the decision to build only one bridge.

Bauck explained that this measure will just pour more traffic toward Vancouver’s Oak Street Bridge.

He said he would have preferred dispersing the stream. This would involve twinning the Alex Fraser Bridge and building two new bridges connecting Richmond to Vancouver. One of these would go to Boundary Road, a thoroughfare shared by Vancouver and Burnaby; the other would connect to Main Street in Vancouver.

According to Bauck, shorter commute times translate to savings in gas, time, and opportunity costs. As a result, potential buyers will be prepared to pay more for houses in Delta.

At least they’re upfront about it.  Clearly, it’s fair to say that the regional vision is under threat.

Since the 1950s there have been four elements to every plan collectively agreed on by the local leaders of Metro Vancouver and its predecessors:

  • A compact region
  • ‘Complete’ communities (or town centres)
  • More transportation choices (particularly rapid transit)
  • The green zone (largely the ALR, or Agricultural Land Reserve)

Sustainability, both environmental and economic, has subsequently been added.

Each of these foundations could well crumble in the next few years.

  • The ALR is under review.
  • The transit referendum is likely to put transit expansion at risk.
  • With the announcement of the Massey Bridge, there is a further commitment to massive road infrastructure, resulting in more vehicle-dependence of the fast-growing parts of the region – with more to come (see above) – and the extension of post-war-style sprawl (see Tsawwassen Mills).
  • Sustainability is being replaced with a ‘carbon-transmission’ economic strategy – oil, coal, bitumen and LNG – accompanied by a de-facto  abandonment of goals for greenhouse-gas reductions.

If it all happens, the regional plan is irrelevant and the vision is as good as dead.

This is potentially as dramatic a turning point for Metro Vancouver as any in its history – greater, indeed, than the freeway fight.  And if the worst unfolds, this generation would be responsible for losing the greatest legacy of the previous generation of local leaders: one hopeful place on the planet where foresight and planning had seemed to make a difference.

The fight to save that vision, however, is just beginning.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Cole permalink
    October 3, 2013 6:02 pm

    How much would high-capacity transit options (plus better cycling facilities for last kms) costs in relation to the tunnelling, bridging not to mention the extra car lanes required in Vancouver and parking lots all over the lower mainland that this type of car infrastructure ‘induces’?

    What if we were to attract more people to live and work on transit corridors which are part of an integrated network for the 21st C? We can keep ALR, maintain watersheds and ecological connections while crafting walkable urbanity more evenly (not just Downtown and KIts) across the Lower Mainland if we plan for strong transit corridors and nodes, not car-dependence. Why reward car use with even one more lane?

    • mike0123 permalink
      October 3, 2013 6:49 pm

      The proposed freeways are not comparable in capacity to high-capacity transit options. Transit options with comparable capacity to the proposed freeways range from separated busways to surface light rail. The Canada Line, which is the smallest possible metro that could ever be built, has a much greater ultimate capacity than the new Port Mann Bridge except to the extent that the bridge could move people on transit.

      A freeway lane has a capacity roughly equivalent to a B-Line every 3.5 to 4 minutes. A five-lane freeway has a capacity roughly equivalent to a four-car Mark II Expo line train every 3 to 3.5 minutes. Of course, frequency is higher than this on the Expo line and longer trains are possible, while more lanes on the Port Mann aren’t possible.

  2. Ryan permalink
    October 3, 2013 7:08 pm

    The problem is that folks apparently don’t see a connection between density in Marpole or Commercial Drive and the ALR becoming a suburb. It’s frustrating arguing with people about the basics of economics – with constant demand, either supply goes up or price will go up. Supply can either happen next to rapid transit, or next to highways.

    The sense of entitlement some folks have is mind blowing. They were grandfathered in to some bungalow on Cambie five minutes from downtown, yet they feel a sense of ownership over the entire neighborhood. They feel neighborhood continuity is owed to them at the expense of the ALR, the environment, the economy, housing affordability, or anything else. Their own comfort is of utmost importance and they use the government to halt development and maintain an unequal status quo.

    These neighborhood groups claim to be fighting for the everyman, but they are most certainly not. They are fighting for the landlords. The poor benefit from increasing housing supply and lower rents. Those that rent to the poor do not. Unnecessary zoning laws are just another means by which an industry can use the government to limit entry into a market so they can charge higher prices. What the landlords want is monopoly, or oligarchy, profits. Pretty ironic coming from the people that claim to hate developer profits. These people that own their homes don’t hate developers – they hate competition.

    • Bob permalink
      October 5, 2013 12:39 am

      The poor benefit from increasing housing supply and lower rents? Such as Councillor Jang’s “affordable” $1,500 a month laneway homes? That is far, far out of reach of the poor. Ironically the poor benefit most from basement suites in aging housing stock, the last truly affordable rentals in the city,and the type most under threat from the kind of development you seek.

      • Ryan permalink
        October 5, 2013 1:57 pm

        I think you are confusing the micro picture for the macro picture.

        In particular areas, development can affect property values positively. If an area is made more desirable because of some new development that gentrifies the area, then sure – property values in the area can increase.

        But over the entire city? The only real way to affect price is to increase the housing stock. If 5 or 10 basement suites are destroyed to make way for 200 or 300 new condos, that will not drive prices up. If you believe economics has any scientific, predictive power whatsoever, you have to accept that. Besides, most of these proposals don’t involve the destruction of ANY current housing stock. Why do people believe the Oakridge redevelopment will increase housing prices? It’s the economic equivalent of believing water flows uphill.

        Even if we imagine developers build NO new “affordable housing” and that they only build “for the rich”, it still benefits the poor by relieving pressure on housing stock that can go to the poor. If you don’t accommodate the kinds of folks who want to buy condos on commercial drive, they will just end up competing for the basement suites on commercial drive which drives prices up, and current residents out. People are moving into this region at a quick pace and if we don’t make room for them, they will compete with the current residents for the current housing stock and drive prices much higher.

        Imagine what the prices in the city would be today if we never built Yaletown or densified the West End? Only an extremely select few would be able to live downtown and the prices would be astounding.

        The fact that developers are able to pay CACs and still make large profits really proves there is a huge, pent up demand for housing. The lucky few who get awarded development contracts are able charge what are, essentially, monopoly prices. That kind of thing doesn’t happen in competitive markets and thanks to restrictive, anti-housing legislation and public sentiment, we have far from a competitive market for housing.

        • matt e permalink
          May 5, 2014 9:43 am

          You sound really convinced of all that bs you are spewing. Housing is being built primarily for wealthy offshore families so they can have places to hide their shady assets and an address here to milk us dry of whatever we are silly enough to benefit them with. Then you have the people who have already lived here for a while who had some money and now they are helping their kids buy new appartments/condos -maybe if they have lots of money -wow a townhouse. Anyone else whose family doesn’t have real estate assets or a crazy paying job is sliding further and further into poverty in this city and most likely lives in a dumpy basement suite or a crappy appartment, both of which will not exist in this city in 20 years due to redevelopment pressures. No one who is poor has benefitted from this and the belief that some poor sap is sitting pretty in a nice new reasonably priced condo in this city is delusional. Gentrification, eugenics, call it what you will but dont lie and try and spin it like you don’t understand.

  3. October 3, 2013 9:36 pm

    Where do I sign up?

  4. Jordan permalink
    October 4, 2013 1:21 pm

    What blows my mind is the idea that we are going to convert excellent agricultural land to housing at precisely the moment in history where food security is becoming a massive issue. In an era when farmland and soil are being destroyed at an astonishing rate, why would we destroy our most productive land?

    Boy are we going to regret these decisions 50 years from now. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

  5. Ryan permalink
    October 4, 2013 11:08 pm

    It sucks being in the political minority. This feeling I have these days, this sense of foreboding helplessness… I don’t like it.

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