Lately, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the importance of the city in terms of politics and everyday life. The city, and how it is structured and modified throughout the years, is so integral to most of what we do each and every day, yet it rarely gets the political and popular attention it deserves. Where we work, how we get there, where we go to school, how we access businesses and services, and so much more are intricately related to decisions either made at the city level or decisions pushed upon cities from governments above.
For decades now, the majority of tall towers and major density expansion in Metro Vancouver has occurred in the downtown core. This approach, often called vancouverism, has helped lead Vancouver to the top of the global livability charts, but it appears to be coming to an end as Vancouver starts to run out of downtown space in which to continue expansion. In the City of Vancouver there are pockets of density, mostly surrounding skytrain stations, that have small-scale development plans but for the most part, the rest of the city is off-limits politically.
While the various municipalities seem intent on building new dense transit-connected neighbourhoods, and developers seem keen on building these same neighbourhoods, there is very little space and little political will. I have noticed though that there is one source of large development friendly space that seems to be the next focus for Vancouver development: the mall.
Oakridge Mall has massive re-development plans that include 11 towers, a number of low-rise apartments, new office space, and expanded retail. Also, a park built on top of the actual shopping centre portion of the development.
In Burnaby, Brentwood Mall has a similarly massive re-development plan, with 10 towers, two of which would be some of the tallest in B.C., more office space, new public space. Lougheed Town Centre has plans similar in scope but earlier on in the planning phase so few details are yet available.
The common elements between all these plans are interesting. Almost all of them are taking what is currently acres of ugly parking lots and turning them in to (hopefully) vibrant communities that are walkable and transit friendly. All these new neighbourhoods will integrate office, retail, and residential in close proximity with the intent of creating more vibrant spaces to live and work in.
While I think there are many good elements to most of these plans, I worry that they will end up stale, expensive communities that lack diversity. Unless municipalities step in, I imagine the majority of the residential towers will end up as luxury one and two bedroom condos with steep price-tags for the majority of people. I hope both Vancouver and Burnaby work with developers to ensure that families and lower-income residents can afford to live there.