By Riley Syjuco…
Creating a greener city and a more eco-friendly planet is not an uncommon desire in this day and age. But upon closer consideration, how often does one take a step back and look at the bigger picture? North American residential areas can be mainly categorized into two types of lifestyles. The first, is the city dweller who lives and breathes in a downtown core or heavily densified area. The second, is the suburban home owner who chooses to be away from city life, and in an area that embraces the idea of spread out homes with more green than concrete. The latter is one of the biggest problems in some North American regions in regards to not only creating greener cities, but functioning as a society as a whole. The Lower Mainland in British Columbia did not escape this trend and follows the suburban pattern.
The suburban lifestyle, more commonly known as the American dream, captured the eyes of millions of families in the mid-twentieth century. Suburban ideals are at the core of the planning scheme that is being used in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Most of the infrastructure and amenities are centered in the most densely populated areas, while blocks upon blocks of one to two story houses are located farther away from these hubs of activity. Downtown Vancouver and some parts of Burnaby, can be seen as hubs for activity, whereas the cities of Surrey and Langley are two examples of suburbs. The suburbs would mainly be connected to the hubs of activity through major road connections. This type of layout encourages a need for cars and the need for high density roads to service the traffic.
Vancouver has suffered from the effects of suburban planning to a lesser degree than the typical American city. This is due to the fact that generally the public frown upon the idea of interurban highways. The turning point was the political decision in 1968 where strong civil action led to the defeat of highway projects. This decision ultimately affected the development of suburbia in Vancouver. With the rejection of highways around Vancouver, the city had to rethink the transportation infrastructure leading to the development of public transit and a focus on sustainable transit (.i.e., cycling and walking). The city ended up using the loss of many major road connections in the city to their advantage by encouraging people to use public transit and stay away from traffic congested roads.
This type of lifestyle came from housing booms in the 1940’s when many subdivisions were being created by the high demand in housing. Suburban living was based on a manor in a park-like setting. The first people to move into the suburban setting were wealthier people and this is where the suburban life was more true to its name. The subdivisions were being advertised as though they embodied the country lifestyle, where there are endless green fields and clear water running through the streams, thus producing the large communities with rows upon rows of small to mid-sized houses. Although the advertisements made suburbia look very desirable, the lifestyle never brought to the table what was promised. Instead of fields of grass, the homeowners gained a manufactured lawn with no benefits of the country and no benefits of the city. The development of the Vancouver suburbs was no different, where most houses were designed almost exactly the same.
The problem with the suburban lifestyle stems from the fact that the location of the houses are so far away from the amenities. This causes the need for vehicles, as well as highways to make the suburbs a viable living space. For example, the TransCanada Highway (HWY-1) in the Lower Mainland connects Surrey and Langley to Vancouver, and much of the residences from those suburbs travel towards the more densely planned Vancouver for work or amenities. Traffic accumulates on the highway as well as other connections towards the coast and prolongs travel times. This begs the question of how sustainable is the suburban lifestyle?
The suburbs of Vancouver often incorporate many mega stores, such as Wal-Mart, that are spread across the region. These stores are great for business and are very convenient for suburban residences, but leave the surrounding community without access to general goods if the electrical grid is shut down or if the community is ever cut off from supply. This problem can be avoided by planning for locally grown goods and placing this amenity within short travel distance.
The solutions to these problems lie somewhere in the need for more densely populated suburbs, where the needs are provided locally in order to create close-knit communities. A good example would be around the Steveston area in Richmond, BC. In Stevenson, there are initiatives in place, such as urban gardens, to help introduce locally grown foods to the area. More areas around the Lower Mainland need to take notes from places like the Steveston.
Riley Syjuco is a third year Architectural Science student with a diploma in Building Technology and Engineering at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.