By Riley Syjuco…
The issue of suburban lifestyle was discussed in my last article and it raises the question of what do we do now to solve the problem? Suburban development has proved to be unsustainable and causes more pollution than necessary. The solution can often be found in densification of the suburbs. But densification does not come without the scrutiny of the public eye. Creating dense communities in various areas around the suburbs may solve many issues. It creates many more local jobs and gives the community the amenities it needs in a local environment. It can also work to develop a better sense of society, where currently the only places communities congregate is either public school events or local community centers. With a better densification plan the opportunity for more public gathering spaces presents itself.
Densification of the suburbs requires careful planning due to the wide range of effected parties from the residences to the city planners. There is a perfect balance that can be found in between wasting resources in creating too many amenities and having the available amenities too far apart. The latter can be a problem in many suburban communities around Vancouver like in Surrey, where some residents must commute at least fifteen minutes to reach local amenities.
In Vancouver, densification plans are focused around hubs of public transit like Skytrain stations. Most Skytrain stations were places located in light industrial areas, where densification would not be an issue. However, around some stations are small density residential areas, where proposed plans to build multi-use, multi-level buildings would mean bending the code to suit. Area residents love the Skytrain, but are opposed to the density plans that come with it. Home-owners around the area most likely bought houses to live in a suburban setting and with the introduction of mid to high rises it essentially ruins the illusion of the suburbs. This forces them to either change their expectations of living in the area or move out to other areas.
One area for example is the Oakridge-41st Station area where the Oakridge Centre is planned to be redeveloped. This development includes 13 new towers with the max height at 45 storeys. This plan was scrutinized as a bigger development than what was originally proposed and accepted by the city in 2007. With such a high increase in density, the local residences are worried about the impacts it will have on the area of the city. The fact that the proposal doubled in density also raised concerns about the future of the Cambie corridor, where the Oakridge Centre redevelopment will open the door to other tall buildings to be built along Cambie.
A new term was created for proper densification called EcoDensity. But the same public protest occurs, like at the Vancouver EcoDensity hearing in 2008, where hundreds of people attended. At the hearing, the public was split on opinions. Half of the public protested that the developers are encouraged to use the need for density as a façade to obtain permission to build more than what the code restricts. The other half considered the plan to be an eco-friendly solution to a growing population. A proper solution can be realized in EcoDensity, but must be tweaked in many facets.
In Vancouver, increasing density in certain areas brings many benefits to the local community. Jobs are created locally as well as amenities. The creation of public gathering places is also inevitable in such areas as well. With such benefits, it is crucial that the planning be done flawlessly and with the community first in mind. Exploration into EcoDensity can prove to be successful.
– Existing Photos of Oakridge Centre and surroundings by Riley Syjuco:
Riley Syjuco is a third year Architectural Science student with a diploma in Building Technology and Engineering at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.