The case for an industrial land reserve in our big cities

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


East Fraser Lands
Vancouver's East Fraser Lands have been rezoned as a mixed-use residential/commercial area

Someone once referred to industrial land as the bowels of a city. Everyone knows they need their bowels to properly function, but they never quite get the same attention as arms, legs or hands. Ok, admittedly that's a pretty terrible opening analogy, but how else do you describe something like industrial land?

For years, in particular in big cities like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the pressure on industrial land has been immense. With a growing population, and housing popping up everywhere, the need to remove or severely restrict industrial land in urban centres has increased exponentially. No more so than in Metro Vancouver.

If you want to know the real pressures industrial land is facing, Vancouver has some striking examples. You need look no further than the former industrial land that has been converted to beautiful sleak new condominium towers in places like Yaletown, South East False Creek and the East Fraser Lands to understand what I mean.

You can't help but argue that what replaced the old, gritty industrial areas is so much prettier. The addition of seawalks, dog parks, bikepaths etc...have all been welcomed public amenities.

Now compare those shiny new neighbourhoods to industrial land which is associated with smelly factories, noisy trucks and deserted streets at night. Is it any wonder this type of land has so few champions.

So why should we care that industrial land is disappearing in our big cities? Let me repeat - industrial land is like our bowels, without it, we simply can't function.

In the new, chic, sanitized world we live in, we've become all too accustomed to buying into the urban myth that all new jobs are clean, environmentally friendly, and can be done in an office. The reality points to something quite different.

Even in today's modern economy, there still remains tens of thousands of jobs that require low-cost industrial land located near airports, rivers and roadways. Those include jobs in manufacturing, high-tech, bio-tech, digital media etc... Increasingly, they are finding it difficult to find office space in the core of most urban centres.

So what are the side effects of pushing out our jobs producing land into the far reaches of our urban environment? Well, before you know it, a mini-forest or pastoral farmland is mowed over to makeway for a new industrial park.

A good example of what I'm talking about is a new industrial park that was recently built on Marine Drive and Byrne Ave in the southern part of Burnaby, BC. A few years ago, it was a bunch of trees, and a few farmers growing vegetables. Mayor Derek Corrigan and his council then proceeded to approve highway-oriented big box stores and office buildings on this land. This new industrial park is simply hideous and a classic example of poor planning.

Another side effect of all these suburban industrial parks is that most people who work there need to take their car or SUV because there simply is no public transit nearby. Nor will there ever be good transit service because there simply isn't the ridership to justify it.

So how do we stop the prolific growth of suburban industrial parks as a means to both save our environment, and keep jobs close to where people live? Perhaps the time has come for the Industrial Land Reserve Act. 

This would be similar to the Agricultural Land Reserve legislation that currently exists in BC, however, it would apply to industrial land. Cities would be requested to take inventory of existing industrial land and they could only remove it from the reserve if they added the equivalent amount of land somewhere else within the city.

This type of legislation would not only help to protect industrial land, it would also help to keep it affordable for businesses that want to create new jobs.

If you're interested in this subject, the City of Vancouver is conducting something called the Metro Core Jobs Study. If you happen to live in the City, take a look at this web page and get involved in the process.

Of course there will be those who will argue against the Industrial Land Reserve on the basis that the Agricultural Land Reserve has been a disaster, but I fundamentally disagree. If we want to ensure we keep jobs close to where we live, we need to protect the land they sit on. What do you think?


The City of Vancouver is currently undertaking a study of the existing industrial lands in the Marpole community, one of the few remaining core-industrial areas left in the city proper. You may wish to visit this;

The Metro Core Jobs Study area does not include Marpole or this industrial land area. One question your article and both City studies should address should be; what are the projected, future industrial jobs that will exist within the City of Vancouver over the next 50-100 years?

We need more riverfront access for PEOPLE! The Fraser is our province's major river & there is very limited access to it for Vancouverites. I have cruised down the Danube from Passau to Budapest and for much of the way - especially in Austria - there is a riverfront pathway on both sides of the river. Doesn't matter if it's industrial, residential, park - whatever use - the walkway is a "common" - it's accessible to all pedestrians & cyclists. Where does Vancouver & its Port Authority get the authority to ban us from our own river? And why should only the people on the NW side of Vancouver & the downtown area have access to waterfront, period?

Thanks for your comments, Anita. I've personally looked into the Marpole waterfront access issue (which is what I think you're referring to?), and the good work of the Eburne folks. There definitely is a need for more waterfront access, especially in that part of South Vancouver's industrial edge. I understand private land owners have so far been the biggest impediment to getting waterfront access there. I'm continuing to follow this issue and we may write about it as a separate topic from Daniel's ILR proposal.

This is probably the most seasoned and reasonsed case made on the topic of an ILR, of which I've seen.

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