Province columnist Jon Ferry can be a very good read, but I felt I had to challenge his story in today's paper titled, Suburban Living Offers Quality Over Quantity. First of all, let me say that I agree with him on the idea that it would be nice if we could all have large backyards and good neighbours. A house, a yard, a couple of cars in the (front) driveway is equated with the so-called American Dream.
I thought how it wrong it was for politically correct politicians and transportation "experts" continually to rail against suburban sprawl as it were some form of disease. Not everyone loves downtown living, at least if they have a family to raise or an animal or two to feed.
Nor do they thrill to the mantra of forced housing densification, or eco-density, that's become so fashionable among academics and urban planners.
For many Lower Mainland residents, the dream is not to live in a luxury condo in Vancouver's West End or Olympic Village. They'd much prefer a single-family home in the Fraser Valley with a decent-sized backyard, approachable neighbours and some trees their children can climb.
First, let me be clear that I live in East Vancouver, in a house with a big yard. If not for some immense luck of timing I could never have afforded to live here had we bought even six months later than we did. If we were looking for an equivalent property today, we probably would have to look seriously at Abbotsford.
Lack of affordability, which results from the lack of housing choice, is forcing some home buyers into the deep suburbs. Despite Ferry's insinuation, there is no academic or urbanist holding a gun to someone's head to buy a condo in Yaletown. People are still free to buy housing in a sprawl development, and if they have millions burning a hole in their pocket, they can still live in a big yard right in Vancouver.
The fact is that people are choosing to live in downtown settings in greater numbers than Ferry implies because it is a very desirable option. Go stand on the corner of Davie & Pacific in Yaletown for 15 minutes one day and see how many baby strollers and fit moms and dads you see walking by. You'd probably lose count. Families are compromising the cost of owning and maintaining land, and opting for accessible, walkable amenities and public space.
I've been invited out to the Fraser Valley on three recent occasions – one that I documented – where the focus was on urban sprawl. Despite what Ferry says, cities such as Surrey and the Township of Langley are looking at ways to concentrate living, shopping and work in more compact areas, and avoiding brownfield (industrial/commercial) and greenfield (farm/rural) redevelopment for housing wherever possible.
Are there ways that our cities in Metro Vancouver can improve? Absolutely, but the seeds of change are already planted.
Life based around the automobile greatly increases your health risks. How shocking is it that even Surrey's Mayor was nearly creamed in a car accident? That tells you something about the statistical probability of a serious accident when your city's leader is in a fender bender.
Then there is the concern about our limited oil resource, also known as peak oil theory. There is no dispute that oil is a commodity that is becoming even more difficult to find and refine. Look no further than the Gulf of Mexico today. Was this an abberation? No, it was the inevitable result of what happens when you can't find oil on land anymore. They're pushing 250 miles offshore to make sure you and I can drive to the grocery store.
What's amazing to me about the BP oil spill is that no one yet has really made the connection between this environmental, business and social calamity and our endless thirst for cheap energy. It makes us very uncomfortable to think that by driving, we own some responsibility for that crisis. Frankly, no one wants to believe it so they put it out of their mind.
So while I agree with Ferry it would be nice if we all had endless room to build housing, limitless cheap energy to make it happen, and it didn't impact our environment at all to pave some former wetlands, I'd say fill your boots! But we can't ignore that there is a great cost to sprawl living, and when oil hits $200 per barrel as some predict is going to happen soon, it will be interesting how many minds are changed about the benefits of the 'burbs.
- post by Mike