Dan Fumano: Metro Vancouver planning for another million residents

Analysis: With Metro Vancouver in final stages of planning how to add one million new residents by 2050, there’s already concern that the strategy’s climate policies need to be stronger.

Article content

Before New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote took over the Royal City’s top job, he was a city councillor, and before that, an urban studies grad student, and earlier still, a kid building imaginary cities on his computer.

Advertisement 2

Article content

“As a teenager, I was actually a big fan of the game SimCity,” Cote said. “Now I almost feel like a kid in a candy store, being able to play these roles and be involved in these important overarching plans that really do shape the region.”

As chairman of Metro Vancouver’s regional planning committee, Cote has worked deeply on the Metro 2050 regional growth strategy, which faces a vote Friday following three years of work and public engagement.

“These types of long-range planning documents are incredibly important for cities and regions,” said Cote, who also chairs the TransLink Mayors Council.

Jonathan Cote, mayor of New Westminster and Mayors Council chairman, outside New West city hall on April 14, 2020.
Jonathan Cote, mayor of New Westminster and Mayors Council chairman, outside New West city hall on April 14, 2020. Photo by Mike Bell /PNG

Metro is anticipated to add another one million residents by 2050. And, Cote said, “If you don’t put thought into that, it doesn’t stop the population growth from happening — but that growth will not necessarily happen in a co- ordinated way, and may not happen in a way that helps the region maintain its values ​​and important goals.”

advertisement 3

Article content

The strategy is a massive document that contemplates housing, climate, economy, transportation and more. At a meeting Friday, the Metro board — made up of mayors and councilors from the region’s municipalities — is expected to vote on whether to refer the Metro 2050 strategy to the affected local governments, which will then review the strategy and vote on whether to support Item. If the local governments support the strategy, it could come back to the Metro board for final approval in July.

Alex Boston, executive director of Simon Fraser University’s Renewable Cities program, says the strategy has laudable goals for a prosperous, low-carbon future — but the policies underpinning it chart a different course: what he calls “a high-carbon, high congestion, high cost, high risk future.”

advertisement 4

Article content

“Ultimately you have a very commendable vision with strong goals and targets. But the policies and strategies will just fundamentally not get you there,” says Boston, who presented his analysis to the Metro directors at last week’s public hearing. As one example, Boston pointed to Metro 2050’s goal of increasing the tree canopy inside the urban containment boundary — the amount of urban area covered by trees — from 32 per cent today to 40 per cent by 2050.

But Metro’s own analysis projects that based on historical trends and current policies, its urban tree canopy will decline from 32 to 28 per cent by 2040. These projections were included in a 2019 meter report focused on tree canopy cover, and Boston said he sees nothing in the Metro 2050 strategy that would change relevant policies, reverse this trend or make the strategy’s goal of increasing the canopy seem realistic.

advertisement 5

Article content

Tree canopy is important, Boston says: urban trees don’t just look pretty, they are associated with mitigating some of the most serious impacts of climate change, including flooding and extreme heat.

One timely example: Boston was appointed this year to participate in the BC Coroners Service’s death panel review into the roughly 600 deaths connected to last year’s heat wave, providing expert input into urban land use and mitigating heat-related mortality in the built environment.

BC’s heat wave deaths, Boston said, “were concentrated in areas with weak urban forest canopy.”

The Metro 2050 strategy talks about transit-oriented development, and focusing development along “major transit growth corridors.” But it’s “really a lost opportunity,” Boston says, that there are no specific land-use policy recommendations around developing the transit stations themselves.

advertisement 6

Article content

Boston wants to see thousands of affordable rental homes developed above publicly owned rapid transit stations and bus exchanges, which he says could generate both rental revenue and drive ridership for TransLink.

TransLink’s recently released Transportation 2050 plan mentions expanding rental housing supply near transit stations “at a much more ambitious pace and scale than today.” Boston was happy to see that in the TransLink plan but believes this kind of big move needs the support of municipal leaders across the region, through a strategy like Metro 2050.

Despite all his criticisms, Boston hopes Metro adopts the strategy.

“As bad as this regional growth strategy is, it’s better to actually adopt it, and then move forward quickly to amend it,” he said. “Going into elections this fall, if this wasn’t adopted, it would take three more years to get to a state where it would be adopted again, and you still might not make any progress.”

advertisement 7

Article content

Boston was encouraged to see Metro’s regional planning committee add a recommendation at a March meeting to address some board members’ desire for stronger climate policy and action in Metro 2050.

The resolution added at last month’s meeting stated that, “given the urgent need to respond to climate change and prepare for extreme weather events,” the board directed staff to undertake work aiming for an early amendment to the strategy “to strengthen climate action language and policy.”

Heather McNell, Metro’s general manager of regional planning and housing services, said the added resolution on stronger climate action was “a testament to what happened last year in this region, with significant climate change impacts: we had the heat dome, massive flooding, atmospheric river. All of this really galvanized the membership around saying: ‘We think we can do more.’ ”

advertisement 8

Article content

Metro 2050 is an update to the existing regional growth strategy, Metro 2040, which has been amended 20 times in the decade since it was adopted, McNell said: “It’s intended to be a long-term vision, but we know it needs flexibility. ”

For Boston, if the Metro directors adopt the strategy this summer, and then whoever sits on the board after October’s municipal elections can move quickly to amend it, that seems like the best way to address what he sees as the plan’s inadequacies.

“Right now, the vision and goals and targets are good,” he said. “We’ve got to strengthen the strategy.”

[email protected]


advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user follows comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your e-mail settings.

Leave a Comment