If there is one city in North America that truly understands good urban planning, it would have to be Vancouver, British Columbia. This Southwestern Canadian city of nearly 590,000 has been utilizing smart growth principles for decades, helping make it one of the most livable cities on the continent.

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the city really illustrates how Vancouver operates on a different plane than most U.S. cities. Below are several excerpts and quotes from the article, which I feel illustrate my point well:

  • For starters, Vancouver residents waged a 10-year battle to keep freeways from its urban core in the 1970s, eventually defeating a plan that would have placed a highway right through its Chinatown and adjacent its downtown waterfront.
    • “We are the only North American city of any significance without an interstate at its core,” said Gordon Price, an urban affairs professor at Simon Fraser University, who used to serve on Vancouver‘s City Council.
  • However, instead of the city drying up economically and becoming inaccessible and unlivable, Vancouver’s core has become one of the most thriving urban areas in North America.
  • Density has been a trademark of Vancouver’s success. “The greater the density, the better it is for transit. But density must be sensitively designed so it welcomes people at street level. ‘Once you get the street right — the first 30 feet of a building — how high you go is not important,’ Price said.”
    • “Density is good”, says Larry Beasley, former city planning director for Vancouver, who has been recognized worldwide as helping create a new urban model
  • City leaders readily admit that their Vancouver model is counter-intuitive.

Note: We are always mentioning on TransitMiami how many aspects of smart growth, like higher densities and less parking, are very counter-intuitive.

    • “We are building cities we don’t actually like,” Price said. “Everyone can drive everywhere for everything. But if it’s the only game in town, it doesn’t even work for the car.”
  • However, in building a wide pedestrian and bicycle path around downtown, it created an environment free from cars.
    • “There’s no better alternative to the car than walking,” Beasley said. “We have been doing everything in our power to make walking comfortable. We actually have fewer cars coming into the downtown area than we had 10 years ago.”
  • The city also has invested strongly in transit, including rapid rail, commuter rail, electric buses, streetcars and ferries.
    • “We like that it’s hard to get in and out of downtown (by automobiles)…We have a policy to not even expand one lane of roads coming in and out of our city.”
  • One agency in Greater Vancouver — TransLink — oversees all transportation, including roads. Transportation projects and operations are largely financed through gas taxes, which total nearly $1.60 a gallon compared to 25.9 cents in Georgia. And TransLink has total flexibility on how it can spend its money, meaning gas taxes subsidize transit and other modes of travel.
Wow. Let’s review some of these points. Vancouver is very much pro-transit and anti-expressway (especially through its core and by its waterfront). Even better, the city utilizes a hierarchy of rail, including streetcars, much to the chagrin of Miami NIBMYs. The city strongly embraces higher densities, viewing such as the key to livable, sustainable neighborhoods instead of an evil prospect. Furthermore, Vancouver’s urban policy is designed largely around the pedestrian opposed to the automobile, seeing walking as an efficient, legitimate, and comfortable way of getting around. Even bicycles are put on a pedestal.

Alas, what I find very exciting is that only one agency, TransLink, oversees all transportation including roads. This allows for transportation planning to be much smoother and cohesive, especially in comparison to our terribly fragmented system with several competing entities. This also makes it much easier for planners and administrators to enhance and maintain transit. And, what I really love is that TransLink isn’t afraid to rise gasoline prices even higher through gas taxes – something unfathomable for most U.S. cities.


photo courtesy of clashmaker’s flick account

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4 Responses to Vancouver – A City That Just Gets "It"

  1. Anonymous says:

    After reading this article I’m struck with the notion to invite Larry Beasley to become the Top Planner for the County. Give him a hefty salary to match the big job and let’s get this county working on making transit a priority and fixing the scattered mess of a county.

       0 likes

  2. Verticus S. Erectus says:

    Too bad all that positive thinking is wasted on a city with such a horrible, wrist-slitting inducing climate.

       0 likes

  3. Ryan says:

    Vert,

    If one of the saddest things in life is wasted potential, there’s millions of people weeping over Miami.

       0 likes

  4. Anonymous says:

    Vancouver is a great place. Most of my friends there don’t have cars. One can easily walk to anywhere in the city center. The sky train is great, there are buses headed in all directions, people walk and bike and rollerblade. Vancouver has a lively street scene/culture compared to Miami. People are much more in shape than here on the beach. It is a wonderfully progressive place full of vegetarian and ethnic restaurants where people are positive and ready to solve problems as opposed to all the negative whiners and complainers one finds in Miami. Miami is a corrupt, angry mess.

       0 likes

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