One of the things that I always found a bit odd was how some people refer to everything outside of the City of Vancouver as “the suburbs.” Metro Vancouver is different than a lot of other regions in North America; we don’t have suburbs/bedrooms communities that service the central city.

Travel patterns in Metro Vancouver. Source: Gateway Program Report

In fact, the only true suburban/bedroom municipalities in Metro Vancouver are Anmore, Belcarra, and Bowen Island. The Tsawwassen First Nation lands are also suburban.
Every other municipality in the region has a mix of densities ranging from high to suburban. In Langley and Surrey, the only truly suburban areas are Port Kelly and Salmon River/Uplands. I’ll leave you to find these areas on a map. Other current suburban areas are being redeveloped into urban areas.
As I noted earlier this week, Metro Vancouver is a collection of complete communities. Jobs and housing is distributed throughout the region. Some people from the City of Vancouver leave their community for work, just like some people from Burnaby go to the City of Vancouver for their job.
Jobs and Pop - 2011
Population, dwelling unit and employment in Metro Vancouver member municipalities. 2011 baseline. Source: Metro Vancouver

Jobs and Pop - 2040
Projected growth in population, dwelling unit and employment in member municipalities. Source: Metro Vancouver

The really great things about our region is that it is a series of nodes. With proper funding for transit, these nodes would serve as the anchors which make viable high-quality transit from Langley to West Vancouver. We have the framework in place to build an auto-optional region for the majority of the population.
Given the built-form of the region, it’s no surprise that transit ridership has been increasing rapidly in the South of Fraser as TransLink has expanded service in the area.
Annual Bus Boardings (Millions)
Annual bus boardings between 2010 and 2014. More information at

This will be my last post of the week. Metro Vancouver is a great place to live. When urbanists only focus on placemaking in the City of Vancouver, and dismiss the rest of the region as a hinterland, it does everyone a disservice. If it wasn’t for the South of Fraser, where would all the Main Street Hipsters get their locally grown, organic food from?
Beyond that, the reason why Metro Vancouver works is because it is a federation of municipalities that have come together to improve the quality of life of all residents.
If you haven’t spent much time outside of the City of Vancouver, I invite you to start exploring the rest of the region. For great ideas for places to tour, check out the blog Fraseropolis. There’s a lot of cool things to see outside of the City of Vancouver.
Please be sure to check out my blog as well at


  1. Great post! We do have a great Region and need to support city building in all of our centres. Best to align municipal, regional, provincial and federal investment to create more liveable places.

  2. “When urbanist(s) only focus on placemaking in the City of Vancouver, and dismiss the rest of the region as a hinterland, it does everyone a disservice. ”
    Well said Nathan.
    Thanks to you and to Gordon for the opportunity to present a perspective from the fastest growing area in the region.

    1. The decentralization of employment, which some refer to as ‘job sprawl’ is hardly a unique-to Vancouver phenomenon. We have a more decentralized job market then Calgary or Toronto, but compared to most American metro areas out situation is not unique. Think of the Google Buses carrying thousands of tech workers from San Francisco to San Jose and Palo Alto. Or the employment distributions of Seattle, or Portland, or Los Angeles or the whole of the Sun Belt.
      And in most of these cities, it’s still true that the concept of ‘central city’ and ‘suburb’ exists, since the notion of suburbs as strictly bedroom communities never really reflected reality all that long after some enterprising builder seeing a freeway and an abundance of potential employees invented the office park.

      1. Yes. Which is another reason that Vancouver should protect and retain its industrial lands.
        It’s all very nice to clean up the False Creek and the Coal Harbour waterfronts and see people living in condos lined up along the frontages but if the residences seep over into the light industrial areas of the Armoury District and lower Strathcona (south of Broadway and west of Cambie) the city will lose work places. Finning Lands doesn’t seem to be eligible for much employment. Will this creep over across Terminal?
        I know people that live downtown and commute to Langley.

        1. Seriously? The job density on industrial lands is really low. One office building downtown can have more jobs than a entire sprawling industrial “park”. And Emily Carr is going into the Finning site. That is a lot of jobs.

        2. It isn’t just about maintaining and growing local jobs (admittedly important). You also don’t want to transport your rapid consumables from a warehouse in Surrey to Vancouver everyday.
          There are some pretty important distribution places that deal in food, building materials, and people that are based in Terminal district, and moving them across town takes time and money.
          It is also useful to keep a breadth of jobs, such as warehouse work and vehicle repair, in the city of Vancouver. Not everyone can work in a office.
          Industry takes space and is somewhat necessary, but there is a lot of space for residential and office job density between Point Grey and Shaughnessy.

      2. As we see from the Asian influx of money for second to fourth homes Vancouver is a great place to work FROM but the money is often made and declared elsewhere.
        Hence my ( often repeated ) suggestion to lower income taxes but tax consumption incl housing more. Our tax model build post WW II in the 1950s does not work well anymore. Affluent ( often Asian ) immigrants behave rationally therefore: live where it is beautiful with low property taxes and declare their incomes elsewhere. As such we ought to up land transfer taxes, say to 1% per $1M to 15%, lower income taxes and up property taxes to build robust transportation systems that disincentify car use ( i.e. congestion fees & road tolls & far higher parking fees)

        1. The (often repeated) Landlords Plan to take over everything;
          Lower income tax.
          Increase tax on food, clothing and shelter.
          Charge road fees, bridge tolls, and install parking meters everywhere.
          Who benefits? The landlord of course since such a scheme would leave 50% of the population (those that rent) walking to work, wearing Value Village, standing in food bank lineups and struggling to pay rent while the landlord pays less tax on profits and buys ever more apartments at foreclosure prices from the bankrupted by the cost of living.
          Hence indeed and as such the constant presentation of this scheme no matter what the topic of a post is very tiresome.

          1. Might I remind you that there is no PST nor GST on food or rents, which is the biggest expense of poor people or many renters ?
            They would actually benefit from enhanced transit services, enhanced social services such as education or healthcare and lower income taxes ie more money in their jeans AND more / better services !
            Who’d pay for that: high end property owners ( most of whom are already affluent or non-resident ) and car users ( whose use we wish to reduce ).
            Sounds almost like theft from the NDP policy book. I can hardly believe I am suggesting it.
            I do not see an impact here on rents or landlords. Enlighten me, please.

  3. I’m always amused by people who argue that the City of Vancouver’s bike- and pedestrian-friendly policies will discourage people from working downtown and drive jobs out into the “suburbs”. Don’t they understand how that’s a GOOD thing, and a key goal of successive regional plans?

    1. I don’t really think it’s suburban people saying that, since the downtown part of a suburban [driving] commute isn’t a big part of the overall journey.
      I tend to think that the “complainers” are the Vancouver Westside drivers whose 15 minute commute may increase to 20 minutes (and who likely have little patience for delays). Note that this demographic would be in the high income segment given that parking costs downtown are quite high (and likewise, if the office gives you a free parking space, you are high up in the organization).

  4. Very interesting statistics. When the entire region has an average of half a job per resident, Vancouver’s 2/3 of a job per resident is not much of a difference. “Urbanites” may turn up their noses at the idea of a job in Surrey really being an urban job but I suspect a lot of people in Surrey wouldn’t feel so excited about the typical office job downtown. This all ties to the transit issue, of course, because bottlenecks on the major routes into Vancouver remind those who live outside Vancouver that the price to pay for working in Vancouver can be pretty steep.

    1. Intermingled in this mix is the unpensioned, often unsalaried and certainly uncounted job of rearing children. This may apply more to Boomer’s parents, a good number of whom are still alive, predominantly mothers who may have divorced after the kids grew up without daycare and who now live in subsidized care facilities.

  5. I hear that the Knight Street Bridge is jam packed and backed up in the SOUTHBOUND direction each morning with commuters headed to the tech parks in Richmond..

  6. When you say Metro Vancouver doesn’t have bedroom communities you’re taking the region in rather large chunks.
    Take away Ambleside and West Vancouver is nothing but housing, more housing and still more housing. Local bylaws prohibit most types of industry from locating there so all the jobs are in retail.
    In most neighbourhoods south of the Fraser the residential street system of winding drives and cul-de-sacs deliberately makes it difficult to walk from point A to point B and exclusionary zoning means that there’s nothing to walk to anyway. Even reaching the elementary schools embedded in the communities can involve a rather convoluted trip. The entire region was built on the assumption that every adult would own a car and that getting from one place to another would always be quick, easy and cheap.
    It has taken only a few decades to prove those assumptions false.
    I’ll admit that nobody wants to live next to a steel mill, car repair shop or fast food joint, but 20th century society went to great extremes to get nearly all the people as far as possible from every form of commerce.
    When I chose housing the first time around I wanted to be near a lively street. Not on a lively street, but near one. I walked to get my groceries, I walked to have drinks with friends, I walked to the park. My job was in a different municipality so I drove to/from work, but I knew the job wouldn’t last forever and it didn’t.
    My next home was a compromise for me and my wife. She wanted a big back yard, but didn’t drive so good transit was necessary, something usually incompatible with large lot bedroom communities. I wanted what I already had: a place near all the amenities. We were also rather short of money and interest rates were far higher than they are today.
    We ended up in a part of east Vancouver with a good school and two nice parks. Although there was a bus nearby that went downtown getting anywhere else meant transferring. Getting groceries and other supplies was only practical on the weekend when I could drive and it felt like we ruined every Saturday getting the shopping done.
    We have since moved to a walkable community with shops, services and recreation all available on foot. Transit is nearby and takes us to places our little shopping area doesn’t offer. I still drive sometimes when I have a passenger or two or three or want to bulk shop, but it no longer feels like I have to drive everywhere.
    If I was to be forced to move to west Richmond, Tsawwassen, Sunshine Hills, Panorama, Cloverdale, Walnut Grove or Brookswood I know I’d feel there was some sort of umbilical cord keeping me attached to my car.
    I realize some people like having a big yard instead of a small patio, they like leaving it all behind when they go home, they may even like driving everywhere. That’s OK. When they start paying the full cost of that lifestyle they’re welcome to enjoy it in peace.

    1. Excellent counterpoint, David.
      I think there is a more fine-grained economic and social dimension missing in this post. Though I am happy to hear the entire region is doing well with jobs, there was no information presented on GDP by job quality, sector, city or core urban area (town centre). I do not exactly see cruise ships with 900,000 seasonal foot passengers spending billions in Surrey, nor as many arterials with long stretches chock-a-block with small storefronts. Surrey does have some heritage pockets, but nothing like Gastown. It could, with the right foresight and leadersip, create a “history” or urban design and architectural legacy that will be treasured by all Metro residents and visitors in future if it really tried.
      In 2014 Port Metro Vancouver did $172B in overall trade with 160 trading partners, generated $20.3B in overall economic output, and registered $9.7B in GDP. What is the distribution of all that economic activity amongst Metro cities?
      About 40% of all jobs in the Metro are concentrated in the town centres, and more than half are in the Metro Core (downtown Vancouver). The rest are diffused thinly throughout the Metro. Office parks create jobs, but, with a few exceptions, they do not have the quality or size and concentration of companies that are attracted to the advantages of an urban core, notably a plethora of urban amenities and transit options. As such, 45% of the entire office floor area in the Metro is concentrated in downtown Vancouver and the Broadway corridor alone. These two areas also contain the lion’s share of the region’s highest quality jobs, notably in the financial, legal and health institutional sectors.
      Though Surrey has wisely created the dense, rapid transit-linked Surrey Centre with some significant institutional anchors, it has a long ways to go before it has the head office and economic gravitational pull of Vancouver, let alone the planning maturity to place human beings ahead of automobiles. Citing mere suburban growth rates in the absence of other information like the above doesn’t create an accurate representation of progress or urban quality.
      Here is the Metro job distribution by sector estimated to 2021, but no information on the locus of these jobs could be found at present:
      280,000: Business, commerical services
      150,000: Retail
      110,000: Health
      90,000: Manufacturing
      80,000: Acommodation & food
      80,000: Fniancial, insurance, real estate
      75,000: Education
      65,000: Transportation, communications, utilities
      65,000: Information technology, cultural
      60,000: Construction
      55,000: Wholesale trade
      45,000: Public administration
      20,000: Primary entry
      Sources: BC Business Council, BC Government, Conference Board of Canada, TransLink

      1. I made these comments as one who lives in Vancouver but who has worked for several decades east of Boundary and south of the Fraser.
        Regarding organic produce, well, there are at least 4 urban organic farmers leasing back and front yards within a 5-minute walk in my Vancouver neighbourhood who sell their produce locally.

  7. Excellent post, Nathan, and thanks for plugging Part of the purpose of our site is to show there’s life outside of Vancouver, without minimizing the big city’s achievements. We would also like to nudge municipalities into making their central spaces more truly urban, and less suburban, as I know you’re trying to do yourself. While other provinces (Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia) went to a unicity model decades ago, we are still pushing ahead with multi-municipality regions. It’s a B.C. peculiarity, and it makes for a special set of challenges and opportunities.

  8. Ian, I’ve been pushing Fraserpolis for sometime. Well worth the read. I believe that effective regional government is necessary We’ve evolved into city states since the provincial government wiped out Metro Vancouver’s regional planning powers in 1983; that this fractured approach ‘makes for a special set of challenges and opportunities’ is an understatement. Look at Burnabystan.

  9. “If it wasn’t for the South of Fraser, where would all the Main Street Hipsters get their locally grown, organic food from?”
    Where would any of us get our food from (let alone, but including those hipsters)??

    1. Currently, the majority of produce comes from California and Mexico. Organic food has a range of sources, not all local. With record drought and terrible water management practices, this long supply chain will not be sustainable in the long run. All the more to keep the ALR intact and counter the pressure to open it to sprawl.

      1. Canada can easily feed itself and many others. The reason for the high level of produce imports is competitive price advantage for certain products. And that avocados, bananas lemons, oranges and mangoes don’t grow very well in Canada. Lemons could probably be grown in BC – southern V. Island, not Surrey.

      2. Even in winter the southern Prairies have the highest insolation in the West, and solar greenhouses open up a huge possibility 12 months a year. Moreover, the longer hours of sunshine further north increases the capacity of places with Class 1-3 soils like the Peace River Valley to grow high value crops like vegetables and fruit. The possibilities for a more productive (and thus more profitable and diverse) agricultural sector increases when you move from bulk exports of grain and local production of hay to a plethora of crops with a higher value.
        Jeff Rubin in his latest book “Carbon Bubble” postulated that Canada should consider exports of water to the US — but in the form of value-added commodities like vegetables, fruit and grain when the agricultural capacity of the US Midwest and Southwest becomes completely stressed out of production by continuing drought in the latter half of this century. He theorized that agriculture has the capability to supplant the oil industry in Alberta in future in terms of employment rates, diversification of the economy, and in tax revenue.
        Long range thinking and planning like this is needed when discussing the threat to the ALR from suburbia.

        1. I don’t believe the farmland in the Peace River region is really suitable for growing vegetables and fruit, but even if it were, the best farmland in the region is all destined to be flooded under the Site C dam.

        2. The agronomist who authored the study says differently. The Peace River valley is oriented E-W and is quite sheltered from the winds on the flat areas above the valley. In effect, a sun pocket. The land is benched down to the river, and the benches are ideal fro agriculture. The area is also several degrees latitude north and has hundreds of hours more sunshine during the growing season than here, and that stimulates plant growth measurably, though it’s not quite the midnight sun. The soils are also Classes 1-3 and are capable of growing more diverse crops with higher nutrient and economic value.

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