Mike Klassen, the acerbic blogger at citycaucus.com, was invited out to Surrey last week to speak at a public meeting on the future of a community known as St. Helen’s Park . ( He blogged on the subject here, also providing a link to the grassroots community group looking to resist larger ‘megahomes’ – www.sthelenspark.com.)
Before he went, Mike did a little tour on Google using Streetview to get a sense of the community. He also created a rather brilliant little slideshow using images from the streets.
Mike lives in a classic streetcar neighbourhood off Fraser Street on the East Side of Vancouver, and is an articulate fan of the kind of intermediate urbanism that so characterized the development of this city before Motordom took over.
St. Helen’s Park, on the other hand, is a classic 50’s subdivision of the kind that pioneered post-war sprawl south of the Fraser.
As I traveled around SHP the first thing I noted was there are no sidewalks. Most of Surrey’s older residential communities don’t have them. Cars were always present and gas was cheap, after all. Who needed to walk? Fortunately, city planners today are making walking more of a priority.
There were many other things that struck me.
- Everything was low, low density. One storey homes + basement. Probably few, or no suites;
- Local shopping was practically non-existent;
- Homes were set so far back from the street that visibility was a problem, which invites crime;
- Streets were tidy, but dull. Little effort was made to improve the curb appeal of streets;
- There are no curbs at all;
- Apartment buildings on the outer edge of the community were old and tiny in comparison to the lot sizes;
- Streets were narrow and dangerous for walking – I bet most kids around here either drive or bus to school;
- There are no parks or public space inside of SHP’s boundaries.
Not a bad summary of the challenges facing these aging suburbs. But what Mike found out, of course, was that the people who live there, aging in place, rather like it that way. Sidewalks? No thanks.
Mike (and the leaders of St. Helen’s Park) might want to pick up the Summer-Fall issue of spacing magazine out of Toronto that consistently wins awards for its coverage of the urban landscape. This issue is devoted to “The Return of Suburbia” – and while regrettably the stories are not on line, it’s worth finding a copy to read Dylan Reid’s piece on “Suburban Evolution.”
In it, he discusses the character of the inner suburbs of Toronto which, having lost of the bloom of youth, are confronting distinctly urban issues. But thanks to the strong planning of past Metro governments, he argues, they are twice as dense as the newer outer suburbs and can build on the fabric of towers and transit to evolve into something more urban. Unfortunately, this is not going to be sufficient for the later suburbs, often described as the ‘905 Belt.’
“Much of the inner suburbs, and most of the outer suburbs, are made up of low-density housing subdivisions with indirect, dead-end road patterns deliberately designed to not connect well with neighbouring arterial roads. They can’t become traditionally urban …”
Fortunately, Dylan has a suggestion:
Read more »
… a first step is to make subdivisions more walkable. But the obvious solutuion, to put in sidewalks where they are missing, gets a lot of resistance. When I’ve talked to people who live on these kinds of streets, they’ve told me they don’t want sidewalks because the street feels shared at the moment, a sheltered space where people can walk, kids can bike, and drivers are aware of them.
Rather than putting in sidewalks, such streets could build on this sentiment by being formalized as “shared streets” …
The basic steps for creating residential shared streets are simple: narrow the entry points and sign them so that cars know they are in a special zone, and implement a super-slow speed limit (20 kilometres an hour)… A Canadian twist could be to specifically allow street hockey to be played at all times of the day,