Design & Development
March 2, 2011

The End of the Strip Mall – Richmond

Good-bye, No. 3 Road.

No muncipality is converting more quickly from strip suburban to transit-oriented urban than Richmond – particularly that part of No. 3 Road adjacent to the Canada Line.  (For previous posts on the “AOL Triangle,” start here.)  

With an expected population equivalent to Vancouver’s Downtown Peninsula within walking distance of five rapid-transit stations (left), Richmond’s core will have the density.  As importantly, it will have the urban character and amenities.  Though constrained by the height limits because of flight paths to the airport (and on a flood plain, surrounded by dikes), the irresistible effect of YVR has trumped seismic concerns that previously kept this area from being designated a regional town centre. 

Also given Richmond’s appeal to Asian immigrants, the question was not whether dramatic growth would occur but how it would be shaped.

You can already get a good feel of the scale and character of this new city centre in blocks near Aberdeen Mall:

In the Alderbridge & Westminster Highway area north of City Hall:

And of course, in the area around the Olympic Oval, where River Green has already been well promoted.  But Brian Jackson, Richmond’s Director of Development, says this is just the beginning:

The area that you’re speaking of (the AOL Triangle)  is actually part of three “villages” as set out in our new City Centre Area Plan (CCAP) adopted September 14, 2009. 

Two of the three villages are centred on two transit stations (Aberdeen and Lansdowne); and the other is centred on the Oval.  …  we are looking for the intensification and urbanization of this area with mixed use, including residential, redevelopment with the highest densities focused at the stations or closest to the oval. 

We have several major development applications going through now that will help to realize that vision.  Amongst the ones we have in are Wing Leung’s Quintet development at Number 3 Road and Firbridge (rendering below) that includes a new community centre of 33,000 sq. ft. and university (for Trinity Western) and ASPAC’s development, both east and west of the Oval that will accommodate over 2,500 residential units, a commercial village core east of the Oval, together with new parks and waterfront trail.  In addition, we have two hotel applications near the Lansdowne Station, another high rise residential project from Onni, as well as several other developers poised to make other applications to intensify this area.

 

So, from a policy perspective, we’ve got everything in place for developers to move forward, when market conditions are right, to implement the vision set out in the plan.

Additionally, Richmond has also tried to address the loss of jobs-rich industrial lands that will be redeveloped to the west of No. 3 Road.  Says Brian:

The CCAP addresses this issue by creating “industrial reserves” in other parts of the City Centre which used to be single family neighbourhoods that cannot be residential anymore because of the flight path/noise issues.  In addition, as part of the OCP review, now underway, the policy section is doing an industrial analysis for all of Richmond to examine that very issue.

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[The third of a series.  Start here.]

It may be one-and-a-half times as long as the route from Lansdowne Station, but Olympic organizers will recommend to spectators heading for the speed-skating oval to get off at Aberdeen and walk the 1.5 kilometres along the Richmond River Walk.

To the north, the best features of Richmond: the Fraser, the mountains, life along the river. 

To the south, the less appealing industrial landscape of the ALO Triangle along River Road.

The block from Cambie to Gilbert is possibly the longest in the Lower Mainland – an unbroken kilometre, without a sidewalk.

Not that the dyke itself was designed to handle a lot of people.  Part way along, the Richmond Yacht Club leaves only a strip of gravel as a half-hearted bypass.

But that’s changing.  Richmond has crews out working on what will obviously be a significant transformation of the river walk.

New  construction promises to grandly welcome the pedestrian – and, I’m assuming, a separate path for bikes. 

It’s a real turn-around for Richmond, where, even in its more recently developed parts, the gap between a true pedestrian- and transit-friendly cityscape and what’s on the ground is regrettably wide. 

For instance, take the route – only half a block – from the south side of Aberdeen Centre to the Canada Line station:

At point 2:

At point 1:

Obviously the city is waiting for redevelopment to resolve these embarrassments.  Here it will happen.  But the ALO Triangle?  Should another industrial zone be scrapped, even if in return we get a transit-oriented, pedestian-friendly, high-amenity neighbourhood?

That leads to one of the more critical planning issues – maybe the most difficult challenge of the upcoming regional plan.  More later.

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The ALO Triangle lies between the Aberdeen and Lansdowne Canada Line stations and the Olympic Oval – the territory to be traversed by many thousands of Olympic visitors.    It’s only a kilometre from Lansdowne to the Olympic Oval – but it’s a dreary kilometre.

Here are a few of the enticing streetscapes along Lansdowne Road:

This is sure to impress the Europeans. 

At least Lansdowne Road has sidewalks on a few blocks (though at Minoru Boulevard it turns into an industrial lane) and has been extended from Gilbert to Hollybridge.    But try walking on Minoru Boulevard and you’ll find that there was never any intent to accommodate you – unless you’re making a trip from your car seat to a storefront, both placed as close together as possible.

It’s all too clear that the only critical urban design that went into the ALO Triangle at the time it was zoned for industrial (the 60s?) was done by the traffic engineers and the road builders.  At that time, sidewalks were a needless expense.   The only serious mode for good movements was truck – and so the roads were designed for them.  They had no foresight of an alternative future, except for one of unlimited automotive travel. 

Fortunately, for the Olympic visitor, there will be a choice.  More Monday.

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Yes, the Canada Line makes it easy to get Richmond.  But where’s the there there? 

Obviously, at the Oval. 

So I took the train to Lansdowne Station on No. 3 Road, figuring I could walk the route that would take me to the Olympic speed-skating oval, and, along the way, see one of the most provocative pieces of public art in years.  Namely, this:

This is “Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself at the Top of Lenin’s Head.”  It’s all the rage in Richmond – another piece of the Vancouver Biennale that’s pushing people’s buttons.  At least it does in Beijing, where the hometown artists – the Gao brothers – aren’t particularly welcome. 

Here, reactions are more quizzical than condeming.

A mini-Mao with breasts.  What are they trying to say?

For me, as interesting as the scuplture was the location.   Miss Mao is posed on a bust in a new park just under construction on the edge of an urbanizing Richmond still embedded in Motordom.

These few blocks at Elmbridge and Alderbridge are the first to reflect the future Richmond, where within walking distance of the Canada Line stations there could be a population surpassing Vancouver’s Downtown Peninsula.

But not yet.  Way not yet.   In the meantime, and certainly during the Olympics, visitors will experience in their treks to the Oval the Richmond of decades past – a triangle of industrial and commercial sprawl, designed when planners, engineers and developer simply assumed everyone would drive, transit would be non-existent, and nobody walked.

This is Richmond’s ALO Triangle – the land between the Aberdeen and Lansdowne Stations, and the Oval.  And that’s a problem.  (More tomorrow).

(Miss Mao and Lenin are within the green ring.)

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