Over the past few weeks, we moved home from a suburban neighbourhood remote from any amenities to a regional town centre with many. Read on for some thoughts on the differences...
For the past two and a bit years, while we waited for our condo to be built, we decided to reduce our costs by moving into a one bedroom basement suite in a suburban Coquitlam neighbourhood (pictured above). The neighbourhood is similar to many in Metro Vancouver, it has a Walk Score of 31 and a Transit Score of 45. To quote walkscore.com, "This location is a Car-Dependent neighborhood so most errands require a car".
The closest transit stop is 450m away, or a 6 minute walk, not a huge distance and just within TransLink's own guideline target for proximity to transit, but I never use it, trips undoubtedly take far longer than by car and always require a transfer, and as I have access to a car, it never seems worth it. For groceries, we would have to walk either 2 or 2.5km, or approx 25 to 30 minutes, transit would take 16 minutes including the walk, but not the wait time, as you wouldn't want to wait another 30 minutes for the next bus, the car is 5 minutes. It's just easier in such an environment. As for socializing, there is nowhere within walking distance.
The need to drive for every little thing was a major frustration for me while we lived there. The inconsistency of the sidewalk provision when we would go for a walk around the neighbourhood still boggles my mind! This is not unique to this neighbourhood but speaks to the planning common throughout the 70's and 80's when these neighbourhoods were developed. The mindset at the time was that people drove, and provision for pedestrians was much less of a consideration.
We moved to Lynn Valley Town Centre in the District of North Vancouver, a regional town centre neighbourhood with a Walk Score of 73 and, surprisingly a Transit Score of just 47. walkscore.com describes this locations as "Very Walkable so most errands can be accomplished on foot". I am surprised by the low Transit Score as we have transit service at the door v a 6 minute walk from the previous location. We have a multitude of amenities almost on our doorstep or at least within a 5 minute walk. We have coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, grocery stores, even a bike shop.
The neighbourhood has historically focused single family homes around a single level centrally located mall, but that is changing and we see more condo buildings, ours included, going up on the periphery of the mall. The mall is about to begin a transformation over the next few years with mid rise towers above street level commercial space and more "streets". Its pretty good right now but this little regional town centre will be the epitome of the compact walkable community when complete. Find out more information here http://www.dnv.org/article.asp?c=1177
Over the past few weeks it has been a joy to be able to nip to the store just five minutes away, no meals prepared, no problem, several options close by, and best of all, its close to the north shore mountains, not a pre-requiste for walkable urban centre but one of the primary draws for me! Lets look at some pro's and con's from a personal point of view first...
Now lets look at the pro's and con's from a planning and city wide perspective...
There is no right or wrong choice as everybody's needs and preferences are different. One thing is for sure though, as population increases, our cities will benefit by accommodating that new population as densely as possible, and locating that density as close to existing amenities, employment opportunities and transit services as possible. While suburban neighbourhoods offer many advantages for the individual they are a far less efficient form of development than town centres and I can think of very few benefits they actually offer the City itself.