New Urbanism's Moses comes to Tsawwassen
Trevor Boddy critiques a proposed new urbanist development in South Delta as "a last-gasp attempt to reform suburbanism from within,before high energy prices and new respect for land compels much denserdevelopment."
The 13th of May brought several downer developments — and it wasn't even a Friday. First, huge layoffs were announced at Canadian auto plants, in large part because our factories turn out vehicle lines tending toward SUVs and light trucks, and Americans have stopped buying both.
Later the same day things got even glummer, though the setting could not have been nicer — a huge rented tent beside a big red barn in South Delta. Century Group would like to turn these fields straddling the communities of Boundary Bay and Tsawwassen into the hub of a new suburban community for 5,000 people. The occasion was the presentation of drawings and ideas produced for this pastoral site in a design charrette stage-managed by Andres Duany, the co-founder of New Urbanism.
Worse and worse, I thought, as I watched Mr. Duany and his flown-in team present a vision of leafy low-density suburbia while claiming for themselves a front line position in the good green wars. Mr. Duany boasted the schemes he presented were "pioneering designs."
They were pioneering only in the rustic architectural vocabulary that popped up in the drawings. Call it "pseudo-agro vernacular" — Mr. Duany cited 19th-century rural Swedish agricultural buildings as valid sources for building "up here in the north," on the shores of "Bounty Bay" (the Floridian actually meant to say Boundary Bay, the body of water separating Point Roberts from Surrey).
In the Lower Mainland's urban fringes, we still take New Urbanism seriously, in the same way we still lust after Ford Explorers. My own view is that history will regard New Urbanism as a last-gasp attempt to reform suburbanism from within, before high energy prices and new respect for land compels much denser development.
This new wave of high density combined with high amenity is homegrown. It has turned the very word "Vancouver" into a verb and an ideology: progressive cities now "Vancouverize" because they believe in "Vancouverism."
We Vancouverites sell American planners and developers high density, high amenity urban development attuned to the needs of the new century. Then local developers like the Century Group go consultant shopping in Miami and end up buying the terminally pleasant nostalgia of New Urbanism. Go figure.