Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Smart Growth for Prince Rupert

Nature provides Prince Rupert with its greatest assets: A sheltered deep water port and proximity to the Skeena River.

You can think of both Prince Rupert Habour and the Skeena River as a kind of infrastructure. The deep water and the network of Islands make this port viable. The Skeena supports multiple uses: salmon runs and the wildlife that feeds on the salmon; a transportation corridor which made it easier to build a railroad and a highway; and finally, an efficient drainage system for a vast inland area that only backs up and overflows about once every fifty years. Just imagine if we had to provide the drainage ourselves, what that would cost. Luckily, nature doesn't charge us for the use of it's infrastructure.

We are not as blessed as the Fraser Valley where the flood plains of the Fraser have yielded ideal land for farming. That rich farmland comes from the periodic flooding of the river. The Fraser River is a great infrastructure for farming but not so great for housing in that it costs taxpayers a lot of money to protect their homes and businesses when the river overflows.

In Prince Rupert we don't have any good farmland. Nor have we experienced the unchecked growth of population that happened around the city of Vancouver in the last fifty years. As Vancouver has grown the suburbs have grown and farmland has been taken over by highways, subdivisions, and shopping malls. We may soon regret destroying that farmland, as higher energy prices will eventually convert to higher food costs.

Suppose Prince Rupert were to grow substantially in the next fifty years. Where would we put all the houses? Our town lies on the lower slopes of a mountain so there is not a lot of room to grow. We ought to think about “smart growth” about how we could avoid some of the problems of places like Surrey, where urban sprawl has significantly lowered the quality of life for many residents.

In the past sixty years urban growth has favoured the automobile over people. As a result there has been more and more land paved over for roads and parking lots, more agricultural land lost, more traffic congestion and longer commuting times. Developer's have extended subdivisions farther away from city centers but have not paid the full cost for new roads and infrastructure.

The quality of life in suburbs like Surrey has suffered because these places are not built on a scale for people to get around by walking. Prince Rupert is an exception in that it has a compact size where it is possible to walk from home to work or to school. Part of the friendly atmosphere here has to do with the ease of meeting friends and acquaintances when one is walking around downtown.

If Prince Rupert was to grow in a smart way the city could save on infrastructure costs by increasing the density of neighbourhoods rather than expanding the city's area. Smart zoning bylaws could encourage townhouses, row houses and apartments rather than single family dwellings on big size lots. This would make housing more affordable for low income and families without children. Zoning could also encourage multiple use so that businesses and residents could be in the same area. This would make it easier for people to get places by walking, reducing congestion and making for a better quality of life.

Making walking a viable means of transportation helps make a town safer and healthier. The North American epidemic of obesity is largely due to our over-dependence on cars. We could also encourage the inclusion of parks and greenways as we grow in population. These also improve our quality of life, improving the view, providing bicycle paths and walking trails. As an added benefit, natural areas of woods and field absorb more water than streets and driveways causing less runoff and saving the city money that it would otherwise have to spend on added storm drainage construction.

Adopting smart growth principles in Prince Rupert's Official City Plan would save the city money in the long run and lead to a better quality of life.

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