By Massimo Ghilarducci, Del-POP Member and Director
To those who live in Delta, it is no secret that housing is unaffordable, specifically the land on which housing sits. Driving through Delta, it is evident that the majority of space was planned for single-family homes and modernist planning ideals, with mid to high-density forms of housing found few and far between. There are minimal places where people can live, work, and leisure in the same space, with most sticking to their houses, aside from the occasional sports practice or game. There are not many walkable coffee shops or grocery stores for most, and public transportation and bike racks are very limited. When higher density is built, it is typically high rises on Scott Road, which have historically been very unpopular; residents fear that it will destroy the character of the city. For many people of the younger generations in Metro Vancouver, the idea of owning a single-family home is often seen as highly unlikely, if not downright impossible. With that being said, how do we find a balance between the two? How do we build affordable housing in Delta, with space to work, live, and leisure in the same space, without building “disruptive” highrises that are unpopular among many in the city? In discussing the unaffordability of housing, lack of a sense of community, and dependence on cars in Delta, it is clear that the city and planners could do well by implementing practices of new urbanism by mixed-use space and densification to provide more affordable housing, a sense of community, and better transportation.
To begin, to delineate the unsustainability of Delta, one must look at key housing and transportation statistics to give context. Simply put, Delta is dominated by single-family homes. Over 50 percent of the city’s population lives in a single-family home with the majority having 4 bedrooms (Delta, BC – Summary, n.d.). The sprawl of single-family homes goes on for kilometers, rarely interrupted by any commercial or mixed-use space, leaving people without walkable amenities. Most single-family homes in Delta were built between the 60s and the 80s, a form of housing very popular at the time (Delta, BC – Summary, n.d.). Back in that time, many young families coveted the cheaper prices and lower crime rates associated with the suburbs. They decided to move to suburbs such as Delta and make the commute to work instead. However, the times have changed and it is clear that even single-family houses outside of Vancouver proper, such as Delta, Surrey, and Langley have become unaffordable. For example, in Delta, the average cost of a single-family home is nearing a million dollars (Delta, BC – Summary, n.d.). Renting in Delta is not much better as less than 25 percent of people living in Delta dwellings are renters and those who are can expect to pay over the 1000 dollar mark (Delta, BC – Summary, n.d.). The combination of high owning and renting prices leaves the city quite inaccessible to those who fall under the lower income bracket, such as single parents, young people, those with disabilities, etc. Moreover, since housing is so spread out, there is not much opportunity to work in the community, as the majority of Deltans commute more than 30 minutes to work, outside of Delta (Delta, BC – Summary, n.d.). This leads to higher car usage which not only negatively affects the environment but also has negative health impacts for the individual and community (Gatersleben & Uzzell, 2007). The combination of low density and high car usage leads to unaffordability, lack of community, long commutes, and a general lack of charm and character. Luckily, the use of mixed-use development may be able to aid in improving Delta’s issues.
Secondly, to improve accessibility to housing, transportation, and a sense of community in Delta, one must examine mixed-use development and how it can aid Delta with its issues. Mixed-use refers to the combination of middle and high density mixed in with green and commercial space to reduce commute time and increase a sense of community. In the book “Reclaiming the City” by Andy Coupland he states “It is hoped that by increasing the mix of land uses, and especially residential uses, residents will lead more ‘sustainable’ lifestyles, using their cars less. In addition, towns and cities will become more attractive, viable, and safer to live and work in (Coupland, 1996).” The ideas of attractive and viable are two that Delta could use, as the houses are very pretty, but they lack the character and uniqueness that feels like a welcome place. So how can Delta begin to tackle this issue? Simply, they need to zone and plan for it. Mixed-use zoning can be hard to come by in Metro Vancouver and Delta is no exception. Zoning for developments such as rowhomes, townhomes, walk-up apartments, high-rise apartments, and dingbats, with amenities, offices, and green space interspersed, would not only provide affordability but also facilitate a sense of community (Uytae Lee, 2020). This mixed use of houses would also be more affordable than the single-family home that Delta knows all too well (Coupland, 1996). The combination of accessibility and affordability would add some walkability and some character to the city, as residents and planners of the denser communities could add things like public seating, art, and private vendors to give the neighbourhoods some charm. Furthermore, adding mixed-use development would make Delta more just and sustainable by way of affordability and getting the community involved; this benefits the community as they can tell decision-makers what they would like to see in their city, giving citizens more power (Rosen & Painter, 2019). Getting the community involved is important to just sustainability, as historically the sustainability and planning community has been white and middle-class, whereas community-driven justice advocacy has been predominantly lower-income POC (Agyeman, 2008). Merging the two would not only allow for POC’s voices to be uplifted in the planning community but also mix income classes into a shared space creating a better understanding. In addition, the use of mixed-use space would allow people to work, live, and leisure in their neighbourhoods, getting more cars off the road. The idea of putting people, offices, coffee shops, stores, and other amenities near each other would reduce travel time, put fewer cars on the road, and less pollution in our atmosphere (Ewing et al., 2011). People in Delta would be encouraged to take public transportation or use forms of active transportation from point A to point B, especially if the mixed-use density was zoned and built along corridors where transportation already exists such as Scott Road and 112th Street. The use of transportation would lower commute time, and advocate for more active forms of transportation where people are generally less stressed and healthier over a long period (Gatersleben & Uzzell, 2007). To summarize, mixed-use development would allow for better affordability, community involvement, lifestyle, and forms of transportation in Delta, which are not only more socially just, but more sustainable as well.
Next, if Delta were to build this sort of mixed-use development, the planners would certainly have their work cut out for them. Trying to integrate planning theories such as new urbanism, just sustainability, citizen co-production, and the theoretical planning practices one would use to incorporate mixed-development into Delta, is not easy. To balance so much on their plates, the planners need to be public servants, advocates, social learners, and social reformers, among other things (Gunton, 1984). For example, the planners of the projects would need to be heavily involved in politics for the council to accept their plans as they would need to advocate for the projects of what they believe in to get people on board they would need community support (Gunton, 1984). Regarding community, planners need to learn about social issues and incorporate solutions into their plans to make the world a better place. The role of the planner does not simply suggest laying down the plans without any indication of caring for the community. They need to engage the community to see what the people would like to see in their communities while being multifaceted enough to balance everything required. Getting any form of community support for change is very difficult and to build our proposed mixed-use development in Delta, planners would be in the way of social/community involvement, politics, and the plans moving forward (Gunton, 1984). The role of the planner is important in establishing change in the community and their efforts are multi-faceted and invulnerable.
With all things considered, Delta has a problem when it comes to affordability, community involvement, and dependence on cars. There are so many single-family homes in the city that finding amenities is difficult and housing takes up too much land
to the point where there is barely enough commercial space. This distance from each other creates a certain level of disconnect between the community and each other, leaving those who live there in a city with very little uniqueness and character. The space between residents has also led to a lack of transportation, causing dependence on car usage, leading to less healthy lifestyles. In trying to fix all of these issues, mix-use development would truly benefit Delta by way of bringing different, denser forms of housing and room for rental space. Densifying much of the city would bring people together to work, live, and leisure in the same space leading to more engagement with each other, and the community. Lastly, bringing people closer together would allow many to work in the city of Delta, something that does not happen as is, or commute via a more sustainable option such as public transportation. To accomplish this, planners need to be multifaceted by way of engaging with the community and government to find a balance of justice and sustainability in the city. Looking towards the future of Delta, should they try to accept new urbanism and mixed-use space, it would be more just, sustainable, community-driven, and inclusive, among many other positive factors. With everything considered, it is clear that the first step is advocacy for a greener, more just, and sustainable future.
- Delta, BC – Summary. (n.d.). Townfolio. Retrieved June 16, 2021, from https://townfolio.co/bc/delta/summary
- Gatersleben, B., & Uzzell, D. (2007). Affective Appraisals of the Daily Commute: Comparing Perceptions of Drivers, Cyclists, Walkers, and Users of Public Transport. Environment and Behavior, 39(3), 416–431. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916506294032
- Coupland, A. (Ed.). (1996). Reclaiming the City: Mixed use development. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203985465
- Uytae Lee. (2020, November 1). Vancouver’s Missing Middle Mystery. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjWs7dqaWfY
- Rosen, J., & Painter, G. (2019). From Citizen Control to Co-Production: Moving Beyond a Linear Conception of Citizen Participation. Journal of the American Planning Association, 85(3), 335–347. https://doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2019.1618727
- Agyeman, J. (2008). Toward a ‘just’ sustainability? Continuum, 22(6), 751–756. https://doi.org/10.1080/10304310802452487
- Ewing, R., Greenwald, M., Zhang, M., Walters, J., Feldman, M., Cervero, R., Frank, L., & Thomas, J. (2011). Traffic Generated by Mixed-Use Developments—Six-Region Study Using Consistent Built Environmental Measures. Journal of Urban Planning and Development, 137(3), 248–261. https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)UP.1943-5444.0000068
- Gunton, T. I. (1984). The role of the professional planner. Canadian Public Administration/Administration Publique Du Canada, 27(3), 399–417.