COLUMN: Looking upward, into the urban future

We’re no longer a rural community with plenty of available land upon which to build homes and businesses.

Abbotsford is growing up.

Literally … vertically.

We’re no longer a rural community with plenty of available land upon which to build homes and businesses.

With its farming town roots, Abbotsford is now a city, surrounded by protected agricultural land. Aside from portions of Sumas Mountain, and a handful of other relatively small parcels, we’re running out of space.

Future development – much of it in the form of redeveloping old neighbourhoods – will be increasingly focused on high density.

And the highest density per square metre is achieved via highrise towers.

Building up, not out, has been the mantra of local city planning for the past several years.

It’s not exactly a new approach in Abbotsford. Several apartment towers already exist, albeit hardly in the “skyscraper” category. Last year’s approval for the 26-storey Mahogany at Mill Lake was the first step to tall towers in this city, and it was controversial.

Nearby residents didn’t want it looming in their front and backyards, with its sun-blocking shadow, and the potential of increased traffic.

Nevertheless, council eventually approved it.

Deja vu occurred last week, as similar criticisms were put forth by residents opposed to a set of twin 26-storey towers on Gladwin Road, between George Ferguson Way and Maclure Road.

Yet there is a difference between the two projects.

While those set against the Mahogany development could be given a point for their opposition to a major tower project surrounded by single family homes, the same argument doesn’t apply to the Gladwin development.

Right beside the proposed site are three 16-storey towers.

In fact, some of the opponents of this new project are residents of those existing highrises.

Some of them are not pleased with the prospect of their view being transformed from a Mt. Baker vista into the glass and concrete wall of a new tower.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, that’s progress.

I don’t think anyone can be guaranteed that what they bought into 10 years ago is going to remain the same in perpetuity, especially in a city as robust as this one.

As for the other arguments against the Gladwin development, the most valid may be parking, associated with a commerical component. However,  the high density concept is based around “walkability,” and that doesn’t fit with sprawling parking lots.

There are concerns about the preservation of nearby Horn Creek Park, yet the development footprint doesn’t seem to threaten that green space or the fish-bearing creek, and the developer has had to provide a number of studies and commitments to keep it that way.

It’s been suggested that the project would be better suited for the historic downtown area.

Wait for it. That too will be redeveloped over time, and it won’t be to save the “other” downtown core from highrises. It’s where they belong.

It’s understandable that people like their neighbourhoods the way they are – especially if they’ve been around for some time. The concern for green space and the environment is also laudable. Neither can be shrugged off in favour of development.

Yet, unlike some small Interior or northern towns that manage to exist with little to no growth, this corner of the province runs on it.

Jobs, businesses, sales … they all hinge on growth. That means more people, and that means higher density.

We might not like all the ramifications of that economic equation, but it’s real.

Look up … way up.