Column: The nature of urban development

Since the Times marked its 35th anniversary last February, we’ve been taking a look back each Wednesday to see what was happening in a given week in 1981.

In this week’s throwback story, Langley City council rejected a proposal for a high-density housing development, acknowledging that while something needed to be done to accommodate Langley’s “exploding population base,” a lack of personal space creates undue stress for human beings.

They’re comments that could have — and have — been  made today.

In fact, they’ve been made repeatedly, both at public meetings and here on our letters page.

Dense development and overcrowded schools in Willoughby, and fears among some Brookswood residents that their heavily treed neighbourhood is headed in a similar direction, are clearly top of mind for many of our readers.

But with housing prices across the Lower Mainland climbing further and further out of reach, condo or townhouse living is the only option many people have if they want to own a home. The line-ups forming outside new developments in Willoughby, with people drawing lots for just the chance to buy something, have certainly shown us that.

Yes, development needs to make sense financially (although one could argue prices have outstripped reasonable profit margins). And, yes, we need to reduce our overall development footprint as more and more people move out to the Valley.

But what seems to be missing — so far, at least — is balance.

Human beings want and need access to nature. It’s simple biology.

I live in a condo. I like it just fine, but given my druthers, it wouldn’t be my first choice.

When I’m feeling closed in, or need to escape civilization for a couple hours, I can jump in my car and drive to one of Langley’s vast Metro-operated parks in Aldergrove, Campbell Valley or Derby Reach, and find a bit of peace and quiet.

Not everyone has that option.

In fact, neighbourhoods are being designed now to specifically encourage walking and transit use.

In an ideal world, the next step would be to give residents the ability to step out their door and stroll to a place where they can find a bit of silence and solitude. Green space doesn’t just mean a playground or sports field here or there, but actual nature.

It’s not an impossible task.

Bose Forest Park in Cloverdale is a prime example of what can be done to make a densely populated neighbourhood more livable.

At just over 18 acres it is a pleasant forested parcel of land, lined with walking trails. A few steps along one of its paths and you’d be hard-pressed to tell that you are, in fact, surrounded by hundreds of new detached homes, townhouses and condos.

This is exactly the sort of preserve that would make Willoughby a more livable neighbourhood. But developers aren’t going to simply volunteer the land. Why would they?

It’s up to the Township to make it happen. Granted, it won’t come at a small cost, but the long-term benefits of a happier, healthier community can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

The mayor has urged residents to be patient, adding the master plan for Willoughby will become clear over the next decade.

Ten years is a long time to wait.

Some assurances now that there is an intent, at least, to create an urban forest or similar preserve in Willoughby would no doubt go a long way to helping residents breathe easier.

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