SQUAMISH has been discovered. This fact permeates many conversations in our town, and has led to both a mass exodus and purchasing frenzy. We have not planned for our future growth, our land is being developed faster than our Official Community Plan can be vetted and our council is forced to react to immediate demands from developers for zoning changes. Housing and equality, like many other areas of Canada is becoming questionable in Squamish. With problematic long term planning, we have become reactionary to the needs of the development community.
As our community grows into a suburb of the lower mainland, housing has become unaffordable and unavailable. We have lost sight of planning for those in need, and have been neglectful on implementing a housing authority. Whistler, recognizing that to staff their resort affordable housing was essential, implemented a way to achieve housing for their work force. We have not planned as much, nor set aside land for social housing. Not unlike parking spaces, building a few houses does not resolve affordability. We have spent time and resources developing neighbourhood plans for downtown. What about other neighbourhoods? We have rezoned land from commercial to residential, loosing precious employment land. Will there be space for all the start-ups we attract to expand into larger employers? The average person in Canada spends 36.6 hours at work. We plan environments where we live, but have not given the same consideration to our work habitats.
Compared to global pricing, land in Squamish is affordable enough to build density and make profit. Developers have bought up most of our available land, and similar to Vancouver, are parcelling pieces together for housing. Some of this land is industrial, some commercial, some single family residential, and some zoned green space. We need to slow down. We have no comprehensive neighbourhood plans. We have no comprehensive transportation plans. We pay consultants for expensive tax funded reports. Truck study. Bike study. Downtown study. Bus study. Routes to school study. We are 12km long, with not so complicated flat terrain. Does reacting to every problem with a separate study get us to where community decides we want to go?
Green space is put into every Official City Plan for a reason. When green space is set aside, it is zoned by the community because it is of value. There has been extensive work showing the value of urban green space for health and wellbeing. Benefits include greenhouse gas offsetting, attenuating storm water, and providing habitat. Other benefits include space for physical activity, social interaction and allowing psychological restoration. Rezoning green space into housing development is not appealing to me under current circumstances. Promises of public park seem at odds with the intent of the zoning. It should be maintained as such, until it has been decided by the community, and not a developer that the land should be removed as green space from future plans and made into developable land. In which case, it should be integrated with surrounding lands, and have mixed density including workspace, and school zones. Green belt: A policy and land use designation used in land use planning to retain areas of largely undeveloped, wild, or agricultural land surrounding or neighbouring urban areas.
Statements such as “giving back green space” irk me. It implies a rezoning of green space in exchange for token public parks. Parks require tax funding to maintain. Often, the “gifted” land is undevelopable riparian land and of no value to the developer. Green space is meant to protect land in municipalities from sprawl, and to guarantee that the public has access to the land and habitat.
Squamish is in the midst of a comprehensive Official Community Plan review. For the first time, we may achieve measurable healthy community benchmarks such as walkability, access to services, childcare and mobility. Before we give away all of our green space and employment land, it might be best if we let the public decide on our one shared, long term asset, land use.