They were bad decades ago and they’re just getting worse
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
The Lower Mainland’s border gore is out of control, and it’s time to clean it up before expansion makes everything even worse. We have three Langleys (four if you count the historic Fort Langley site), two North Vancouvers, two Coquitlams, and one Lulu Island that manages to be completely covered by Richmond except for its entire peninsula, which is somehow part of New Westminster. It’s a confusing mess—and that’s not even mentioning the cluster of small North Vancouver townships like Belcarra and Anmore, or the poetically named Electoral District A, which takes up a quarter of any Lower Mainland map and has a population roughly equivalent to a crowded SkyTrain. In short, it’s a disaster.
It’s not hard to see how this happened. The Lower Mainland in the 19th and 20th centuries was a collision of many worlds: The rural Canadian farmstead, the exploding Pacific metropolis, and the European aristocratic mansions. It’s tempting to say that the Pacific metropolis simply overtook the other worlds to birth modern Vancouver, but that would be far too simple. Each different community asserted its personality and shape as the population grew in the latter half of the 1900s. Growth ended up being extremely uneven, municipalities couldn’t change in time to cope, and Metro Vancouver was left with nearly a dozen different towns featuring wildly varying levels of wealth and poverty. This inability—and sometimes unwillingness—to change with the times is why one Langley pretends to be a farm town, the other pretends to be a pure suburb while also being an actual farm town, and Surrey is both absurdly massive and was once one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in Canada.
While this problem isn’t catastrophically dire, it is incredibly inconvenient and confusing. It turns into a legitimate issue when electoral borders are factored in. Federal and Provincial ridings have different borders, and aren’t in line with exact neighbourhoods and towns, but often share names—even when the names are outdated. For example, Clayton Heights borders the Langley township but is federally in the massive South Surrey riding. In a region already struggling to get voters to the polls, having a labyrinth of nearly identical names blocking people from finding their voting stations is a pretty big disincentive.
I’m not going to suggest a solid alternative. Careless border placement is what started this in the first place, and I would probably just end up slapping a grid on the whole thing and calling it a day. However, the borders need to change, and there needs to be a system in place to allow them to do that.
Metro Vancouver has not stopped growing, and neither has its neighbours. Abbotsford is one of the fastest-growing cities on the country, growing wider and denser all at once, and might even become part of Metro Vancouver someday.
This problem is going to get worse before it gets better, unless all these municipalities do what municipalities almost never do: Sit down together and figure out a way through their own red tape.