June 27, 2012
Richmond the fast lane to the future
If there was a movie that would accurately describe the flurry of daily activity in Richmond, it would be Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, that John Candy/Steve Martin comedy from 1987. At any given moment, there are seaplanes, helicopters, and jets from all over the world flying overhead. Taxis, BC Transit buses, cars, trucks, and motorcycles occupy the grid of freeways and arterials running to and from the American border into Vancouver. And right downtown, on No. 3 Road, the futuristic Canada Line quickly and efficiently delivers people out to YVR, and then into downtown Vancouver.
On the water, all manner of tugs and barges negotiate the swirling currents of the Fraser River, while massive cargo ships load coal into their holds at the nearby Roberts Bank super port. Even human-powered transport has its place in Richmond – its flat, wide boulevards with spacious bike lanes are favoured by cycling clubs from all over the Lower Mainland, while an extensive network of bike paths provides the perfect viewing platform for panoramic views across to Vancouver, the North Shore Mountains, the Gulf of Georgia and Vancouver Island.
With outstanding public transport for a community of its size, access to a major international airport, and of course the Highway 99 freeway connecting Richmond with Vancouver to the north and the U.S. border to the south, there’s a lot of truth to Richmond’s city motto: “Access is Everything.” When Vancouver won the bid to host the 2010 Olympic Winter Games back in 2003, it would have been easy to predict the impact that hosting the Olympics would have on the mountain slopes of Whistler and spectator-packed arenas and venues in the city itself. Few, though, could have guessed how profoundly the Games would transform the City of Richmond.
Before the Games, many non-residents viewed Richmond as a pancake-flat suburb between the north and middle arms of the Fraser River – a place you unwittingly entered when you had to pick up a relative at Vancouver International Airport. Well before the Games began, it was easy to see how the architecturally stunning Richmond oval – built to host the Winter Games’ long-track speed skating events – would become a focal point of pride for the city’s residents. Thousands of people who had never even laced on skates came out to test the ice months before the torch was lit in February 2010.
Those who explore Richmond more thoroughly are charmed by the historic fishing village of Steveston, surprised at the outstanding quality and diversity of Asian cuisine, and awed by the mountain and water vistas from an extensive riverside trail system. Since 2008, Richmond’s Asian night markets – with as many as 30,000 attendees on a Saturday night – have drawn foodies from all over the Lower Mainland. The second major legacy from the 2010 Winter Games was no less impressive – completion of the long-awaited Canada Line light rail transit system that connects downtown Vancouver to Richmond in a little over 20 minutes.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie is an enthusiastic user of the Canada Line, but also notes that almost as many people ride the Line to access Richmond as those who ride it into the Vancouver. “There is significant demand all day, every day – not just during peak hours.” With new highrise towers rising up from downtown and massive plans for lands surrounding the Richmond Olympic Oval, the city’s growth seems phenomenal to the occasional visitor. However, Mayor Brodie says, “We’ve been growing consistently for the past 50 years; right now we’re in a reasonably rapid phase.” Indeed, StatsCan records relatively stable numbers of newcomers – one to two per cent annually over the past five years – putting the population at just over 190,000.
Richmond is, in fact, truly a city of the future. Home to dozens of industrial and commercial parks that house a variety of high-tech, green-tech, aerospace, and transportation-oriented businesses, Richmond is no longer a suburb of Vancouver, but an international, forward-looking community with ever-increasing ties to trade and commerce in the Pacific Rim. These businesses attract the most desirable kind of employees anywhere in the world – high-wage, highly sought-after “knowledge workers” in the fields of science, computer software engineering, technical support systems and aviation MacDonald Detwiller Aerospace (MDA), Sage Software, Canadian Helicopter, and Sierra Wireless to name a few. Another major employer, and a key beneficiary of the Canada Line, is the Vancouver International Airport Authority.
Although the Canada Line carried its first passengers in 2009, light-rail line had been planned from Vancouver into Richmond Centre since the mid 1990s. Plans for Richmond’s city core, especially, called for greater zoning density in blocks immediately adjacent to the Canada Line. Plans for Richmond’s city core, especially, called for greater zoning density in blocks immediately adjacent to the Canada Line. Sunrise Development’s Quintet is a multi-storey, multi-tower neighbourhood located right in Richmond’s retail and commercial “power centre”. This master-planned neighbourhood will feature five condominium towers and executive townhomes connected by a two-acre park. Quintet will also house the Richmond campus of Trinity Western University and a brand-new community centre.
Much of Richmond’s future growth lies along its perimeter – to the north, along the North Arm of the Fraser, extending from River Rock Casino to west of the Olympic oval. The centrepiece here is ASPAC’s massive River Green development, which partly occupies a former 600-acre farm that was purchased by the city in the 1970s for the then-princely sum of $1.5 million. River Green will bring similar level of luxury and opulence to its stunning river front location that ASPAC brought to Vancouver’s Coal Harbour development. Silver LEED certification will make these residences attractive to environmentally conscious buyers.
The entire neighbourhood – collectively called Oval Village – is slated for extensive development over the next decade. Even Fantasy Gardens, the floral theme park formerly owned by ex- B.C. premier Bill Van der Zalm, will be re-envisioned by the Townline Group’s extensive Gardens project. The Gardens will include a 12-acre public natural garden with trails, a community garden and a place to celebrate food and life. The rest of the site will become Richmond’s newest west-coast style community with a series of mixed-use buildings.
Finally, no story about Richmond’s rise would be complete without acknowledging the tremendously positive effect of recent Asian immigrants to Richmond, a trend that dates back to 1997 with the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese government. The fears that many Chinese had about that scenario never played out. However, Asian investors and families alike have contributed an enormous amount to the financial and cultural diversity of Richmond since that time, and will doubtless continue to well into the future.