North Vancouver and Pitt Meadows highlighted, as well as important role of ALR
Release date: Sep 13, 2002

Vancouver, BC – From 1986 to 2001, Greater Vancouver’s share of residents living in compact communities increased from 46 percent to 62 percent—in striking contrast to Seattle, which had only 25 percent of residents in compact communities in 2000. That’s according to “Sprawl and Smart Growth in Greater Vancouver,” a report released today by Seattle-based Sightline Institute (formerly Northwest Environment Watch) and Vancouver-based Smart Growth BC. Based on a new analysis of census data and satellite imagery, the report ranks greater Vancouver’s municipalities and districts by success at compact growth and compares growth patterns in the two metropolitan areas.

“Greater Vancouver is doing a much better job than Seattle of protecting farmland and preventing sprawl,” says Sightline research director Clark Williams-Derry. “But the challenges of rapid growth are only increasing.” The report highlights the key role that BC’s farmland protection programs such as the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) have played in Vancouver’s success. “If Greater Vancouver had sprawled like Seattle in the 1990s, it would have paved over an area almost the size of Burnaby,” he says. “The reason it didn’t is largely because of the ALR.”

The report notes that recent changes to the ALR allowing for more local control in land-use decisions may make BC’s system more like Seattle’s more localized land-use policymaking. “This raises concerns for loss of agricultural land and increased sprawl in some communities,” says Smart Growth BC’s executive director Cheeying Ho. “Municipalities need to step up and develop related land-use policies and continue protecting our valuable agricultural land.”

Top findings in the report include:

  • Greater Vancouver’s population increased by nearly 50 percent between 1986 and 2001, a higher annual growth rate (2.6 percent) than many developing-world megacities such as Jakarta, Indonesia. This rapid growth has brought two key challenges: maintaining transportation options for an increasingly crowded region and protecting green space and farmland from runaway development.
  • Greater Vancouver has met both challenges by channeling growth inward into compact neighborhoods. In contrast, greater Seattle has grown outward at the expense of both farmland and transportation choices.
  • Fully 62 percent of Greater Vancouver’s residents now live in compact neighborhoods (defined as having 12 residents or more per acre), up from 57 percent just five years ago. Eleven percent of Greater Vancouver’s residents now live in highly compact, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods of 40 residents or more per acre—such as Yaletown and central New Westminster—up from 6 percent in 1986.
  • Not all Vancouver-area jurisdictions have been equally successful at containing sprawl. New Westminster and the cities of Vancouver and North Vancouver have the best record, with between 78 and 90 percent of their residents living in compact neighborhoods in 2001. The most improved municipality since 1986 was Pitt Meadows, which had no residents in compact communities in 1986, but as of 2001 had 42 percent. West Vancouver, Port Moody, and Langley District have lagged, with only about 25 percent of their residents living in compact communities.
  • Greater Seattle spreads across three-quarters more land per resident than Greater Vancouver. If Greater Vancouver had the same overall population density as Seattle about 650 square kilometers of additional land would be covered with suburban development—an area equivalent to all the remaining developable land in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), plus four-fifths of the remaining agricultural land.
  • The report estimates that Greater Vancouver could add another million residents without developing any new rural land by modestly increasing density throughout the region and dedicating just 5 percent of current lower-density residential areas to new pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods of more than 40 people per acre.
  • Smart Growth BC’s Cheeying Ho notes that the report may help inform the debate over several proposed transportation projects linked to the 2010 Olympic Bid, including the Vancouver/Richmond rapid transit project, Third Crossing between Vancouver and the North Shore, and the Sea to Sky Highway.

    “We need to be clear about where our most sustainable benefits are,” she said. “Over the long term, building more compact, mixed-use communities, with affordable housing and public transportation infrastructure, will help us see similar gains in livability in the next 15 years. Each of these projects needs to be assessed in terms of how it bring us closer to those long-term, regional goals.”


    Note to media: On September 11, Sightline Institute will present the findings of this study to the Greater Vancouver Regional District’s Environment and Planning Committee, 4330 Kingsway, 17th floor Board Room, Burnaby. The meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 8:30am; Sightline will present around 9:00am.

    Sightline Institute (formerly Northwest Environment Watch) is a Seattle-based nonprofit research and communication center that tracks the region’s progress toward a sustainable economy and way of life. Sightline’s sprawl reports are products of the group’s multi-year project to develop an index of true progress for the Northwest. For more information, see

    Smart Growth BC is a province-wide nongovernmental organization with a mission to create more livable communities. Working with community groups, businesses and local governments, the organization promotes compact and complete communities, sustainable transportation, affordable housing, protection of agricultural land and greenspace, efficient use of infrastructure, and more-effective citizen engagement. For more information, see

    September 13, 2002