Michael Seelig and Alan Artibise offered an intriguing glimpse into the Pacific Fraser region's future
Back in 1991, two UBC professors of regional planning, Michael Seelig and Alan Artibise, wrote a provocative book about what this region would look like two decades later.
From Desolation to Hope: The Pacific Fraser Region in 2010 came about after they interviewed about 70 experts, including then-premier Bill Vander Zalm, then-Vancouver mayor Gordon Campbell, then-UBC geographer Walter Hardwick, and celebrated architect Arthur Erickson.
I recently looked at the book to see how accurately they predicted the future.
First off, Seelig and Artibise defined the region to include the entire Lower Mainland from Vancouver to Hope, and extending north to include the Sunshine Coast and Whistler.
This 170-kilometre area had a population of 1.7 million back then; by 2010, they estimated it would reach 2.7 million.
Seelig and Artibise were pretty close to hitting the mark with that forecast.
Where they got it wrong was in where they thought people would live. They predicted that by 2010, Surrey would surpass Vancouver as the region's largest city, with 550,000 inhabitants compared to Vancouver's 540,000.
In the 2011 census, Vancouver had 603,502 residents; Surrey lagged behind at 468,255.
Vancouver's growth came about because of significant densification in the downtown core over many years, whereas Surrey has only embarked on this approach more recently.
Seelig and Artibise anticipated that Burnaby would have 170,000 residents in 2010. By the 2011 census, it had reached 223,218, thanks in part to heavy urbanization around Metrotown.
Richmond was only expected to grow by 30,000 residents between 1991 and 2010. In fact, there were over 70,000 more people living in Richmond by 2010 compared to 1990.
When the book was written, the average new home sold for $240,335 in Greater Vancouver. But the authors accurately forecast that a shortage of land would change people's living habits over the next several years.
"Housing developments will feature townhouses, condos and other more compact forms of housing, with high environmental standards, good amenities and common open space," they wrote. "Those of us who continue to live in Vancouver and the immediate surroundings in single family homes with large backyards will find that our property taxes have risen dramatically, making it expensive to continue to occupy so much land in the middle of the urban region."
The two professors also identified a need for a powerful regional transportation authority. In 1998, TransLink was created.
In addition, they emphasized in 1991 that politicians should stop building new roads and bridges. Instead, they argued in favour of "planned congestion" that would force people to lower their dependency on the automobile.
However, that didn't happen—as demonstrated by the new South Fraser Perimeter Road, the new Port Mann Bridge, and the new Golden Ears Bridge.
Two decades ago, Seelig and Artibise declared that taking the car to work would become an "extravagance" in the Lower Mainland by 2010 because workplaces would no longer provide free parking, and there would be higher licence fees and gas taxes.
They called on municipalities to lead the way in reducing auto use by not providing free parking to employees and expanding public transit.
"Any politician who is telling us that we should not increase densities in our cities is ignorant and 'environmentally unfriendly'," Seelig and Artibise maintained in their book. "The only way we can preserve our hinterland and protect our natural environment is by making sure we utilize already built up areas to accommodate more people. Politicians should be pressed to commit themselves to specific areas in which they will consider increased densities."
Despite their long list of predictions, Seelig and Artibise never once mentioned the possibility that Vancouver would host the Olympic Games in 2010.