Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Second thoughts on the future of Maple Ridge

Most, if not all, communities describe themselves as 'unique'. There is something in each of us that makes us feel we are not quite like the guy or gal next door. And as it is with individuals it expands to small rural communities, small towns, midsized towns, cities, provinces ('Beautiful' apparently, British Columbia), countries, continents and, who knows, one day even solar systems.

Back to earth; specifically the few acres in the Fraser Valley known as Maple Ridge. What is it that makes this town unique? Ah yes, we don't have any BIG boxes where we can shop. Now and then I am tempted to think 'so what' let Wallmart have its way with Maple Ridge. So long, of course, at it alights on the Haney Place Mall site and not in the Albion. The Albion, where, it is loudly heralded, the District is about to launch another of its self-serving studies.

To the East of Maple Ridge and to the West of Maple Ridge we have enough big box banality to serve ten communities our size. And now we have a bridge which opens up every one of the biggest boxes on the planet to the retail hungry among us. And to those who cry out for shopping on the Albion they now have two choices; move to Surrey or Langley, or just drive 20 minutes to either Mission, Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam or South. Even the US border is closer now so all those great factory outlets are there to serve you.

Long known as a dormitory community, one once took this description as an insult. Now, it seems, we ought perhaps to reflect on the fact that we are a dormitory and not a clone of all the other communities in the Fraser Valley.

Maple Ridge has long been overlooked as nothing but a distant and poor cousin to all our neighbours in the West and South. Today, we can be thankful for being ignored and not dragged, as it were, into the maelstrom of malls and mediocrity that sits on three of our flanks.

We can tell the world that if it likes rivers, lakes, mountains, sports (we could do with a lot more golf courses and soccer fields and stadia) then come to Maple Ridge. If the worlds wants to see more garage bands, art and artists per capita than almost anywhere else, then come to Maple Ridge.

On the other hand, if the visitor is seeking fine architecture and shops, then they should be redirected almost anywhere but Maple Ridge. We leave good design, construction and forward looking planning to other communities, but one cannot expect everything to be perfect.

To maintain our unique character we have to resist sprawl, now more than ever.

To maintain our unique character we have to (somehow) revitalize the downtown and - for those who insist on shopping - base all our retail activity in the centre of town.

To maintain our unique character we have to get the homeless off the streets, and the dial-a-drug ops, the prostitutes and those awful hooded cyclists who run amok in our neighbourhoods, out of town. We are not prudes - well OK some of us are - so we can have as much fun as the next community - visit our summer jazz festival or any other of our many public events in Memorial Park.

The kinds of uniqueness we need to rid ourselves of include houses with piles of junk cars littering the driveways, buildings like Northumberland Court, and property owners like Jack A. The district is working on all of this, but in typical incremental stages that can drive a voter batty.

And to maintain our uniqueness we need to resist strongly the notion that our land is not suitable for agriculture - that propostion is an outright lie perpetuated not only by the developers and realtors, but by the council, staff and approving officers who persist in supporting applications for the removal of good farm land in favour of more single-residential housing. This is a very lazy way of increasing the District's purse - nothing unique in that.

Yesterday I drove south across the bridge into Langley and Surrey. My immediate instinct was a desire head back north to the relative quietude of our little village. There is nothing in Langley or Surrey for me.

So I took the Albion Ferry north. Most likely for the last time. I reflected on the days when the ferry was my only choice and wondered, perhaps, whether I now - on this day - had one choice too many. And the right choice was soon to be taken away forever.

No comments: