British Columbia

In the shadow of SkyTrain: will development in Coquitlam neighbourhood lead to displacement?

As part of The Early Edition's Intersections radio series which explores change in Metro Vancouver through specific crossroads, we visit Cottonwood and North Avenue in Coquitlam to see how the new SkyTrain line could change this diverse neighbourhood.

The Early Edition's Intersections series explores change in Metro Vancouver through looking at 5 intersections

The new Evergreen Line SkyTrain makes its way over North Road and Cottonwood Avenue. (David Horemans/CBC)

The new Evergreen Line opened in December 2016 and provides Tri-Cities commuters with a faster route into and out of Vancouver, but some are worried that the new transit route will spell the end of their community as they know it.

The Early Edition's Intersections radio series looks at intersections as microcosms of broader community change. CBC's Polly Leger went a few blocks south of the Burquitlam Station to the corner of North Road and Cottonwood Avenue.

North Road is the boundary between Burnaby and Coquitlam, and Cottonwood Avenue is largely residential.

In the city of Coquitlam's proposed Burquitlam-Lougheed neighbourhood plan, this intersection is set to become a "major node" with a landmark building near it.

The plans for neighbourhood surrounding the new station include increasing density by creating more housing choices and building new businesses and services. (City of Coquitlam)

Andrew Merill, a major project planner with the city of Coquitlam, imagines the place will become a popular neighbourhood spot.

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"[We want a] plaza with active uses on the ground floor, so [picture] shops, restaurants and cafes that activate the space." 

In order to reach that goal, the neighbourhood is being zoned to increase density with new businesses and amenities to follow new housing.

A community of immigrants

However, some wonder how the plan will accommodate already existing residents and businesses.

Silvana Guglielmetti, a program manager at the Cottonwood branch of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., says most of her clients live in the neighbourhood.

"It's the idea that you put the services where the people are rather than the other way around," she said. "Their children go to school three blocks down Cottonwood, and they live right behind us."

Silvana Guglielmetti, a program manager at the Cottonwood branch of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., says many people who live in the neighbourhood are refugees including new Syrian families. (Polly Leger/CBC)

She said it's hard to know what will happen if the ambitious development plan goes through.

"We will lose the privilege of living in the same neighbourhood maybe, but nobody really knows. Maybe with the new developments, some affordable housing will become available."

When asked, planner Andrew Merrill said affordable housing is an important issue in Coquitlam — although conceded it wasn't something the city tracked.

He did point out the city had adopted an affordable housing strategy which had increased the number of affordable housing units in the city.

The new tower at North and Cottonwood will have nearly 200 residential units and over 10,000 square feet of retail space when completed. (David Horemans/CBC)

Is development fair?

Craig E. Jones is a PhD candidate in the geography department at the University of British Columbia. He specifically looks at gentrification along Sky Train lines.

He studied the Maywood neighbourhood around Metrotown in Burnaby, which saw a massive change after rezoning for more density around the SkyTrain. In that case, he says a largely immigrant neighbourhood had to move.

"Here we have some affordable housing that's near to transit," he said. "Is it okay to redevelop these areas to make it so public transportation is less accessible to some of the lowest income people in the region? This is the fundamental question I still struggle with."

For now, the neighbourhood plan that would transform this corner is still in consultation.

The Burquitlam Station is a new connecting point for buses to and from nearby Simon Fraser University. (David Horemans/CBC)

Keep listening! Catch the rest of the Intersections series on CBC's The Early Edition this week, Feb. 20 - 24, 2017.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the audio, click on the link labelled Intersections: how will SkyTrain change Cottonwood and North Avenue in Coquitlam?