The little city that could

As part of our current Buckley Vann International tour, we recently visited Port Moody, a small city of 35000 people on the fringe of the Vancouver metro area.

Originally established for port and then industry purposes, the city has a great small city form with a traditional grid street pattern, and some surrounding post war car based areas. Amongst all this, over the last decade or two, it has overseen some great pieces of new urbanism development on the edge of its traditional core, ahead of any major transit investment, in part to link with possible planned future transit, and partly to help advocate for transit coming to the city.

The first step

The first major piece was Newport Village, which I first saw in 2006. On a largish triangular site, it features an internal modified grid road system, pedestrian friendly streets which cars use but are tamed, mainly low-mid rise built to the street mixed use, with car parking behind/beneath, a handful of tall residential towers (26-28 storeys!) al organised around a central village scale retail and eating area, including a town pub; with integrated open space including a children’s playground etc.


There are I think some 400-500 dwellings here, at a significant intensity. The streets and the whole village are at a comfortable human scale, with the tall building at the edges and framing the development. It is a great piece of urban design which works well.

Taking it up a notch

Not content with its fine effort at Newport, the city has worked with another developer to deliver the Suter Brook Village across the road. This is a step up in urban design quality, intensity and finish, learning from the experience at Newport to make it a great piece of contemporary urbanism, all the more impressive given its setting. It is well advanced but still under development. It has a “Portland scale” activated small grid street pattern, with most parking underground. It features a mix of built to the street mixed use, incorporating retail, commercial, and residential development in a range of styles and scale, generally lower scale, but of high quality design and integration. It has a supermarket (or as they say in north America, a grocery store) built into one block, in what former Port Moody General Manager, Gaetan Royer, (who was closely involved in both developments) calls hidden box, as opposed to big box, retailing. It has two small scale pedestrian places, one flanked by another village pub, and featuring some great public art. It’s as good a piece of new urbanism as you will see just about anywhere.


and it worked!

While all this was going on, the city was actively engaged in securing line haul transit. Initially, the business case was done for a light rail option, which would have run down St Johns Street, the main street of the city, and on to link up with these newer precincts and beyond. That wasn’t to be, and the Vancouver trademark Skytrain system won the day, with a commitment to build the new Evergreen line through the city.

The good news is that this is to be operational by 2016, and will have a station immediately adjoining Suter Brook Village, allowing its integration into this precinct.

The city has done lots of other good things, like its fantastic city building, recreation centre, the Boathouse Restaurant, and many more. For me, what separates Port Moody from the crowd are its efforts in delivering density in a high quality form in a small city on the fringe.

The transit is a just reward for the little city that could.


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  1. Caroline Stalker says:

    Greg that’s a really interesting piece, thanks. So reassuring to know that smaller communities are also trying to take on this stuff and getting it to work!

  2. mmck78 says:

    Interesting piece Greg. Interesting places by your description. Couple of related questions:
    How did it happen / who made it happen?
    Why did it happen / what are the economic / location / amenity / other demand factors that justified that intensity of development?

    • vanndemon says:

      Thanks for the feedback Mike. There’s a bit in all that but I’d say a very determined council staff and council, plus a developer willing to have a go made it happen.
      My thoughts on why it was possible:
      – Port Moody is a really nice setting, and I suspect higher on the socio-economic profile;
      – apparently where is a real mix of age and households among its buyers, so it had a wider market
      – the prospect of transit was known throughout and it was able to leverage off that; and
      – there is a history of this type of density near transit in greater Vancouver.

      Even so, it’s a great effort by all involved!

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