Massive Mall near Abbotsford Interchange stirs debate
Of course this is exactly what opponents of the Gateway always said would happen.
“The potential regional draw for that centre is enormous,” Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said in an interview about the $170-million, 600,000-square-foot Shape Properties development, dubbed Abby Lane.
“It’s huge and it’s got amazing freeway access. I think this will be the largest mall in the region. It will be relatively easy for people to get there from Langley, Chilliwack and Mission. Millions travel that freeway and they’re all potential customers.”
And for the Mayor that seems like a Good Thing. For many however, it seems like a very Bad Thing indeed. For a start the freeway between Langley and Abbotsford runs through what is currently green space. In many parts of the world that is seen as a desirable quality – and there has been legislation (in the UK and other places) to stop “ribbon development” and the gradual coalescence of places into “megalopolis”. That indeed has been one of the main principles in regional planning of both Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.
But also very significant is the recognition of the traffic generation this kind of development produces – which is something that the Gateway proponents have tried to ignore or at least downplay: “it happens anyway”. Well you might try telling that to the stores that will close in those places. The amount of time and money that people have to spend shopping is finite. The money that gets spent in Abby Lane won’t get spent elsewhere. You can see this all over North America – in fact, thanks to the economic decline of recent years, the process has accelerated. There are already too many shops – and older malls and town centres have been in steady decline. Even in good times that happens – and one of the features of North American buildings is their very short design life. So when the two new plazas at No 5 Road and Steveston Highway opened, the shopping centre at Shell and Williams closed, was demolished and is now town houses.
Obviously if in future more people from Langley and Chilliwack decide to shop in Abbotsford that is a longer car trip than happens now. That means more pollution – both common air contaminants (the stuff that causes our current air quality advisory) and greenhouse gas emissions – that’s the stuff that means the glaciers melt and the pine beetle thrives. It is not only the polar bears that suffer! And note that this is happening beyond the reach of the Gateway project – which ends at the Langley boundary – although a new hill climber lane is being built westbound out of Abbotsford at present. So of course there will be even more pressure to widen the freeway through Abbotsford and upgrade the interchanges. That is the lesson of everywhere that has widened freeways – it creates the “need” for more widening and is never ending.
Well never ending up to now. Because the other thing that the Mayor is ignoring is that peak conventional oil has passed – and peak oil is close too. So there will not be lots of cheap gas for all those car trips. And maybe in future even the charms of yet another corporate clone big box “power centre” will be much less if if costs too much to get there. This development might not be such a good idea after all. It will certainly cause others to close – but in the not too distant future we may well not be quite so keen on shopping. We may prefer to find happiness in other ways – and relearn how to make things last longer.
It is certainly a choice – and the last election showed that most people are not yet willing to make that change voluntarily. Which means when it does come they are not going to be very happy about it at all. And George Peary could well be the target of their wrath.