Abbotsford wants fewer cars, more parks

As one of Canada’s fastest growing cities imagines its future, residents ask for Vancouver-style amenities

The city of Abbotsford has an ambitious plan to reduce car dependency and the sprawl typical of most North American suburbs and become a “delightful” place for walking.
And according to former Vancouver city planner Brent Toderian, who participated in the two-year engagement process as a partner with Dialog Consultants, the city could become a model for many other Canadian cities facing the same rapid growth pressures. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” he said, “and I’ve never seen this kind of conversation occur in a city of Abbotsford’s size and vintage.”
The plan imagines a city with a population of 200,000, an addition of 60,000 people. At the beginning of the two-year public engagement process, residents were encouraged to think about what they would like their city to be. The resulting discussions were “candid.” Toderian recalled a moment when the project team showed a slide of a leafy public place with seating. “Almost immediately people started talking about that picture and asking, ‘Why do we have to go to Vancouver to get that? Why doesn’t that exist in Abbotsford?’”
Dubbed “Abbotsforward,” the plan is written in a colloquial manner, with declarations such as “this plan will not sit idle collecting dust.” It outlines seven “big ideas,” including: create a city centre; establish distinct and complete neighbourhoods; make walking, biking and transit delightful; make places for people; improve natural and built systems; enhance agricultural integrity; and make the plan work.
While change will be gradual, Toderian notes that setting out a bold vision is the first step. South Fraser Way, which is currently a multi-lane highway lined by parking lots and shopping malls, is imagined in the plan as a new city centre. That seems like a massive revision, but Toderian points to several other Lower Mainland shopping malls near transit hubs, such as Burnaby’s Brentwood Mall and Lougheed Centre, that are in the midst of dramatic redevelopment. “To a certain extent, this is just opening Abbotsford up to an idea that’s already happening across the Lower Mainland.”

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