Painful Truth: Willoughby and Walnut Grove took diverging paths

Painful Truth: Willoughby and Walnut Grove took diverging paths

Two philosophies of community design play out on either side of Highway One

Today I was hoping to talk about a sadly failed development up in North Langley, a place that was built with the best of intentions but which has deep-rooted flaws that, in many ways, fail its residents, merchants, and visitors.

I’m writing, of course, of Walnut Grove.

Willoughby is referred to so frequently (by people who don’t live there) as a failure that among certain groups in Langley it’s become accepted wisdom. Willoughby is a hell-hole, clearly the 35,000-plus people who live there were bamboozled somehow.

I live in Willoughby, and there are certainly things that aren’t perfect – the policy of widening streets piecemeal was always poorly thought out, and the lack of transit, unfortunately, isn’t going to be fixed anytime soon.

But what I tell a lot of people is that many of the apparent problems are growing pains. If I had to choose where I’d live in 10 years, I’d definitely take Willoughby over its neighbour north of the Trans Canada Highway.

Willoughby and Walnut Grove are, by historical accident, poised on opposite sides of the biggest change in urban design in the last century.

Following the Second World War, the pattern of suburban development and strict zoning-based division of land use swept North America.

Industry would be here, shops over here (spurring the spread of the shopping mall), and over here, on low-density lots and cul-de-sacs, would be residential. Tying them all together would be the newly-affordable family car and millions of acres of fresh blacktop.

For millennia, from ancient Rome to the age of steam, houses in cities had been closely packed. Even villages were compact little units. Roads were expensive to make and tough to maintain, and when travel was by foot or horseback, transportation was slow and moving goods expensive. So people lived above their shops and workshops.

As the industrial revolution arrived, this became less and less ideal. Some jobs had always been dirty and smelly, but now smokestacks and foundries and chemical works were suddenly cheek-by-jowl with workers, who had to breathe all that stuff every day.

The rich, of course, retired to their country estates – a big house on a big sward of grass surrounded by gardens and lots of clean air.

When the car came along, that dream was downsized, packaged, and sold to the masses. Every family with their own little country manor and patch of lawn, suitable for parents and 2.5 children. Cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets promoted quiet and forced slow driving.

It can be a pleasant life, out in suburbia. But the drawbacks became apparent over the following decades.

Massive highways had to tie the suburbs to the blocks of offices and factories, which were suddenly distant. Traffic jams and air pollution spiked. Walkability declined to zero in most new neighbourhoods – every trip requires a car.

The backlash began as early as the 1960s, but it took until the late 1980s and early 1990s before it had a name – the New Urbanism. By the time it was in full swing, Walnut Grove was already laid out.

Take a look at Walnut Grove, and its street map. Virtually every commercial entity lies along the spine of 88th Avenue, or on 200th Street. Most community amenities – and it has many! – are also near that route, including the rec centre and pool.

North of that, it’s all houses, interrupted by the occasional elementary school or church.

Not only do you have to drive everywhere if you live more than a couple blocks from 88th Avenue, you can’t drive in a straight line.

Between 213th Street and 216th Street, for example, there are no east-west roads over the mile from 88th to 96th Avenues. Getting from 88th to 96th anywhere between 208th and 216th requires a twisting route that bends and forks.

Regular bus service? Good luck. You’ll always have a hike to the nearest bus stop.

Many neighbourhoods are small pockets, loops with one or two outlets only.

If you like suburbia, it’s comforting. If you don’t, it feels like being trapped in a maze.

Willoughby is easier to navigate. It has more commercial zones planned at its major nodes and serving more sub-neighbourhoods, from 200th east to 216th.

It is far from perfect. It is still more suburban than I would like, and it could use more micro-commercial zones, every two blocks or so. More neighbourhood restaurants and pubs, cultural centres and community halls, and corner grocery stores would help fill in the gaps – but aren’t in the plans.

But the community as it exists already aims higher than Walnut Grove when it comes to walkability, mixing residential and commercial, and creating the kind of grid-system streets that can more easily support frequent public transit.

It needs to do better still. Because the other thing about Willoughby – when it’s built out, it will have an average density more comparable to East Vancouver than older areas of Langley. If we don’t want to pave the ALR and flatten every tree for twenty miles east of here, we need New Urbanism communities, because urban is where our future lies.


Just Posted

An Earth Ninja volunteer found an upright vacuum cleaner on one of their picks along Aldergrove roads last week. (Special to The Star)
Earth Ninja founder looking for help to haul Aldergrove’s trash to the dump

Jocelyn Titus has seen a spike in help and donations since her four-day-long marathon in April

Trinity Western University student Kevin Chai created TWU Access Chapters to help alleviate feelings of isolation among his peers. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Connection to combat loneliness at Langley’s Trinity Westrn University

Student from Maple Ridge creates online social network

Langley’s Danielle Lawrie will play for Canada again. Final roster for the Olympic team was announced Wednesday, May 11. (Black Press Media file photo)
VIDEO: Langley’s Danielle Lawrie to pitch for Canada at the Olympics

Champion thanked her children for allowing ‘mommy to live out a cool dfream’

Aldergrove Community Secondary. (Undated Google maps photo)
23 Langley schools on COVID exposure list after latest alerts

Five independent schools are on Fraser Health’s exposure list

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
BREAKING: Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier’s shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Forces says it has charged one of its members in the death of an army reservist from British Columbia during a training exercise at a military base in Alberta last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Canadian Forces member charged in death of army reservist during training exercise

Cpl. Lars Callsen has been charged with one count of negligence

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks during a press conference in the rotunda at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday May 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. to use remaining AstraZeneca vaccine for 2nd doses

Health officials say the change is due to the limited availability of the vaccine

A youth plays basketball in an otherwise quiet court in Toronto on Saturday April 17, 2021. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on proven public health policy interventions including paid sick leave, and education rather than punitive enforcement measures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during 2nd wave: CCLA report

‘A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,’ reads the report

Capt. Arpit Mahajan of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds - Snowbirds 2 - shows off his ‘Jenn Book’ dedicated to Capt. Jennifer Casey. Zoom screenshot
Homecoming for B.C.-raised Snowbirds pilot training in the province

Capt. Arpit Mahajan flies Snowbird 2 in his first year as a solo pilot with the team

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

Most Read