Richmond is one of the most diverse communities in Canada. It's also one of the healthiest. What are some of the things that make this a great place to live and work? In an interview for this Richmond News special feature, Mayor Malcolm Brodie offered his thoughts on this and other matters.
What makes Richmond special?
"I would say that one of the main factors would be the breadth of our volunteer base," answered the mayor. "We have a very active volunteer network of people all over the community who help each other out. Also, the diversity of our community makes it very interesting. We're known as a healthy community where the people in our city live longer on average than people anywhere else in the country. We have good facilities and a balance of amenities."
It's not news to anyone living in Richmond that our population is growing, and growing in ways that defy the suburban, single-familyhome lifestyle of old. "Residential growth will happen in our city centre," said Brodie. "We have been planning for this for many years starting off with the 1990s when we envisioned there would be growth in the city centre supported by rapid transit. We lost the rapid transit project for a time and then it came back in the early 2000s and ever since then we've gone on with our plans and we see the whole area of the city centre densifying."
The closer a development is to a Canada Line station, the higher and the denser it can be. This new density is focused on proximity to public transportation, which reduces the number of cars in the downtown area as well as the number of parking stalls.
"The challenge is that we have a very good quality of life right now; we've always enjoyed that here in the city of Richmond," said Brodie. "And that's the result of good planning and a whole range of facilities and good transportation. I think those are the qualities that we have to preserve and plan very carefully to make sure that we do have the range of services available to our residents."
Climate change has led to new initiatives as buildings are developed.
Mayor Brodie: "We insist on LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] standards for many of the buildings that are being built. We've pledged that we'll become carbon neutral by the end of this year. We have a green-roof policy to assist with the rain run-off issues. We focus very heavily on the various climate change issues and environmental issues. Another example would be that, for many years now, we have been the only Power Smart-certified city as certified by BC Hydro. We've spent a lot of effort and invested in being smarter with our facilities in terms of their use of energy and the like."
Richmond was one of the earliest municipalities within Metro Vancouver to create an affordable housing strategy that contains recommendations and policies.
"All the developments, right down to the smallest, are expected to contribute to affordable housing as they redevelop," said the mayor. "At the lower end that might be a cash contribution; at the higher end that may be actual units being built and those are dedicated as affordable units. There's one project that's going forward right now, as an example, on Minoru right across from the Bay Shopping Centre, where we're getting 300 affordable seniors units."
Secondary suites, which add to the rental stock and can be mortgage helpers, are legal in all residential areas. Richmond also allows coach houses and granny flats in some areas.
Our city's infrastructure is aging. We asked the mayor what major projects we can expect to see over the next five years.
"We're in the process of refining the list and seeing where we're going," responded Brodie, "but the main projects at the top of the list would be the need for a new seniors centre. The current one is getting aged and it's far too small. The main pool we have in the city centre [Minoru Aquatic Centre], is coming to the end of its lifespan and we're looking to replace that. We have had a program for the last eight or so years where we are either redeveloping or upgrading for seismic reasons all the fire halls and we have two more to go."
Building a sense of community
It's the people, not the places, that ultimately make a city a special place to live. Mayor Brodie talked about how Richmond supports community building.
"I think the main way we do it is through our support for the volunteers. We have a very strong volunteer network. The city works with many community groups and we're able to take on some very significant projects using volunteer assistance, plus they're a part of the day-to-day life of our city. For instance, when we were involved in the Olympics and we had a celebration site where we welcomed about half a million people over 17 days that was all staffed by volunteers."
Mayor Brodie lists community safety as one of Richmond's top priorities, along with reviewing the social services the city provides and what the limits of these provisions are. The city is also stressing economic development, attracting businesses that add to our community as well as to our business sector, and how to retain those that are here.
"We have a very strong business sector but we are always trying to attract new business and there's always a certain amount of attrition," commented Brodie. "We also did a land strategy within the last couple of years and we're proactively identifying and sometimes changing the zoning to attract business to be in various areas of our city."
In terms of specific items that Brodie would like to see accomplished during his current mandate, the mayor said, "One is we are taking a look to our police force to see whether we believe that the current service that we are getting will serve us best in the long run. Secondly, we have some land called the Garden City Lands which the city has purchased and we're starting the planning process. We want to finalize a vision for that this term."