What makes Richmond so livable?

However we define livability – and there are a lot of things that combine to make a city like our run smoothly – Richmond has it!

By Linda McPhail, Richmond City Councillor

The word “livability” could mean a whole range of things. However we define it, it is safe to say Richmond has it.

When I was growing up in Richmond, the city was investing in the community amenities that have come to define this city. We have excellent schools, magnificent community centres, libraries, arenas, sports fields, rinks, seniors facilities … Something for every person and every interest. We have continued to invest in these things, even while keeping taxes low, because they very much define the Richmond lifestyle.

My mom and dad moved to Richmond – Broadmoor, to be precise – in the 1960s. This was a time of great growth –  new schools and community centres were being constructed. I played soccer and baseball. I swam with the Richmond Kigoos Swim Club. There were all these great recreational opportunities. And it’s only gotten better. There is probably no other municipality in Metro Vancouver with a better constellation of community amenities. This is at the heart of livability.

Livability also means the ability to get from home to work, to school, to friends, to shopping. For those who depend on public transit, we have worked with Translink to increase buses and Canada Line frequency. We have walking and cycling paths that intersect our city, encouraging people to maintain the healthy routines that help give Richmond residents some of the longest life expectancies in Canada.

We are a safe city – and that is a foundation of livability. Richmond has one of the lowest levels of violent crime in the region. We and our families go about our lives happy and confident that we will come home safely at night. We are installing cameras at every intersection in the city in order to reduce police time spent investigating minor accidents and allowing them instead to devote more attention to bigger issues, as well as to spend more time on foot and bike providing that vital presence that improves community safety.

I’m a strong supporter of the arts and local artists. We have nurtured a wonderfully creative community of artists and created an enviable public art program in Richmond. We have protected our heritage structures, like Britannia Shipyards, Minoru Chapel and London Farm. These are some of the things that set us apart as a livable city. We recognize and honour our past.

Like every part of Metro Vancouver, housing prices are a concern for almost everyone, especially first-time homeowners or renters. Seniors, low- to moderate-income households, persons with disabilities and people on fixed incomes face particular barriers in accessing affordable housing in Richmond. These are realities that we are addressing.

There is only so much a city council do about the macroeconomic issue of skyrocketing real estate prices. All levels of government must work together to create diverse housing choices.

However, Richmond is leading the way – in British Columbia, if not in all of Canada – in finding ways to mitigate these prohibitive costs.

Secondary suites have been allowed in all standard single family and townhouse zones and, just this year, bylaws were passed to allow secondary suites in duplexes.

The City’s Affordable Housing Strategy for single-family rezoning applications requires a secondary suite on 100% of new lots or, alternatively, a secondary suite on 50% of new lots, plus a cash-in-lieu contribution towards the City’s Affordable Housing Reserve Fund. This is increasing supply, which is the most important component of increasing affordability.

Whenever a proposal comes to us for new construction, we use community amenities and density bonusing to obtain benefits for Richmond residents. In the past four years, we have ensured 1,626 units of affordable rental housing are created.

We are encouraging densification along arterial streets. This means that we can keep the single-family neighbourhoods that, for many of us, help define livability, while creating more rental and strata-titled apartments and townhomes on our major streets, where public transportation options are plentiful. Again, creating this supply not only confronts the affordability side … it ensures we have a full diversity of housing choices for singles, couples, growing families, empty-nesters and multigenerational families.

Also key to livability is making sure that young people are able to start families here. In addition to diverse housing choices, we are steadily and determinedly increasing childcare spaces across the city. In the past four years, close to 500 childcare spaces have been created or are in process.

I am a strong advocate for involving young people in decision-making that affects them and in encouraging volunteerism and empowerment of youth as an investment in the future health of the community.

With superb amenities for families and increased housing options and great transportation modes, Richmond is a supremely livable place. Given the breadth and quality of services, one might expect that our taxes would reflect the value of services our city provides. Through good planning and synergies between schools, parks and community centres, we have kept services high and taxes low.

The average property tax per dwelling in Richmond in 2017 was $1,609 — compared with the Metro Vancouver average of $1,983 – making Richmond among the lowest taxed city in Metro Vancouver. That’s money in the pocket of families for sports equipment, theatre tickets or an annual mortgage pay-down.

It is human nature to take what we have for granted. But, as we approach election day October 20, we really should step back and consider what a remarkably livable place this is. We should cast our votes to make sure that the kinds of thoughtful, forward-looking and collaborative approaches that have made Richmond so livable remain at the heart of our decision-making.

Linda McPhail: “However we define livability – and there are a lot of things that combine to make a city like our run smoothly – Richmond has it!”

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