Changing Hammond

Our neighbourhood of Hammond is changing and the community is abuzz. The focal point of this discussion is the possibility of a new multi-use recreational facility being constructed in the middle of Hammond on city-owned land which is currently home to a small community centre, outdoor pool and two baseball fields. This is really why I’m writing this post. It’s a chance to talk about the future of our community.

It’s time to speak up. If you live in Maple Ridge and you would like to learn more and voice your opinion, here is the link: https://engage.mapleridge.ca/move-meet-play

Change is hard

Hammond is changing whether we want it to or not. Some of these changes we like, some we don’t, some we fight over. We’re at a cross-roads of the lasting impact of the pandemic, a housing crisis, an opioid crisis and a climate crisis. The City of Maple Ridge is growing and diversifying. It’s easy to feel powerless.

In this post I’m going to talk about what we can control and what we can’t.

Because of the rapid growth of our town, we’re watching as older homes in our neighbourhood are bought, torn down, and replaced with houses three times the size. Even houses that have been recognized as having heritage value are not immune as recently the one that belonged to John Hammond, one of the three founders of Port Hammond Junction was demolished and a towering modern structure is being erected in its place.

Cars and trucks speed through the small Hammond streets, ignoring stop signs. The school zone at Hammond Elementary is ignored by drivers in a hurry. Sidewalks are scarce and cycling feels risky. There are two small shops but most shopping and services require a trip to Lougheed Highway in a car. The historic commercial centre has a few businesses that struggle to survive. In a car-dependent town, people from other neighbourhoods won’t make the side-trip into Hammond to shops here and Hammond’s population doesn’t provide enough walking traffic to make businesses here viable.

As a parent of two teens, I’m still carrying some parental guilt that my kids didn’t grow up cycling around their neighbourhood as I did in Vancouver. I think I could have done more but I also remember them expressing fear of traffic. How different would their lives be if we lived where bikes were more welcome on the road?

Climate change means to Hammond more extreme heat events in summer and cold snaps in winter, putting vulnerable people at risk of heat stroke or being snowed in. There is more frequent and severe flood risk from the Fraser River. Air quality problems from wildfire smoke are a regular occurrence. Meanwhile the older homes are poorly insulated, use fossil gas for heat and lack air conditioning.

In 2019, a major employer in Hammond, the Interfor cedar mill, shut down, leaving its property and buildings dormant. The entire site had been a settlement of the Katzie People, including a sacred burial ground. The Katzie were forced off the land by the colonial government in 1862. Although the current owner has plans to re-develop the site for industrial purposes, they must work in good faith with the Katzie First Nation and deal with the important archeological implications. This will take time.

While we wait for resolution and reconciliation for the old Hammond Mill site, a major expansion of a lithium-ion battery assembly plant has been announced for the industrial park adjacent to Hammond. This should bring new jobs, improve the city’s tax base and perhaps launch us into the clean economy. The plant’s location next to the Golden Ears Bridge means trucks won’t need to drive through the neighbourhood which has been a problem with the mill site.

Doing nothing is a choice

Many residents of Hammond like it the way it is, (or is it that we’re willing to put up with its short-comings if it means keeping the things we like?) but change is a-coming. We can watch it roll over us or we can help to shape it.

The City of Maple Ridge is growing faster than almost anywhere else in Canada. In BC, only Langley is increasing in population faster. Like it or not, Hammond is a natural area for increasing density. It has had residential streets mapped out since 1883 when the town was registered as “Port Hammond Junction”. Streets are built and all have power, water and sewer systems. The railway tracks run through and take commuters into and out of Vancouver. It’s accessible via Lougheed Highway and the new bridge to Langley. There is potential for growth in employment with the nearby industrial park. All these factors combine to make Hammond attractive for sustainable development and increased density.

Some people who are concerned about losing what makes Hammond special say that population growth should happen in newer communities in the east of Maple Ridge. However, those communities mean enormous costs to the city, which must build new infrastructure, not to mention schools and services, and to natural habitats which are destroyed to build new houses. In a world which needs compact, accessible cities, Hammond has a lot of the right stuff.

“But” you say, “can’t we push all the density into Haney?” The downtown core. City Hall, Arts Centre, shopping, transit hub, recreation centre—all these things are close by. It’s perfect. Well, if you’ve visited Haney lately, you’ll see all the housing units that are going in there. So Haney is already densifying. In fact, it is no coincidence that Maple Ridge was successful in attracting a new Rapid Bus service connecting us to Langley and the Skytrain in Coquitlam. The federal and provincial governments are taking some climate action and that means encouraging population hubs where transit can be more effective in giving people the freedom to leave their cars at home.

Well then, can we hope that Haney will take all the people and leave Hammond alone? Sorry, it’s a free country and we can’t stop people from moving into our nice community. However, we CAN lean into the historic settler rivalry between Haney and Hammond and grow BETTER than Haney.

Preserving the Form and Character of Hammond

So if we can’t hold back the population boom, how can the form and character of Hammond be preserved? The properties here are cheaper than Vancouver and buyers are free to do what they wish with their lots as long as they don’t apply to re-zone. Some buyers work to update the existing house, but it often makes economic sense to start from scratch. Can we blame them? Not really. The people we need to talk to are the current owners, not the new buyers.

In BC, unlike some places in Ontario where the government can unilaterally protect a heritage property from demolition, the only way to preserve an older home’s character here is if the current owner decides to protect the building by working with the heritage department of the city. We did this with Hammond Forever House. Owners are sometimes concerned that they will lose money if/when they choose to sell if any restrictions are placed on the buildings, but this fear is largely unfounded as shown by examples in Vancouver.

In Maple Ridge, there are different heritage tools available for homeowners, ranging in ease of application and levels of protection. Currently there are properties in Hammond which have been identified as having heritage character and value. Some have received awards and are listed on the city’s heritage inventory. However, Hammond Forever House (AKA the Whitehead Residence) remains the only property actually protected. John Hammond’s house had a heritage plaque on it, but was demolished. I know that the heritage department had many conversations with the new owners, but without the previous owner having protected the site, the city could do nothing. The current owners are perfectly within their rights to build their dream home on the property they have bought.

Once a house is destroyed, the BC building code has a lot to say about what replaces it, but the form and character requirements are very loose. Even in the Heritage Character Area of “Upper Hammond” the Hammond Area Plan provides guidelines and not requirements. While it is shocking to see a much larger structure replace a modest pre-1940’s house, we must ask ourselves how much we want our government to intervene in these cases. As it is, we have put a lot of power into the hands of property owners and it is they who have the power to save the houses that we love.

If you are a Hammond homeowner and would like to learn more, go here: https://www.mapleridge.ca/2570/Heritage-Conservation

So, as the population of Hammond explodes, in addition to encouraging homeowners to have a chat with the heritage department, how can we hold on to the neighbourhood’s character-defining elements?  I think the answer lies in what happens when a property is re-zoned. The Hammond Area Plan identifies parts of Hammond for higher density: along 207th Street, around the historic commercial centre and around Tolmie park, among others. When a development proposal is made for those properties, the city has much more influence over form and character including green space and setbacks. These are opportunities for residents and city staff to have their say.

Source: https://www.mapleridge.ca/1754/Hammond-Area-Plan

So, if we can make sure the new multi-family buildings fit in with that Hammond character and convince the owners of the single-family zoned lots not to let them be replaced by monster houses, we could avoid the fate of so many ruined communities.

By the way, do you know what we get when we densify? A viable commercial centre on Maple Crescent! The city can’t force a business owner to relocate where there are no customers. With enough people within walking distance we could have some really nice services there. Can you imagine a dentist or medical clinic? One business I’d like to see flourish there is The Good Wolf Café which is planning to relocate to Dartford Street. Click here for a story about the café and if you’d like to support this dream, you can check out the owner’s gofundme page.

Will a new Recreation Facility Ruin Hammond?

Concerns over a large new facility in the middle of quiet, residential Hammond are understandable. We’re talking about at least one ice rink, an indoor pool and perhaps gymnasiums, cultural space, meeting rooms, performance space, health services etc. Construction is going to be disruptive to nearby neighbours. Traffic patterns will change. More people will come and go. The baseball fields would need to move to a better location more befitting the legacy of baseball in the neighbourhood and that of Larry Walker Jr. with as little disruption as possible to all the players who depend on them. It would be a big change.

I think all the discussions about whether it should happen or not and what form it should take, must be based on the future, not the past. Looking to the future, I think a comprehensive multi-use community centre could be the keystone to creating the vibrant, healthy and low-carbon community we all want.

As you can see from this image from the City of Maple Ridge, the two baseball fields dominate the site right now. To the south there is some green space and a little-used basketball court, a parking lot, a small community hall, an outdoor pool and a small playground. There is a childcare centre in the community hall but the hall itself has such terrible acoustics that it is not suited to most events (believe me, we tried). There are a few mature trees near the playground.

Some opponents of the location say it’s not good because it’s in a residential area and will bring people to the neighbourhood. I wonder if we have become so used to the North American standard land-use pattern of islands of residences separated from services, recreation, shopping and everything else that we can’t see the benefit of waking up and walking to the pool in the morning. It’s also difficult for us to imagine a system of walking/rolling paths and transit that is so easy that people leave their cars at home when they want to go across town to the gym, leaving the parking lot free for the hockey players who need a car to transport their gear.

This summer my 15 year-old and I walked to a playground half a block away, borrowed an e-scooter at the playground using an app on my phone and rode on smooth, interconnected bike paths to a local recreation centre where we had a light lunch and admired the pool and fitness facility. That was in August in Kokkola, Finland—not far from the arctic circle. Finland is one of the happiest countries on earth and I think we can be that happy, too.

The Baseball Question

Some of the discussion on social media about the proposed facility has taken on a divisive, pro-baseball vs. anti-baseball tone. Baseball has been important to Hammond since the 1920’s when it started being played at Hammond Park, about a block to the south. Back then, the Hammond Cedar Mill recruited workers based on their skill at the sport and there was a great rivalry between the Hammond and Haney Teams. The community got together and built the first Hammond Stadium in its current location in the 50s. Now we have the opportunity to decide what happens next.

Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball is very concerned about losing the fields because any disruption in the season could be devastating to the kids. After years of dreaming about a 5000-seat or 300-seat stadium, the fields were upgraded more modestly 10 years ago to fit regulations for players aged 15+. Baseball is important to this community and the city seems to acknowledge that. There are plans in the works to improve the experience of the baseball community but those plans are not public yet. Can we have that new baseball stadium as well as a new multi-use facility? Mayor Dan Ruimy told me he thinks the baseball community will be happy but it’s easy to be sceptical since plans have fallen through before.

I have been told that, as far as baseball fields go, the two we have now at Hammond Community Park are well-used. That seems to mean regular games, practices and events from April through October with little happening there during the weekdays until 4:30 pm. For five months of the year, the fields are not used for baseball at all. One of them is fenced off completely; the other, named after baseball legend and home-town hero Larry Walker Jr., is a nice grassy expanse where people throw balls for their dogs (even though it’s not an off-leash park). There used to be a soccer pitch on that field, but that was removed because it interfered with the baseball somehow. Summer soccer camps and other events take place there occasionally. As community space goes, it doesn’t seem well-used to me.

My wife and I walk our dog there regularly and almost never see anyone except other dog owners who walk the perimeter of the fenced-off field. Occasionally, during baseball season, a game is happening and we wonder why there are so few people watching.  Evenings and weekends for 7 months of the year may be well-used for a baseball field, but I think a multi-use recreational facility could benefit a lot more people, of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities, for 12 months a year, every day from early in the morning to late in the evening. The fields have been moved before and I’m sure we can move them again if it means opening up more recreational opportunities for all of us.

Location, location, climate action

Some people who are opposed to the new facility say that they see the need for new facilities, but want them located somewhere else — further east, they say, where the city is growing. They forget, however, that there are already similar facilities to the east and building more there encourages urban sprawl and car-dependency. Let me get into a little bit about why the proposed location is ideal and how it could help turn Hammond into a model community and also what climate change has to do with this.

So far, I’ve only mentioned climate change in passing but in 2024 it must be central to all our planning. We see this reflected more and more in our governments’ priorities. Mayor Ruimy’s  Climate Action Taskforce is in full swing; the federal government and BC Government are funding efforts to increase housing, address the opioid crisis, create walkable communities and fight climate change. Climate action, it turns out, has many co-benefits, including saving money in the long run. I’m hopeful that a new facility in our neighbourhood can take advantage of this unity of purpose and make all the disruption worth it.

We know that, in the face of climate change, we must mitigate its effects on our communities and also reduce our carbon emissions. The provincial target is to reduce emissions to 40% below 2007 levels by 2030.  How could a multi-use recreation facility help to do these things?

A community centre can mitigate the effects of climate related events like heat domes, atmospheric rivers and extreme cold snaps by providing respite for community members whose homes are too hot, too cold or flooded. It is a central point that people can walk to for resources, sand-bags, information and even food or clothing. Being within walking distance is key.

Can it reduce carbon emissions? To answer that we need to look at where the emissions are coming from in Maple Ridge and what big moves the City can make to address those sources.

Statistics Canada reports that when Maple Ridge residents were asked their main mode of commuting to work in 2021, 84% said car, truck or van. That was up slightly from 2016 so we’re going in the wrong direction (probably because the city is growing so fast and transit is not keeping up.) We also know that 68% of all car trips start and finish in Maple Ridge. Is that great? No! But it does make it easy to see how we can improve.

Source: https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/as-sa/fogs-spg/page.cfm?topic=13&lang=E&dguid=2021A00055915075

The Community Energy Association’s Climate Action Planner for Maple Ridge is also helpful. It provides a “Business As Usual” case and allows you to estimate the effects of certain actions towards the provincial goal for 2030. You can try it by following the instructions here: https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

Using this tool, I learned that the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Maple Ridge is transportation, with 60% of all our emissions. That makes sense because most people drive to work and we are still largely a bedroom community and a transportation corridor. We have not been served well by transit and we still have low levels of active transportation infrastructure.

On the graph for Maple Ridge below, the yellow line at the top is Business As Usual (no climate action) and the diagonal light green line is the target emissions reduction for 2030. The graph shows where the emissions are expected to come from if we don’t do anything.

Source: https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

The CEA’s climate action planner then helps you estimate what effect different “big moves” will have on emissions. The goal is to reach that target line. I played around and got the following result:

Try this yourself at https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

Those blue parts are about transportation. The largest emissions reduction will come from reducing the number of cars on the road and shifting passenger vehicles to electric. “Shift Beyond the Car” means Active Transportation (bikes, walking, etc.), Transit (buses and trains) and Land Use (locating places we need to go closer to our homes). I guess we’re not expecting everyone to jump on the new Rapid Bus immediately, so the biggest reductions are expected to come from more people switching to electric vehicles. We can hope in the future to improve transit and walkability to the point where fewer cars of any type are needed, but this is where we are now, it seems. My family has two EVs (a 2015 Nissan LEAF and a 2021 LEAF) and we like them, but I don’t like that it is difficult to get around without a car. That’s not freedom.

The purple and grey parts of the graph are about buildings: improving standards in new construction (using the BC Energy Step code) and retrofitting existing buildings. As Hammond develops with more multi-unit residences built in certain areas, they will be held to a stricter energy standard. Multi-unit buildings are more efficient to heat and cool than detached houses. Meanwhile, existing homes can be preserved and made more efficient with incentives and guidance. I could go on and on about buildings, of course, but let’s get back to transportation.

When we consider that 68% of car trips start and finish in Maple Ridge, having a recreation and community centre that serves a wide section of the population near where they live will certainly help. Combine this with much better transit and vastly improved bike and walking paths that connect the rail station and the Rapid Bus route on Lougheed Hwy., and the facility becomes a key climate action “big move” all by itself. With all these co-benefits, it is likely to attract funding from upper levels of government and we can avoid half-measures.

Note that we’re talking about Maple Ridge, so other sources of greenhouse gases are not part of this conversation. Canada’s biggest sources of emissions are electricity production and fossil fuel production. Those aren’t our particular challenge here in Maple Ridge (we don’t produce fossil fuels and our electrical grid is 94% renewable energy) except that we should make sure to vote for federal parties who are serious about ending fossil fuel subsidies and transitioning to renewable energy.

So, from a climate action perspective, this multi-use recreational community centre looks like it’s a good idea. So let’s see if we can make it even better for the planet.

With at least one ice sheet and a swimming pool, how about we use the excess heat produced by the ice rink to heat the pool? That should reduce the amount of energy needed by 55%. Chilliwack Coliseum did it, so why can’t we?

Fantastic. But let’s go further. This new facility will mean digging a pretty big hole, especially if there is underground parking (yes please and with EV chargers galore, please). Let’s bury some geothermal loops and use the constant temperature of the earth to heat the facility in the summer and cool it in the winter. That will save a lot of energy and money.

And since we’re burying pipe, why not bury MORE pipe and increase the heating/cooling capacity to the point where neighbouring buildings can share it? That’s called a community energy hub and it’s not a new idea. Any new homes, including multi-family developments along 207th Street, could opt in to sharing heating and cooling with this new hub.

With passive house design elements reducing the building’s energy needs and solar panels on the roof, this new facility could more than power itself.

Is this expensive? Yes, which is why we need funding from federal and provincial governments who know that, although there will be high upfront costs, the long-term savings are considerable. That’s how renewable energy works. It costs more up-front but slows climate change and saves a lot of money down the road. The city has already figured this out and shared it like this:

Source: https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

Our house is an example of this. We retrofit our house, put a 12 kW solar array on our roof and stopped using no fossil fuels. Our annual electricity costs, which now include heat, cooling and powering two cars, is something like $600 now (and we’re still aiming for that to be zero).

Climate action is all about the future and now is a moment of opportunity to secure that future. We have a Mayor and Council who are committed to creating low-carbon, walkable communities which address the needs of all citizens. We have two local MLAs and a provincial government who have shown they are serious about fighting the climate crisis, as well as the housing and opioid crises. The current federal government has also shown willingness to fund projects that address these challenges. Even more importantly, these governments have shown a level of willingness to work together which doesn’t always happen. In a short-term political system, politicians are often punished for long-term planning. With elections always looming, now is the time to dream big and secure funding for those dreams.

Hammond has a big enough heart to welcome all

As we envision our ideal Hammond community, we must acknowledge the enduring presence of the Katzie First Nation and Kwantlen First Nation who have occupied these lands since time immemorial. It was James Douglas, governor of the Colony of British Columbia, who allowed settlers to take possession of Indigenous lands in the 1860s. The Katzie were forcibly removed. Over the decades, children were forced to attend Residential Schools. The Katzie reserve is within walking distance of Hammond Community Park and many Indigenous people live in the Hammond neighbourhood. This facility should be a welcoming space of reconciliation and cultural exchange.

I think of all the different people in my neighbourhood, including new Canadians who are choosing it to call home, our seniors, the 2SLGBTQ+ community, people without homes and people with mobility issues, and I want all of us to be able to walk or roll to a place we can feel welcome, connect with our community, and improve our health. Healthy, happy people are more resilient and willing to help their neighbours. They also create fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Another inspiration I want to share is the Kitsilano Shower Program for the Homeless which happens bi-weekly from 7:30 – 9am. In a housing crisis, a community centre can help.

In conclusion, our neighbourhood of Hammond is changing whether we like it to or not and the best we can do is guide the change so that it means a low-carbon, climate-resilient, walkable community that welcomes all. Of course, change is uncomfortable and when it seems to benefit others while disrupting our own lives, it can be hard to see the positives. That is why we must step back and look at the bigger picture as well as the small details.

Applying an integrated approach to this neighbourhood, the new community center can address arts, culture, recreation and social needs in the community but also community energy needs, health services and services for people without homes.

It is time to speak up about the future of our city and our neighbourhood. If you are a Maple Ridge resident, please complete the survey before the deadline of Friday, February 23rd. Find it here: https://engage.mapleridge.ca/move-meet-play

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

2 thoughts on “Changing Hammond”

  1. Very well stated James. I couldn’t agree more.
    This change could be a huge plus for all if done correctly, we just need to ensure it is done correctly.

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