Course:FRST370/Assessing and comparing the socioeconomic impacts of the Arbutus Greenway project proposal in Vancouver, Canada

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Assessing and comparing the socioeconomic impacts of the Arbutus Greenway project proposal in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

This case study examines the Arbutus Greenway in Vancouver, Canada. It assesses the 2018 project proposal, to explore the different stakeholders and their various goals for the urban forest. The greenway, which is 8.8 km in length, has an interesting history which has affected stakeholders in many ways. Since the City of Vancouver purchased the land from the Canadian Pacific Railway in 2016, the greenway has been used as a north-south transportation corridor for cycling and walking. We will compare the Arbutus Greenway with other similar greenways in the Metro Vancouver area as well as well-known international projects, in order to compare and contrast the socioeconomic impacts of each. Focus will be on the tenure arrangements of the Arbutus Greenway compared to similar cases. Administrative arrangements will also be investigated. As the proposal has not been finalized, this case study will help to highlight some potential concerns of stakeholders.


Map of the Arbutus Greenway. Retrieved from


The Arbutus corridor is located on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and TsleilWaututh Nations (MST Nations). Currently, the location is known as Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. Within the Coastal Douglas Fir and Coastal Western Hemlock biogeoclimactic zones, the Arbutus Greenway is comprised of 90% non-native plant species, many considered as invasive species ([1] pg. 45).


From 1902 until 2001, the Arbutus Corridor was owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and was part of a regional freight and interurban passenger train service. The corridor was used as a south-north railway line, it ran from the Fraser River to False Creek [2]. The last passenger train along the Arbutus Corridor ran in 1954, and the last freight train was in 2001[3]. In 1995, the City of Vancouver released the Greenway Plan where the Arbutus Corridor was identified as "the most desirable Greenway route next to the waterfront routes" ([1] p.3). The Arbutus Corridor lands have been a disputed area for many years with many stakeholders involved. Despite CPR owning the Arbutus Corridor lands, Vancouver passed the Arbutus Corridor Official Development plan in 2000. The City of Vancouver designated the CPR owned private lands for public transportation, parks, and greenways [4]. This began the land ownership trade dispute between the City of Vancouver and CPR. After 16 years an agreement was reached, and the City of Vancouver bought the corridor from CPR for $55 million[3]. Included in the 2016 purchase agreement were the ‘Option Lands’, these are areas that could be repurchased by CPR for only $1 if the City of Vancouver decides not to use the lands for the Arbutus Greenway and instead rezones the plots of land. On September 5th, 2018 the City of Vancouver council voted to remove the seven parcels of land from the Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan, due to safety concerns and engineering issues. CPR has yet to make a decision on whether to repurchase the lands[5].

The current Arbutus Greenway has two temporary pathways for walking, wheeling, and cycling. This is to allow people to become familiar with the corridor before the Arbutus Greenway Design Vision can begin development [2].

Regional context

Currently, Vancouver is encouraging active living and transportation for a sustainable and healthy city as per the 2015 Healthy City Strategy Plan. In Canada, Vancouver is the densest, most walkable large city, it is estimated that more than half of all trips are made without the use of a car ([6] p.4). There are many social, economic, and health concerns that affect Vancouver residents. A major concern is affordability, more than one in five face poverty, which is due to a high cost of housing and difficulties finding secure employment. Another issue is mental health and addictions, with difficulties accessing services and the needed support ([6] p.4).

Comparisons of similar Greenway Projects

International greenways

The High Line in New York City is very similar to the proposed Arbutus Greenway, converting an old railway corridor into an active transportation greenway. Since the development of the High Line, nearby property values have increased 103% between 2003 and 2011, despite the deep recession [7]. This highlights the significant threat of gentrification along the Arbutus Greenway.

Cheonggyecheon Waterway in Seoul is another example of gentrification due to ecological restoration. Former industrial lands were converted to commercial uses with increased property value, supporting affluent stakeholders [7].

City greenways

City greenways are developed and planned by the City of Vancouver, their objectives are to expand urban recreation, encourage active travel, enhance nature experience and city life. The Seawall in Stanley Park is one of the first city greenways, it is a high use tourist attraction, however it suffers many issues with age, such as uneven surfaces, overcrowding, increased user conflicts([8] p.73). This greenway highlights the potential issue for overcrowding on the Arbutus Greenway and emphasizes the need to accommodate for many future users.

Map of the City Greenway networks in Vancouver City. Retrieved from

Central Valley Greenway

  • Connects Vancouver, Burnaby, and New Westminster with a combination of off-road paths and on-street routes[8]. This greenway poses a safety risk to vulnerable users who are forced onto inaccessible parts of the route.

Comox-Helmcken Greenway

  • Connects False Creek to Stanley Park in Downtown Vancouver. A study done by the UBC Health and Community Design Lab found that there was a 16% increase in the number of moderate physical activity and a 9.8% decrease in the number of days of poor mental and physical health. There was a 49% increase in cycling trips and a decrease of 35% of auto trips along the completed greenway[8]. This shows the potential for community benefits with the development of the Arbutus Greenway.

North False Creek Seawall

  • Due to the congestion of people along the greenway efforts are being made to encourage slow cycling to enhance comfort and safety for all people[8]. This greenway shows a potential conflict along the Arbutus Greenway which will potentially force commuting and fast moving cyclists off the greenway as the popularity increases.

Neighbourhood greenways

Neighbourhood greenways offer an alternative to top-down planning and development of city greenways. These are small-scale local greenspaces that offer connections between parks and commercial streets. They are partnerships between the City and communities, initiated by local residents. The community is responsible for leadership and maintenance, whereas the city provides assistance with design, development, and construction. Currently, there are 9 Neighbourhood greenways in Vancouver. These projects are community driven and take many years to develop [8].

Tenure arrangements

The City of Vancouver purchased the Arbutus Corridor from CPR in March 2016[2]. This resulted in the full indefinite ownership of the former railway lands, which allows unrestricted development or resale of the lands, as was the case with the 'Option Lands' that were opted to be sold [5]. The City of Vancouver has responsibility and power for the design of the greenway([1] p.46).

There are six existing parks that the Arbutus Greenway passes beside, 6th & fir park, Delamont park, Quilchena park, Kerrisdale park, Riverview park, William Mackie park ([1] p.46). These parks are owned and maintained by the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. Collectively the Parks board and the City will work together to design, develop and maintain the greenway-park interface ([1] p.46).

The land surrounding the Arbutus Greenway has many different tenure arrangement and owners. The public realm, such as street infrastructure, public rights-of-way, land use, and much of the built environment are within the City of Vancouver's control ([9] p.6).

Private property owners and representative Strata Councils may have private or collective ownership of nearby apartments and condominiums[10].

Administrative arrangements


Management is achieved through efforts by MetroVan, Park Board, the provincial government, and TransLink. The City's role is to manage street use through rules, regulations, and pricing. Provincial governments and Translink set priorities for transportation ([9] p.7). The City and Park Board are jointly responsible for the design and upkeep of the corridor ([1] p.46). Management plans in Canada refer to an approach of fulfilling values, however often these plans puts emphasis on ecological and economic values of urban greenspaces with a lack of understanding of social values, such as: community cohesion, well-being, sense of place, and aesthetics[11].


Vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists are given high priority for enforcement and legislation efforts. Enforcement is focused on dangerous behaviors by vehicles specified by the BC Motor Vehicle Act, such as reckless driving ([9] p.59). Bicycle theft is a significant deterrent to cycling, 1 in 5 cyclists in the Greater Vancouver area have experienced theft in the past five years. Implementation of a task force to counter bicycle theft is suggested in the Transportation 2040 vision ([9] p.60)


Funding for the Arbutus Greenway is guided by Transportation 2040, a long-term strategic vision which guides transportation and land use decisions ([9] p.5). The following is a list of funding sources to help pay for the development of the greenway[2]:

  • Revenue from sale of excess lands and surplus lands
    • Excess lands: portion of corridor purchased from CPR that is not needed for greenway transportation, as determined by the City.
    • Surplus lands: unneeded city-owned lands adjacent to the corridor.
  • Strategic partnerships with senior levels of government
    • As well as cross-agency partnership opportunities.
  • Community Amenity Contributions (CACs)
    • Rezoning development rights cash contributions provided by property developers to improve and expand City facilities
  • Integration into capital planning
    • The Arbutus Greenway is intended to be delivered over four capital plans. Capital Plan 2019-2022 primarily funds the first phase of development.

Affected Stakeholders

Aboriginal peoples

The Arbutus Greenway is located on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations (MST Nations) ([1] p.40).

Proposed way-finding signage in collaboration with Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Retrieved from


As the traditional unceded territories of the MST nations, the Arbutus Greenway is a prime location to recognize the history and cultural diversity of the lands, this will increase the visibility of MST Nations' culture. There are three ways that the design vision hopes to include the MST Nations into the Arbutus Greenway; wayfinding, ethnobotany, and public art. Wayfinding includes signage along the greenway in English, Hən̓ q̓ əmin̓ əm̓ (Halkomelem), and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish). The signage will help with navigation, cultural and historic site recognition, tell stories of the corridor's past, and increase visibility of their language and culture. Ethnobotany efforts will reintroduce native plants along with interpretative signage that explains MST Nations' cultural values. Public art efforts will commission local Indigenous public art, focusing on historically significant locations ([1] p.48).


Historically, aboriginal groups have been marginalized by powerful actors, such as the state. We are seeing an increase in the state's recognition of these minority groups and their rich and diverse cultures. Inclusivity requires the nation state to recognize past injustices in order to build positive relations with these groups. However, it is essential for victim groups to engage and participate in memorial spaces, with deep and meaningful contributions by the MST Nations to the Arbutus Greenway. In this way they will claim their place in the city and present their stories to the general public ([12] p.320).

Low income residents

Vulnerable renters in neighborhoods near the Arbutus Greenway are threatened by land speculation that could lead to their displacement. As the Arbutus Greenway furthers its development progress, land around the corridor will become more desirable for developers and land owners. Gentrification is the process of changing an area in order to suit middle-class taste. This process leads to the displacement of low income residents and renters. This is common with urban greening efforts by cities, in order to improve the quality of life for residents and to address environmental justice problems they end up creating paradoxical effects. This can lead to gentrification and the displacement of vulnerable residents the greenspace was designed to benefit[7].

Low income residents require affordable housing, this can be achieved through provincial intervention. There are two ways that the province hopes to address land speculation and gentrification along the Arbutus Greenway. Firstly, by implementing a 'development contribution expectation', it's intended to limit land value speculation through education and engagement of owners, realtors, and developers to the city's intention of preservation and growth of affordable and rental housing. Secondly, 'Rental-only zoning' is a new tool the province can use to limit land value increases, which would increase competition with condominium developers[13].

Local community actors

As the main users of green spaces, community plays a very important role([12] p.329). Community can be defined as the residents of nearby neighborhoods. Their objectives for the Arbutus Greenway have been highlighted with the many public consultants meetings that have helped build the design vision. Some common public feedback from the consultations were; accessibility, biodiversity, inclusivity, and social cohesion ([1] p.30). Their power is limited, as the final decision is in the hands of the city, however with public engagement meetings, their voices can be heard - if they choose to participate.

Place managers

Place managers include local government, local residents, private sector and NGOs, their purpose is to shape the uses of the greenway after it's development. The success of social cohesion is dependent on place managers as the critical users for improving or undermining the potential of the greenway. They have the power to alter the potential among different users and create a space that is exclusive and unwelcoming ([12] p.332).

Interested Outside Stakeholders

City of Vancouver


The main objective of the Arbutus Greenway project is to encourage active modes of transportation and community engagement. Active modes of transportation include walking, cycling, and transit. The specific goals for walking and cycling as per the Vancouver Transportation 2020 plan are to make walking safe, convenient, comfortable and fun ([9] p.15). To encourage transit, the city can support improved service through transit-supportive public spaces and transit-supportive land use ([9] p.31). Education and enforcement is needed to support safe and respectful behavior through legislation that targets dangerous activity ([9] p.15).

Greenest City Fund, was establish with two million dollars to support community-led projects to increase greening in Vancouver ([6] p.5). This fund along with CityStudio works to empower residents and community leaders through facilitation and information sharing ([6] p.66). This is due to Vancouver's commitment to becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020, the Arbutus Greenway is one of the projects that hopes to make this plan a success ([6] p.74).

Relative power

As the official owners of the land, the City of Vancouver has the final say for design and development decisions. Even with the power distribution of project control and resources to smaller groups, local governments are shown to remain very involved in public space projects in the Global North ([12] p.328).

Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation

The Parks Board is in charge of maintenance of nearby parks and is interested in the integration of park networks into the Arbutus Greenway. This integration will be done through the collective work of the city and the parks board. The Parks board has relatively less power than the City of Vancouver, and represents a small branch of the larger city. They have decision power over their lands, however funding is determined by the City of Vancouver and Regional Government ([1] p.46).

Private sector

Businesses, both local and large corporations, make up the private sector, their main priority is sustained profit. As the Arbutus Greenway undergoes development and increases the number of users, businesses will experience a greater profit. Their involvement in the Arbutus Green way is through investment in and around the corridor([12] p.330). Some of the character zones along the greenway have announced interest in allowing private sector retail spaces along the greenway, such as food carts and cafes[2]. These businesses have power over the level of social cohesion and social inclusion experienced along the greenway. Marketing and pricing can lead to unequal opportunities for visitors ([12] p.330).

Other Interested Stakeholders:

These stakeholders have less power than the above mentioned, and varying degrees of interest.

  • City Planners
  • NGOs (such as environmental, health, social)
  • Commuters
  • Local Artists
  • Canadian Pacific Railway
  • Tourism industry


Proposed Character zones along the Arbutus Greenway. Retrieved from

Aims and intentions

The main aim of the project is to provide active transportation improvements and a broad range of public realm, with the main objective being safety and comfort for all ages and abilities[2]. Below is a list of the intentions of the Arbutus Greenway project:

  • Promote social cohesion through dimensions such as liveability, inclusivity, safety, equal use, attachment, and belonging ([12] p.336), ([6] p.28).
    • If the issue of gentrification is not adequately addressed then the greenway will lead to the exclusion of vulnerable users.
  • Provision of equally distributed greenspace[14].
    • Healthy City Goal: By 2020 all Vancouver residents live within a 5 minute walk of a greenspace ([6] p.11)
      • Gentrification is an ongoing issue with Vancouver's goal to increase greenspaces, as urban greening comes increasing property value and a decrease of low income residents.
  • Prevention of sedentary lifestyle, and the reduction of the financial burden of physical inactivity ([9] p.8).
    • Healthy City Goal: By 2025 increase percentage of Vancouver residents over 18 who meet the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines by 25% over 2014 levels ([6] p.11).
      • The greenway is already encouraging active transportation along it, showing promise for future use.
  • Increase biodiversity ([6] p.11), and enhancing urban ecology through management of stormwater ([1] p.45).
    • Currently, much of the greenway is covered in weeds and non-native species. Improved biodiversity and ecology will depend on the success of the development plan and post-development management of the corridor.

Critical issues

Some of the critical issues that were raised during public engagement meetings are:

  • Light pollution or night time transportation safety
    • The lighting is designed to use Dark-Sky compliant fixtures and physical light shields to minimize light spill while still providing enough light to ensure safety and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) Principles ([1] p.43).
  • Roller blades and scooter transportation
    • The greenway is separated into two lanes, cyclists who are moving quickly and walkers who are moving at a slow pace([1] p.44). Medium speed users such as roller blades and scooters are forced to choose between the two.
    • Clear signage is needed in order to clarify where medium speed users belong in order to reduce conflict. There was no mention of this issue is in the design vision.
  • Street car noise pollution and safety concerns
    • The street car is envisioned to be green track (planting material surrounding the track to reduce noise), and powered by electricity to further reduce noise ([1] p.44).
    • Safety will be ensured through the use of a dedicated right-of-way for the street car ([1] p.44).
  • Gentrification
    • As mentioned above, rental-only zoning and development contribution expectation are tools used by the government to reduce land speculation[13].


Governance power rests in the hands of the City of Vancouver which has land ownership of the Arbutus Greenway. The below table analyzes the power and interest levels for key stakeholders.

Power/Interest Analysis for Key Stakeholders
High Power, Low Interest High Power, High Interest
- International NGOs

- Park Board


- City of Vancouver

- Private sector

- Local community actors

- Tourism sector

- Place managers

Low Power, Low Interest Low Power, High Interest
- Local artists - Indigenous peoples

- Low income residents

- Commuters

High Interest Stakeholders have strong opinions on the development of the Arbutus Greenway, however some stakeholders have competing interests. In these cases priority will usually be given to the stakeholders with greater power. In the case of the Arbutus Greenway, this means an emphasis on the interests of wealthy stakeholders such as tourism and the private sector, to the detriment of low income residents and marginalized communities. The City of Vancouver has the final decision-making power however it is shown that governments have competing and changing interests. Support can vary due to legal and financial support, political liaison, and planning, permitting and implementation ([12] p.329).


Currently, the Arbutus Greenway is a very ambitious design vision that appeals to the tourism sector and the private sector for increased profits and visitation. This can lead to many problems such as gentrification as seen with the High Line in New York City. Bottom-up urban green space strategies that focus on small areas that support only the population in the immediate area offer many benefits where top-down green space planning fail. The 'just green enough' strategy suggested by Wolch et al.[7] is an alternative strategy for urban green space design and management. These projects are shaped by specific community concerns, needs, and desires, instead of conventional ecological restoration approaches and urban design strategies. Community led projects are very challenging and require community participation, however they provide many benefits to the immediate community. The main benefit being the protection of lower income neighborhoods, as well as greater social benefits.

Vancouver already has examples of this 'just green enough' strategy, as seen with the neighbourhood greenways. I recommend increasing efforts for bottom-up design of small scale parks. This can be achieved through advertisement of the opportunities available, and making it easier for projects to be approved.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 City of Vancouver. (2018). Appendix B - Arbutus Greenway Design Vision. Retrieved from
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 City of Vancouver. (2019). Arbutus Greenway Implementation Strategy. Retrieved from
  3. 3.0 3.1 Blisset, R. (2014, May 20). City Living: A walk down the Arbutus Corridor. Vancouver Courier. Retrieved from
  4. City of Vancouver. (2000). Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan. Retrieved from
  5. 5.0 5.1 O’Connor, N. (2018, September 6). Vancouver council approves removal of ‘Option Lands’ from Arbutus corridor. Vancouver Courier. Retrieved from
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 City of Vancouver. (2015). Healthy City Strategy Phase 2 Action Plan 2015-2018. Retrieved from
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Wolch, J. R., Byrne, J., & Newell, J. P. (2014). Urban green space, public health, and environmental justice: The challenge of making cities ‘just green enough’. Landscape and Urban Planning, 125, 234-244. doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2014.01.017
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 City of Vancouver. (2019). City greenways: Improving connections across Vancouver. Retrieved from
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 City of Vancouver. (2012). Transportation 2040. Retrieved from
  10. Province of British Columbia. (2017). Strata Councils. Retrieved from
  11. Peckham, S. C., Duinker, P. N., & Ordóñez, C. (2013). Urban forest values in Canada: Views of citizens in Calgary and Halifax. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 12(2), 154-162. doi: 10.1016/j.ufug.2013.01.001
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 Aelbrecht, P., & Stevens, Q. (2019). Public Space Design and Social Cohesion: An International Comparison. New York: Routledge.
  13. 13.0 13.1 St. Denis, J. (2018). Vancouver passes Arbutus Greenway parks plan, but residents worry about land speculation. The Star. Retrieved from:
  14. Barbosa, O., Tratalos, J. A., Armsworth, P. R., Davies, R. G., Fuller, R. A., Johnson, P., & Gaston K. J. (2007). Who benefits from access to green space? A case study from Sheffield, UK. Landscape and Urban Planning. 83(2-3), 187-195. doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2007.04.004

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