Condos under construction in Langley. Backyards not included. (Langley Advance Times files)

Condos under construction in Langley. Backyards not included. (Langley Advance Times files)

PAINFUL TRUTH: The death of the backyard is coming soon

We need to rethink public space, since private greenspace is getting rare

Talk to some folks who’ve been around Langley for a long time and grew up here, and you’ll hear some of the same stories.

They remember the old lumber mill in the Fort. Or driving lessons in the Otter Co-op parking lot, when the store was closed on Sundays. Or how part of what is now the Willowbrook Mall was a goat farm.

And of course, they played outside a lot. (Sometimes in construction sites, or gravel pits. It was the ’80s.) Just about everybody had a backyard.

That was never as universally true as it seemed.

There are apartment blocks that go back decades in Langley City, and some people grew up in manufactured home parks, too.

But for the majority, living in Langley meant your family lived on a patch of land, large or small.

This is probably still true for a majority of kids growing up in Langley. But the percentage is shrinking fast. Langley’s predominant housing types are now condos and townhouses, and neither of those comes with a yard at all.

I’m not bemoaning it, that’s just the economic reality of land values in the Lower Mainland. I grew up in Langley on a rural acre of land. I will never be able to afford a piece of property that size in Langley, and if it wasn’t for condos, I’d have had to leave.

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The backyard is dying in Langley, in much the same way it’s dying in Vancouver, and Richmond, and New West, and Burnaby, and Surrey.

There are still plenty of houses built over the past century with a yard, and even a few being built now, but it’s not the future. The future is kids who need somewhere public to play on the grass.

Here in Langley Township, pledges for more parks were made by several of the recent mayoral campaigns, including Mayor Eric Woodward and his Contract with Langley slate.

And there are already plans afoot for a new pool, more sports fields, and a new ice arena.

That’s all extraordinarily necessary for the future, and not just for kids. Some of us adults like to get out of the house and go walk on some grass and sit under a tree every now and again, too.

Rethinking the entire culture of public space in Langley is the other major component of creating a future for residents and families without yard of their own.

We’re going to live more and more of our lives in public and semi-public spaces. That means parks and rec centres, yes, but it also means plazas and picnic tables, it means sidewalks and greenways and bike lanes.

That’s a profound change for a place that, not long ago, was a rural farming community, then a low-density bedroom community.

We’re now a medium- to high-density suburb. We do need more parks, to give everyone that access to green space.

But we also need a cultural shift. Every elected official and senior planning staffer is going to have to fully internalize this new reality. From road and sidewalk safety, to allowing people the freedom to loiter in public, it’s a big change, happening fast.


Have a story tip? Email: matthew.claxton@langleyadvancetimes.com

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