UBC Graduate Research

Neighbourhood Retail Change: The Evolution of Local Shopping Areas in Vancouver, BC Kay, Vanessa


Neighbourhood-serving urban shopping areas have traditionally offered local residents access to the most frequently needed goods and services, as well as places to connect and socialize. Since the mid-­‐20th century, however, the urban retail landscape has undergone major changes, including the rise of regional shopping malls and large format retailers. The impact of these shifts on lower-­‐order urban retail areas is poorly understood and seldom researched, except in cases of decline characterized by high vacancy rates and deteriorating buildings. Nevertheless, access to basic goods and services within urban neighbourhoods remains an important equity issue and a catalyst for strong communities. Recent research indicates that it is also a critical factor in supporting local resilience and public health. The purpose of this study is to investigate the evolving functions of Vancouver’s neighbourhood-­‐ serving shopping areas from the end of the 1950s to the present. This critical period spans the replacement of the city’s streetcar system by trolley buses, the rise of regionally-­‐serving large-­‐ format retail, and the emergence of sustainability as a pillar of planning policy. Analysis of historical occupancy data from case study areas over this period informs generalizations about past and present trends in the overall number and mix of businesses supported within Vancouver’s neighbourhood-­‐serving shopping areas. Findings of this report are intended to inform future policy directions and planning strategies relating to Vancouver’s local retail. While findings, conclusions and recommendations are specific to this city, trends found in Vancouver are also relevant to circumstances described within the planning literature as affecting other cities in North America and Europe.

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