Jonathan Cote

New Westminister's mayor Cote uses degree to solve real-world problems

By Carol Thorbes

Jonathan Cote wasn’t even dreaming of becoming a mayor when he enrolled in SFU’s master of arts program in urban studies in 2011. He was looking for solutions to New Westminster’s rental housing and transit issues.

Yet today, at age 35, he is Metro Vancouver’s youngest mayor, and his rental housing innovations are capturing the attention of mayors across the region.

The former city council member was elected mayor in November 2014, two months after defending his master’s thesis on “Transit-Oriented Developments.”

He’s hoping he’ll have time to attend SFU’s June 11 morning convocation ceremony to collect his M. Urb.

“Although I didn’t have a specific career goal in mind when I started my master’s,” says Cote, “I have often found in life that when you follow your interests and your heart, you rarely end up in the wrong place.”

His thesis explored land-use changes that occurred in close proximity to the New Westminster and 22ndStreet Skytrain stations, and he discovered nine factors that precipitated opposing types of land development.

Over the past two years he has worked with the New Westminster city council to apply recommendations from another of his master’s projects. “Affordable Rental Housing.” The resulting rental housing policy has attracted development applications for more than 1,000 new rental units. Other Metro Vancouver cities and municipalities are now using the New West policy as a template to develop a regional rental-housing strategy.

“The previous economics didn’t work,” says Cote. “Developers could make more money developing condos. My project recommended changing those economics by creating a development system in which incentives such as increased density and reduced development fees are combined with restrictions on rezoning sites that have existing rental housing.”

Cote is also using his research to guide the council as it creates a new Official Community Plan.

“I am hoping to use the work completed in my thesis to encourage more mixed-use, transit-oriented developments in neighbourhoods with excellent access to the Skytrain network,” he says.

Cote’s thesis supervisor, professor Anthony Perl, says: “Jonathan knows what it takes to make real change happen and he’s going to go far in leading the way to a sustainable urban future in the Lower Mainland.