Multilevel governing in British Columbia: A case study of residential development and the Agricultural Land Reserve in the City of Richmond

Author/s: Sara Obidi

Creation date: 2020

Senior supervisor: Patrick Smith

Keywords:  Agricultural Land Reserve, multi-level governance, City of Richmond

Geographic focus: Richmond, British Columbia, Canada; British Columbia; Canada

Research question/s: What is the extent and distribution of non-agricultural residential development on Agricultural Land Reserve lands in the City of Richmond and how have federal, provincial, regional and municipal conflicts and policies, or the lack thereof, impacted such development?


The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was created in 1973 by the provincial government of British Columbia to protect agricultural land from subdivision and non-farm uses. However, a lack of multi-jurisdictional cooperation and policy coordination has allowed for the exclusion of land and increased non-farm use of ALR in favour of residential development. This study sought to understand the extent and distribution of non-farm uses of ALR land in the City of Richmond, as well as how conflicting federal, provincial, regional, and municipal policies shaped these developments. The City of Richmond is a unique case due to its high share of ALR land, as well as the service and locational advantages of this land. 


Obidi used a mixed methods approach that included document review, semi-structured interviews, and using GIS to map ALR data. Obidi found that the ALR’s multi-level governance framework may serve as a safety net to ensure the creation of more effective policies by one level of government when others lack the political will to do so. Obidi concluded that while the ALR’s multijurisdictional character can allow increased conversion of farmland to non-farm uses, it also presents an opportunity for the creation of policies that are consistent for both the urban and agricultural areas within cities. To reduce the appeal of using ALR lands for non-farm uses, Obidi recommended that the provincial government create further province-wide regulations to limit non-farm uses of ALR lands to allow for greater consistency between municipalities, as well as between the urban and agricultural areas within cities.