Bringing the world to North Van’s waterfront

The Lower Lonsdale waterfront. The restored yellow crane is decorative.

The Lower Lonsdale waterfront. The restored yellow crane is decorative.

Lower Lonsdale in North Vancouver presents a big-city feel, looking across at downtown Vancouver across the Burrard Inlet. It deserves high marks as an urban village and is worth a visit from other parts of the region.

Vintage bank building with upper storeys added, Lonsdale Ave.

Vintage bank building with upper storeys added, Lonsdale Ave.

The development pressures are clearly enormous, given the land values at stake. The City of North Vancouver, working from a 2002 official plan, has managed so far to preserve housing choice and  community services. We met an affluent-looking resident who has lived on a boat for seven years and has nothing but praise for the public transit and retail convenience in the area.

Other residents expressed concern about an ongoing loss of character and history through rapid redevelopment. My co-tourist Robert Smarz and I noted three major commercial sites slated for redevelopment, including an entire block of mom & pop retail between First and Second avenues.

The City has been working to build Lower Lonsdale’s reputation as a tourist area, and just this month (July 2014) has published a pricey-looking Central Waterfront Development Plan. The goal of the plan is to turn the Lower Lonsdale waterfront area into “the Lower Mainland’s premier dining and entertainment destination,” with dozens of new restaurants and clubs.

LoLoThe waterfront plan is forensic in its detail around the Wallace Shipyards property, just east of the Lonsdale Quay public market. The 1900-era Shipyards space will drive the emergence of the  “LoLo” brand: think “Soho”, districts in London and New York that are renowned for their sophistication. .

The Shipyards at LoLo will host concerts and public events, pubs, art installations and a new museum. In support of this vision, the plan contains recommendations for increasing the vitality of the surrounding commercial streets and Lonsdale Quay, especially through beautification and longer retail hours.

Shops, Lonsdale Ave.

Shops, Lonsdale Ave.

“Women account for 80% of all consumer spending. They visit places that are attractive, inviting, and feel safe. Thus the investment in beautification, lighting, etc. Notice the photo to the left. What do you see? Think benches. They say “welcome” and provide a place for the gents to sit while the women do the shopping.

70% of all retail (bricks and mortar) retail spending takes place after 6:00 pm. Are you open? This is why all successful malls and lifestyle retail centers are open from 10 am to 9 (or 10) pm seven days a week. And this is why many downtown districts continue to die.”

Looking from the gate of the seabus terminal, Lonsdale Quay

Looking from the gate of the SeaBus terminal, Lonsdale Quay

Lonsdale Quay, built around the terminal for the cross-inlet SeaBus, began life as part of a 1980s commercial trend that failed. The public markets promised a bazaar-type experience, a magnet for regional-scale tourism, with very small, specialized retail spaces offering an exotic variety of food products, jewelry and crafts. Lonsdale Quay’s counterparts in Surrey and Calgary have been demolished, and public market buildings in New West and Vancouver’s West End are dreary and half-empty. Lonsdale has struggled, although during our Saturday visit the produce stalls had spilled on to the plaza and the market interior was humming.

The LoLo plan would rescue and build on the Lonsdale Quay opportunity: to give Vancouver-area residents and visitors more reasons to visit North Vancouver and to create commercial value. It barely mentions residential development and residential quality of life. In 73 pages, it devotes one paragraph to the interests of Lower Lonsdale village residents. The plan calculates that there are 10,000 people in the village; by my guess, this count was taken within in the walkable perimeter around the SeaBus terminal, roughly from St. Andrew’s in the east to the west end of the Esplanade, and north to Fifth or Sixth. “[T]here needs to be ample services for them: a good grocery store (think something along the lines of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s), dry cleaning establishment, retailers for shoes, clothing, fashion, art, home accents and furnishings (that will also attract visitors).”

A City park, consisting of a wheelchair-accessible pathway among housing developments

A City park, consisting of a wheelchair-accessible pathway among housing developments

Yes, residents need retail services, but questions remain. What effect does the creation of a new entertainment district have on nearby residential streets? How will it shape residential development? Will the arrival of hundreds of low-wage employees affect the existing stock of affordable rental housing? If rents rise and current residents get  squeezed out, where do they go? The waterfront plan is not intended as a community development plan, but these issues could have been acknowledged all the same.

Roberto and I lunched at Sailor Hagar’s Brew Pub. It is a bit off the beaten track, but claims to serve “the best beer in B.C.”

[This is post #23 in our Urban Villages series.]

[Note: after this post appeared, Toni Bolton of NorthVanCityVoices suggested I should also post a link to North Van's Presentation House Gallery site in connection with the gallery's move to the Lower Lonsdale waterfront.]

Mr. Smarz and an actor, already on the job as a Shipyards guide

Mr. Smarz and an actor, already on the job as a Shipyards guide

c. 1970s office complex slated for redevelopment, Esplanade

c. 1970s office complex slated for redevelopment, Esplanade

Vintage property slated for redevelopment, Esplanade

Vintage property slated for redevelopment, Esplanade

TransLink mayors speak with one voice, mostly

Lougheed at Madison croppedAbout a month ago, Metro Vancouver’s mayors broke with previous form and achieved near-consensus on a 10-year plan for transit investment.

Media coverage of this event has been limited, focusing on the projected cost of the plan rather than the promised improvements. The region’s trains and buses carry more than 800,000 passengers per day, and this should be enough to sustain a conversation on transit funding; but the transportation authority’s governance structure is convoluted, and its financial woes never-ending. Public interest, for now, remains at its normal lukewarm level.

The headline cost of the mayors’ plan is $7.5 billion over ten years, to pay for a new Pattullo Bridge crossing of the Fraser River, new rapid transit for Vancouver and Surrey, and additional bus service for all. Perhaps the clearest summary, as often happens, comes from suburban reporter Jeff Nagel.

In the mid-1990s, I ran a couple of large-scale surveys of Vancouver-area residents on attitudes to transportation. Two-thirds of the respondents supported an aggressive expansion of the transit system, but only one-third were prepared to pay. We haven’t come far in resolving that conundrum. Local and provincial politicians have bickered  over the question of funding since TransLink was created in 1998. On June 27, two weeks after the announcement of their plan, the mayors expressed frustration in a letter to the provincial minister of transportation, which they posted on a newish website they have set up just for this purpose.

Even if we go nowhere with the current proposal, it’s encouraging to see the mayors taking a position in almost a unified way, through their own dedicated channel. I suggested on this site in February 2012 that the mayors should take a campaign-style approach if they wanted to build credibility, and they are moving in this direction.

One would hope, further, that they can influence the public conversation around transit, which dwells too often on personalities and executive salaries. Their challenge is to communicate how public transit  benefits all sectors of the community. Mayor Richard Walton of North Vancouver took this approach in a recent interview where he talked about transit’s effects in reducing highway traffic. Other clear benefits include increased mobility for low-income workers, increased access to training and education, more active living choices for seniors, and support for walkable urban villages and local independent business.

South Fraser Perimeter Road, Surrey

South Fraser Perimeter Road, Surrey

The holdout among the mayors is Derek Corrigan of the City of Burnaby. Before he entered local politics, he was chair of BC Transit in the days when that provincial agency operated buses and trains in Metro Vancouver. Around the time of Corrigan’s tenure, the provincial NDP government agreed that Burnaby needed a second crosstown rapid transit line, to supplement the one that already existed. Mr. Corrigan now argues that we can’t afford to build rapid transit in Surrey, or provide better bus service in distant places like Maple Ridge.

$7.5 billion over ten years, by the way, is about what we’ve invested in freeways and bridges in Metro Vancouver in the past ten years, if you add financing and in-house project costs to the posted costs. A significant fraction of the highway construction costs will be repaid from tolls, it’s true; but likewise, a fraction of the transit capital cost will be repaid from fares.

 

Langley Township’s “civic core”

Church

The Township of Langley website identifies the Murrayville area as the municipality’s “traditional civic core. Murrayville is home to the Langley Memorial Hospital, Langley RCMP Main Detachment, Langley School District offices, W.C. Blair Recreation Centre, and Langley Regional Airport.”

The old Porter's General Store, now a popular café in Murrayville, Langley

The old Porter’s General Store, now a popular café in Murrayville, Langley

The centre of the original village stands at 216 Street and 48 Avenue. It includes a church (1889) and a former general store that is now a café and bistro. Around this is a modest stock of pre-1930s houses, some converted for commercial uses such as real estate or accounting offices. Continue reading

2014 property taxes in Metro Vancouver

Queensborough 2012 cropped

In a report on property taxes in Maple Ridge, the District of Maple Ridge incudes a table showing municipal tax charges on the “average house” in cities across the Metro Vancouver region. The table is provided below, minus a few explanatory notes.

There are 21 municipalities in the region, and some of the smaller ones are not shown. Mission, which is adjacent to Maple Ridge, is not part of the Metro Vancouver region. Continue reading

Missing the boat in Queensborough

New Westminster Quay seen from Queensborough

New Westminster Quay seen from Queensborough

Queensborough lies south of an elevated section of B.C. Highway 91A. From that perspective, it looks like a jumble of townhomes built on leftover land.

Vintage-style housing, probably mid-'90s, South Dyke Road

Vintage-style housing, probably mid-’90s, South Dyke Road

Viewed more closely, the neighbourhood is pretty in spots,  with dramatic waterfront views of mainland New West. My co-tourist Fred Armstrong was pleased with his photos of river and clouds. This is a fragment of the City of New Westminster located on Lulu Island, with a long industrial history that has left a working railroad running down its main street. Continue reading

Port Mann Bridge: The case of the disappearing traffic

Part of the Port Mann Bridge; graphic from the current TI Corp service plan

Part of the Port Mann Bridge; graphic from the current TI Corp service plan

The British Columbia government now predicts heavier short-term financial losses on the Port Mann toll bridge than previously forecast, although it maintains the position that user tolls will eventually pay all costs related to the reconstructed bridge.

The issue here is declining traffic volumes — a pattern of decline that began long before tolls were implemented in 2012. Weekday traffic on the bridge, the primary access point to Vancouver from the rest of Canada, is down an astonishing 20 per cent from the peak levels of 2006. Continue reading

“This is your next Metrotown”

The Surrey Central tower, housing SFU operations and the Fraser Health head office, seen from Holland Park

The Surrey Central tower, housing SFU operations and the Fraser Health head office, seen from Holland Park

 

Dianne Watts, the mayor of the City of Surrey since 2005, has brought a level of logic and discipline to her job that was lacking under her predecessor.

Residential towers on King George Boulevard, seen from Holland Park

Residential towers on King George Boulevard, seen from Holland Park

It’s interesting, then, to consider the logic behind Surrey Central, perhaps Ms. Watts’ pet project.  This burgeoning development combines civic functions, commercial expansion and residential towers, organized around the Surrey Central and King George rapid transit stations. Built in the middle of a neighbourhood that has struggled with crime and social issues, Surrey Central goes beyond the standard suburban facelift. It’s an attempt to build a commercial, civic and cultural hub worthy of a Great City. Continue reading