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.
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.
With a rush of residential construction in the past two decades, the population has increased to over 7,000. Unfortunately, in a city that boasts two of the finest urban villages in the Metro Vancouver region, the planners, politicians and developers appear to have left no space in Queensborough for a vibrant core.
Queensborough’s elaborate neighbourhood plan, adopted in February 2014, states that local commercial growth has been held back by the small population. This claim raises a question that I can’t answer: how many local residents does it take to make an urban village? (On this site, the term “urban village” refers to a complex, walkable area where residents can find the daily goods and services they need, and housing is dense enough and diverse enough to provide village businesses with a solid customer base.)
The Queensborough plan is full of stuff I support, such as the commitment to maintain industrial properties, while enhancing and densifying residential zones (the population is forecast to double by 2041.) However, it waffles on the prospects for an urban village. It envisions (provisionally) a skimpy four walkable commercial blocks near Ewen and Howes, with a smaller retail pod further east, while praising village life:
“Storefronts at street-level with large display windows and sidewalk cafes serve to animate the street, making it an inviting place to shop and socialize. Providing sufficient parking at the rear of buildings, in addition to on-street parking restrictions to ensure a turnover of spaces, supports businesses without impacting the streetscape.”
A major issue here is the City’s past decision to permit a sub-regional mall, all chain stores and restaurants, on the north side of the highway. The direct connection from Queensborough proper to the mall is not an inviting walk, although there is an indirect multi-use path. In any case, the car-accessible Queensborough Landing mall is positioned to serve many of the retail needs of neighbourhood residents.
Decrees from Fraseropolis aside, Queensborough’s location and character make it a desirable place to live within Metro Vancouver. According to the neighbourhood plan, incomes here are much higher than in the mainland parts of New West. The plan notes a history of “higgledy-piggledy” development stretching back to the early 1900s. In future, development will be tightly controlled, down to the tinting on the shopfront windows along the modest main street.