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, has managed so far to preserve housing choice and  community services. [This plan was updated in 2014.] 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 [as of 2019, the Polygon Gallery] 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

6 responses

  1. And they promised a National Maritime Museum befitting of the heritage. And then when nobody was looking, they yanked it. A splendid opportunity at every level is squandered. Now we talk about Disney-fying, and are walking away blindly from who we were and who we are…. I am embarrassed by this collective act of wilful blindness. Aren’t you?

  2. To understand a community one needs to live in that community, to know it’s history and how and why it has arrived at this point in it’s history. I have lived here for 35 years many of my friends have lived much longer, many not so long. These are the people one needs to talk to if you have ideas and opinions for the shape and character of “OUR” community.

  3. Two bridges??
    Our community does NOT need any further development because the water is too cold to “SWIM” to and from work!!

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