The River District, in Vancouver’s extreme southeast corner, offers a quiet riverside walk, lunch at a good pub restaurant overlooking the water, and a feeling of imminent transformation.
The area was identified for conversion from industrial to residential use at least as early as 2004. At that time, residential development was already proceeding in a former industrial area to the west, in a two-block-wide band between Marine Drive and the Fraser River.
However, most of the lands east of Kerr Street remained vacant — until now. Suddenly, as of summer 2017, wide swaths west and east of Kerr Street are under construction. Among the half-built structures is the start of a town centre that will provide retail and commercial services and jobs. It has taken almost 15 years to sort out land tenure issues, adopt a plan and move through permitting into a major development push.
According to a 2015 write-up in VanCity Buzz, the designated River District between Kerr Street and Boundary Road will have “more residents than Yaletown – 7,000 homes and 15,000 residents including 7.2 million square feet of residential space, 250,000 square feet of retail space and 260,000 square feet of office space.”
I visited the River District on a Friday morning with co-tourist Robert Smarz of Surrey, B.C. The established streets west of Kerr are shady and architecturally acceptable, but there are no services within a walkable distance, other than the popular Romer’s Burger Bar. The sense of a sleepy suburbia is amplified by the lack of rapid transit, which may explain why this development zone has grown up much more slowly than many other parts of Vancouver — or Burnaby, or Coquitlam — that straddle the Skytrain system.
New town centre services should come on stream in 2018, along with many new residential units. The developer maintains a large sales centre next to the pub in what is to eventually become a community centre, and is also sponsoring a Saturday farmers market on the pavement outside as an added attraction.