New West's lessons from the North Shore

Where are the opportunities to develop New West's waterfront spaces?

New West city councillors and staff on a “field trip” to the City of North Vancouver/Mayor Patrick Johnstone on Twitter

Editor’s note: if you haven’t had the chance to read the piece from the CBC’s Justin McElroy, take a moment to review it here.

It’s been touted as a success story—and what’s more, that positive reception came from New West Mayor Patrick Johnstone.

Last month, Johnstone spoke with the CBC for a piece about the City of North Vancouver’s Shipyards District, a space that has been raved about for the way it’s been utilized: you can go skating in the winter, enjoy a local market, visit the Polygon art gallery, or take in live local music—and it’s just steps away from Lonsdale Quay, as well as a number of pubs and restaurants.

But according to Johnstone—who recently toured the area with members of council—it’s not as simple as transposing what you see at the Shipyards and bringing the full gamut to New Westminster.

“I think for us, we’ve done some pretty good past work. Pier Park for us, it’s a wonderful public space. We haven’t put a lot of effort into the gathering part, the outdoor sort of crowd gathering space. I think that’s something we have missing in our public spaces, and not [something] necessarily large. It can be smaller spaces, so I think that’s part of a conversation I’d love to have,” he tells New West Anchor, adding that the gathering aspect is definitely on his wish list of things he’d like for the city.

“Shipyards, part of its magic is that it’s in a pretty amazing location, right where the SeaBus stops, right next to the Quay, with a view of a city skyline, one of the most incredible city skylines.”

When asked what gathering spaces in New West could look like, Johnstone said the city could certainly use more sheltered areas.

“I … don’t think we have a lot of sheltered public spaces to address the rainy weather we often have here. Even in the summer, it’s getting hotter, it seems. Just having a space that’s shady, I think that’s an interesting piece that might be missing from what we have, and there’s opportunities there, both large and small,” he said.

But what about Downtown storefronts? Over the past few years, there has been some discussion about whether the current condition of some of the Downtown commercial spaces have resulted in the waterfront’s ability to reach its full potential. As an example, Copp’s shoe store, which burned down about a decade ago, has sat empty, despite the city at one point making use of a temporary permit to turn it into a public space.

“The Downtown suffers from severance issues between the Columbia St. commercial corridor and the waterfront,” page 6 of the Downtown Community Plan states, going on to say that there has been significant effort made to “integrate land use planning with other key considerations.” While there is an initial mention of sustainability, there are also mentions around quality of life, pointing to social, economic, and environmental themes.

Johnstone admitted there were some opportunities for the private sector to be involved but cautioned that that relying on private business to create spaces for people to use wasn’t necessarily foolproof.

“We’re obviously working on a Downtown strategy to address what I’ll call the ‘underperforming’ properties Downtown, and that includes some of the vacant sites that need to be filled. But there’s always an opportunity to look at how the public and the private realms interact. That’s the magic part that they’ve done in the Shipyards, I think it’s found a way to make the public and the private realm work really well together.”

After receiving a question from New West Anchor reader Cody V., we asked the mayor about the potential for creating a dock space along the Fraser River, mainly in the waters off the Downtown or Quayside area.

“I’m not going to say there’s no chance, but I’m going to say it’s very unlikely. There are challenges with the Port Authority, and they own the river. That is a working river, and they are very much of the opinion that [the Fraser River] is a working river, moving goods through the region.”

Johnstone also added that the Pier Park side of the river is deep and fast, which can create challenges for boat navigation.

“The idea of putting docks there to tie up to would be a challenge for pleasure craft or anything small because of significant current or wake issues. We don’t want to have large barges working in the river, adjacent to a pier out there,” said Johnstone.

“There are other opportunities in calmer waters around Poplar Island, and around Queensborough we actually have docks for where pleasure craft can dock, and frankly the Port doesn’t like the idea of docks there, they don’t see it as compatible with the working river.”

New Westminster’s previously published Riverfront Vision includes 29 points of interest—one of which makes reference to how people might be able to enjoy the water.

“The Downtown Community Plan includes actions that promote water activities through amenities such as marinas and piers, and natural places along the foreshore for boating and kayaking, and places where people can interact with the water. As opportunities arise through park and greenway development the City will work to safely incorporate these activities,” point 28 of New Westminster’s Riverfront Vision reads.

At one point—on page 29 of the Downtown Community Plan—there was hope that programming at Westminster Pier Park would include: “community gathering spaces such as a waterfront restaurant or cafe; allowing for water-based activities; and recreational services such as tennis courts.” The plan again makes mention of promoting water activities on the Downtown waterfront on page 94 by “constructing amenities such as marinas and piers, and natural places along the foreshore for boating and kayaking.” There is also an additional point to “create places where people can interact with the river.”

During a council meeting on Monday, Feb. 13, the question of whether the waterfront along the Downtown and Quayside area could have user-pay public moorage came up, with Couns. Daniel Fontaine and Paul Minhas submitting the motion.

While the motion was defeated 5-2 (Couns. Tasha Henderson, Nadine Nakagawa, Ruby Campbell, Jaimie McEvoy, and Mayor Johnstone opposed), Campbell did put forth a follow-up motion to have staff provide an update on the riverfront vision at a later date—with that motion being carried.