New Westminster's waterfront Quay is now the home to lots and lots of pidgeons
All is not well in my home community of New Westminster, BC. I recently brought my son down to the waterfront where only a year ago there was life and a Quay which housed a number of locally-owned mom and pop shops. Today, the New Westminster Quay is all but shut down and the waterfront has become a veritable ghost town.
Admittedly, even last year when the New Westminster Quay Market was open, you had a sense that what civic politicians once touted as the future of the city, was slowly turning into a nightmare.
Unlike the Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver or Granville Island in Vancouver, where successful markets have taken hold and been embraced by local residents, the New West Market simply didn't catch on. Rather, it has now become a symbol of a Mayor who more often than not appears more focused on past glories rather than focusing on developing a new and dynamic plan for the future for his city.
So what happened to New Westminster's waterfront, and why is it now a deadzone? I guess you could blame the situation on a number of factors beyond just simply pointing fingers at the current Mayor and his colleagues.
Here is what I believe are some critical factors that helped create the situation we have today:
- Poor transporation planning resulted in the City's waterfront being completely cut off from the rest of the community. There are a set of train tracks parallel to the waterfront which regularly cut off access between the Quay and the rest of downtown.
- Not enough residential development was approved in the downtown core. In fact, more people seemed concerned with saving decrepit heritage buildings on Columbia Street rather than focusing on getting new residents to move into the neighbourhood. As a result, the Quay district is almost devoid of young families who could represent the future of this community.
- A floating riverboat casino was championed by Council as an "economic development" tool for the waterfront. Unfortunately, the casino has closed and the paddlewheeler is now tied up to the wharf and rusting nicely.
- Despite years of navel-gazing about removing it, a massive multi-level concrete parkade remains as a blight on the waterfront. It you've never seen it, just think of the Alaska Viaduct in Seattle...but 10 times worse.
- The waterfront walkway stretching for several miles is broken apart at the Quay. That's because a large part of the waterfront remains private property. The City has recently moved to acquire some of that private land to make the final connection, but the construction of the walkway is still years away.
I could go on regarding a number of additional reasons why the New Westminster waterfront has become such a sad place to be lately...but I think you get the picture.
Last weekend, with the exception of a few pidgeons and a dozen or so folks walking their dogs, the Quay was all but abandoned. Most of the former merchants have been kicked out, and the inside of the Quay has been gutted. Despite this, there has yet to be any public pronouncement regarding the future direction of this property.
If the Quay is ever to thrive again, a lot more work needs to be done - and quickly. The City needs to work closely with the property owner and make sure everything humanly possible is done to help him redevelop this property. Otherwise, there is a significant risk the Quay will turn into a very undesirable place to be, even during daylight hours.
Unfortunately for the City and the property owner, the current discussion regarding the future of the Quay is happening in the midst of a world-wide recession. So the timing simply couldn't be worse.