New Westminster uses density to renew core

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


A slideshow of New Westminster's changing downtown

It's been almost a decade since I moved to the historic neighbourhood of Queens Park in New Westminster. My wife and I previously lived in a quaint 1940's home in the Collingwood area of East Vancouver. When I first moved out here, my Vancouver friends thought I lost all my marbles. "Why would you move out there" they said. One friend commented "Do you realize you'll need to purchase a second car to make it all work?"

I'm pleased that not only have we managed to remain a one car family, we are probably driving less now than when we lived in Vancouver. That's mainly because our Queen's Park home is located only blocks from both the Downtown and Uptown business districts. As a result, we can walk to almost any retailer or amenity we need within 15 minutes. Hair stylists, barbers, drug and grocery stores, bakeries, banks, restaurants are all within a stone's throw of our home. In almost every instance, driving to a local retailer is much more of a pain than it is to walk there. So that's exactly what we do on a weekly basis.

New Westminster also has some of the best transit service outside of Vancouver. With only 50,000 people, it boasts five SkyTrain stations and top-notch bus service that connects each of them. For a daily transit user like myself who makes his way out to the UBC peninsula, it's a no-brainer to hop on rapid transit. Even though it is a lengthy 90 minute journey each way, at least I don't have to worry about driving on all those congested roads each day.

Probably the biggest transformation in New Westminster over the last decade has been the downtown core. Once a vibrant centre of activity, it had become hollowed out and empty of life. Last week I visited a newly renovated shopping plaza on the western edge of the downtown. It's tucked inside a wall of new towers that now dot the New Westminster skyline. Thanks to additional density, it's now a modern shopping district which appears to be attracting an equal number of foot and vehicle passengers.

The number of people walking downtown and in the Uptown district seems to be growing on a daily basis. In fact, last weekend the sidewalks in Uptown were packed with pedestrians and I could just have easily been in Vancouver's West End judging by how many people were out and about.

Several new high profile condo projects near the SkyTrain stations have now been completed and are selling out fast. Their stunning views of the waterfront and Mount Baker, combined with New Westminster-style discounted pricing, have meant they aren't suffering the same fate as Vancouver's Olympic Village ghost town.

If there remains one blemish on New Westminster's waterfront it remains the Quay project which we've written about here before. Work continues to progress slowly and they claim it's set to re-open at some point in the near future. It can't happen soon enough in my opinion, as it has been sorely missed by everyone in the community.

I took a few photos of New Westminster's downtown a couple of days ago and have uploaded them to our Flickr account. As you can tell, this is clearly no longer your father's New Westminster. It's quickly emerging as a modern, urban centre where both young and old co-exist in a compact community where you can still afford a home. As you can tell, I truly love living in New Westminster. If you get a chance, drop by some time.

- post by Daniel


If they could only get that new high school built. What a fiasco. Don't forget Queensborough where the biggest changes have taken place with the Starlight Casino and the Wal Mart.

Perhaps a useful comparison to the planning process & end products causing so much trouble in Vancouver. Are you or anyone else familiar with the planning process, densities, heights, etc. There looks like a variety of heights.

When I was a young teen living in Burnaby, New West was still a busy and lively community. The old downtown business section was filled with stores including Eaton's and other interesting shops. New West high schools were a major force in the provinces sports scene. Lacrosse and the professional hockey team in the old Western Hockey league provided lots of opportunities for entertainment and enhancing civic pride. Then as I recall, the new mall in what became Uptown sucked the life out of downtown. Downtown began to look like pictures of Detroit 10 years ago. For some reason, New West lost its cachet as a place to live as the Tri-Cities, and Surrey bypassed the old city. Now after numerous false starts, maybe the fine old city will breathe life again. I suspect the improved transit system has influenced developers to add the high rises and the increased density has and will encourage commercial developers to construct imaginative commercial centers. I hope the City planners can have the foresight to insist on pedestrian friendly developments with sidewalks and hopefully even a town square surrounded by one or two story shops. Avoid the big box stores and mega malls. Build on New Wests natural character. It has been there all along. Just needs some imaginative polish.
Good luck Daniel.

Hate to disappoint but New Westminster is basically a place for the gang bangers and drug dealers to stop for a pizza slice on the way to Surrey or coming back from Vancouver.

The downtown is a dump and has been for years with seemingly no effort by the city to move forward.

They are now stuck in a rut and basically have a left leaning union based council that continues to be content with what they have.

Sure Queensborough looks like it's attracting more activity but they basically replaced an inactive industrial area/ICBC wrecked car lot with an area that you cant get to easily without a car. They have done virtually nothing to improve their core area or even the 6th and 6th area which has lost any shine it had in the past decade after it sucked the life out of downtown as mentioned by another poster.

I knew as soon as I saw a posting about anything other than the centre of the universe (being DT Vancouver), there would be desparaging comments from the usual bloggers who have an opinion on everything. Most of whom never venture beyond (Gasp) Burrard Street. Yes its true, passports are required for travel to Burnaby - after all its 10 kilometers away!!!. What could possibly be of interest out there in the sticks. I mean there is like all of 100 thousand people on the DT penisula - isnt that everything? Oh and lets not forget Surrey...the terrible place of drugs and prostitution. I mean, our own Vancouver DT eastside makes me feel so proud- its bigger and better than Surrey's. Lets not leave out the "Vancouver special" What city can match that? And yes...I do live in Vancouver myself, but I can pull my head out of my ^%% long enough to see the positive in other areas to live as well.

Any criticism of New West is not comments from the centre of the universe in Vancouver not knowing what they are talking about.

I was in New Westminster several weeks ago and walked the walk they have on the west side of the Quay and it has tons of potential but hasnt been improved in decades.

The Quay is a slum with basically all tenants moved out except for a bar which has an outside entrance. This has not happened in Vancouver with either Granville Island, Yaletown or Lonsdale Quay. The town needs creativity like building a Seabus type of service to connect the Queensborough area and Casino with the New West Quay for starters. They need to put up some office towers in the downtown area and cleanup all of Columbia street.

This comes from having a proper Council in place with some foresight which New West hasn't had for decades and still don't.

New West needs to wake up next election or they will be where the skytrains put out their garbage on the way to Surrey. They have a lot to build on.

@gregory. "The Quay is a slum" Are you serious? A slum? Have you been there lately? It may be closed down for renovations, and a little sad looking, but it ain't no slum.

I also highly doubt a seabus to the Casino is going to bring any life to the Quay. What it needs to do is re-open soon with a couple of good anchor tenants. I believe they are on the verge of doing that.

However, I do agree with you that we need a council with some vision who can look to the future. For far too long we've had a Mayor and council focused heavily on past accomplishments. That's why so many NW residents joke that our unofficial slogan is "New Westminster, where our best days are behind us." Not acceptable IMO.

But the Quay a "slum"...I don't think so. Not by a long shot.

I am comparing how a vibrant quay looks like in North Vancouver or Vancouver's Granville Island. When you do that the New West Quay does like like a slum. When they were open they had 4th rate food outlets, people selling stuff that shouldn't be sold in a quay type shopping area and it just couldn't hold a candle to its counterparts in neighboring cities. The only thing that gives it hope is the area they have to the west which is well maintained and holds much promise but goes downhill fast east of the Hotel.

If they are planning on building and reopening good luck to them and I hope they get it right this time.

At the same time they have to take a steamroller to Columbia Street and put that in line as well. They need character stores and restaurants which they don't have now.

The resurgence of New Westminster you're seeing is largely the result of groundwork done a decade ago under Mayor Helen Sparkes and planner Mary Pynenburg.

Back then, there wasn't even a Starbucks in New Westminster, and Pynenburg apparently asked Starbucks why this was so. Starbucks apparently said: "Who in New Westminster would buy a $3 cup of coffee when they can buy a whole breakfast and coffee for $3 across the street?"

New Westminster was seen as a strange, stagnant, inbred, blue collar curiosity in the Lower Mainland, which in many ways it was.

But over the last two decades there's been a strong demographic shift; and evolution, natural selection and competition for prime habitat have had their positive effect on the community.

Pynenburg was ultimately able to convince Starbucks to give New Westminster a chance to prove itself and now there are several Starbucks locations in New Westminster.

New Westminster is changing and has changed, and demographics is driving that evolution. But there is still a very long way to go.

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