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On the waterfront in North Vancouver
A great waterfront can energize a city unlike any other public space, says Eric Kuhne, founding partner of the urban design firm Civic Arts, a London-based company that's worked on waterfront projects around the world.
But if you just build another park or promenade, then the critical mass required to sustain those areas will fall numb. North Vancouver, however, has the opportunity to not only avoid such a pitfall but create “one of the greatest meeting places on the West Coast,” Kuhne says.
His first encounter with the North Van waterfront was nearly 20 years ago, while in Vancouver speaking at a conference. The area was still a working harbour in those days, he says, far removed from the budding civic precinct it is today.
Upon his return to North Van two years ago — a planned detour on Kuhne’s way up the Sea-to-Sky highway to Whistler — Kuhne says he was shocked at the changes the area had undergone and was excited by the development opportunities it presented unlike similar plots in the region.
“I couldn’t help but be moved at the difference between the green-glass forest of towers at Coal Harbour versus the scale, eccentricity, diversity and potential of North Vancouver’s waterfront,” Kuhne says.
“Instead of a passive forecourt for condo towers, perhaps the Lower Lonsdale area could capture a more vital and exotic part of city life.”
How to begin harnessing and fostering that vibe, Kuhne suggests, begins with ensuring a waterfront is full of services people access all the time. Holidays occur once a year and trips to the cinema might be a once-a-month thing. But dining happens daily and a mix of restaurants — pubs as well as high-end and cheap options — will work as a constant draw.
Where waterfronts go wrong, Kuhne warns, is by only offering residents and tourists “spectacles.” Museums and stores not tailored to the everyday experience will result in one-off trips from people. The best forms of retail are media-oriented vendors, such a world-class magazine shop, quality coffeehouses and mix of gift shops.
“That’s exactly what we did in Cockle Bay Wharf [a waterfront district in Sydney, Australia]. We opened with 14 restaurants and 5,000 seats. Today there’s 20 restaurants and 6,000 seats,” he says.
“But there’s a mix there. They have a convention centre, a museum and an aquarium. And they have ferries too. It’s a cluster of activities.”
Density is another key factor. There has to be people living close by or along transit corridors that can access the waterfront easily. Such planning already exists in the city, with Lonsdale Avenue serving as the platform for condo projects and numerous bus routes, but Kuhne says he’d propose even more “heavy density” in low-rise condo forms on Lonsdale south of Victoria Park to increase the number of people who would access the waterfront each day.
“Lonsdale and the North Vancouver waterfront have the ability to rival anywhere else in Greater Vancouver. You’ve got everything going for you — sun, ferries, active docks and one of the great skylines of the world,” says Kuhne.
“The trick is, you have to find out what people are missing in their lives. Whatever it is people won’t tolerate not having it and they’ll come to it. So ask people and pick and choose the bits that relate best to North Vancouver.”
The Outlook has covered various waterfront-related plans, discussions and decisions. Read about them here.
Gary Penway, the city’s director of community development, was expected to discuss his waterfront report with city council at its Feb. 23 meeting but the presentation was deffered until a later date.