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Progress Report: CNV's Shipyards District is an urban jewel

At the geographic centre of the North Shore, the City of North Vancouver brings a dose of urban cool to scenic backdrop of North Shore mountains and working harbour.
Progress Report CNV 03 MW web
In the span of a couple decades, the City of North Vancouver has taken what was literally an industrial wasteland and transformed it into a thriving urban hot spot.
Note: This story originally appeared in the North Shore Progress Report, a special feature section of the North Shore News, June 22, 2022, print edition. 
At the geographic centre of the North Shore, the City of North Vancouver brings a dose of urban cool to the scenic backdrop of the North Shore Mountains and a working harbour.

An economic and cultural hub, the city has seen significant transformation in recent years.

Long gone are the pawn and head shops and vacant lots of decades past in Lower Lonsdale. In their place: a vibrant cultural and pedestrian heart of the city, along with an ever-expanding mix of housing options.

Fun in all four seasons

If you’re looking for the younger, hipper version of the North Shore, you’ll find them in the city. Whether that’s attending a festival at the revitalized Shipyards District, enjoying a pint in the growing brewery district or stopping to take in an exhibit at the breathtaking Polygon Gallery or brand new MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver, the city brings a dose of modern spice to the North Shore’s laid-back vibe.

With its glittering views across Burrard Inlet as a backdrop, the city’s Shipyards District is the jewel in its Lower Lonsdale crown. Built on the site of the former Versatile Pacific Shipyard, since its opening three years ago the pedestrian-friendly district at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue has successfully mixed crowd-pleasing eateries, a regular night market, and venues for both public and private events. In summer, music festivals, concerts and outdoor movie nights add to the happening scene, while families can cool off in the splash park.

This September saw the Shipyards Festival go ahead with a killer band lineup. In winter, the outdoor skating rink has also proved a popular destination. Cool weather this year saw the extension of the skating rink’s regular season past its usual February closing date until after spring break. In April, the Shipyards also played host to the popular national Rogers Hometown Hockey celebration.

Future improvements, funded by the province, will include efforts to turn The Shipyards into a true four-season destination.

In the cultural realm, the photography-based Polygon Gallery offers a visually stunning entrance to the Shipyards District that has netted it three architectural awards in the past year.

December also marked the opening of the new Museum of North Vancouver (or MONOVA, as it prefers to be known), after decades of planning for a new home.

Unlike museums of previous generations, however, this museum isn’t just about the past. It’s also very much about how the past informs and shapes the present.

The city is the smallest municipality on the North Shore, but it packs a punch. It’s the most densely populated area, packing in about 10 times the population density of its more suburban neighbours.

Compared to the rest of the North Shore, the City of North Vancouver’s population is also growing at a much faster rate. The population grew about 10 per cent – from about 53,000 people to 58,000 between 2016 and 2021.

People living in the city are also younger. Millennials – those aged 25 to 40 – make up just 10.8 per cent of West Vancouver’s population but comprise 25 per cent of the population in the city.

In the past decade, the number of children living in the city has also increased 17 per cent.

Part of the reason for the city’s robust population growth is its varied housing stock. Far fewer people live in single-family homes in the city than in neighbouring areas of the North Shore. In fact, the majority of people live in apartments. 

Not surprisingly, some areas of the city have been growing faster than others. The blocks around the bustling Lower Lonsdale have been among the fastest growing areas, while Central Lonsdale and the new developments around Moodyville have all experienced a recent boost.

Like the rest of the North Shore, living in the City of North Vancouver does not come cheap. Assessed values on condos rose an average of 10 per cent between 2021 and 2022, hiking a condo worth $690,000 last year to a value of $762,000 this year. More recently, the median selling price of a “benchmark” North Vancouver condo was over $800,000. 

The City of North Vancouver’s roots as a burgeoning highrise heaven for urban-dwellers goes back a number of decades, to when the city sold off land it owned in the Lower Lonsdale area for development, jump-starting the highrise trend and also boosting city coffers. More recently, the city has focused efforts on redevelopment of key urban areas of Lower and Central Lonsdale to keep up with housing demand. “Gentle density” is being added to previously single-family neighbourhoods in some central areas of the city, through approvals of zoning for duplexes and row houses.

Making space for affordable housing also continues to be a focus. Earlier this year, tenants moved in to a new affordable housing project on East 20th in Central Lonsdale that boasts 85 below-market rentals after over a decade in development.

Racing to add rapid transit

Other purpose-built rental apartment projects, including a portion that is to be kept at below-market rates, are currently in the works for Upper Lonsdale and Mosquito Creek.

And 27 families moved into the city’s second-ever co-housing project in the past year, in a project aimed at creating “social sustainability and resilience.” 

As well as increased housing options, the City of North Vancouver has long advocated for better North Shore transportation. The city, along with other North Shore municipalities, has been pushing TransLink for better rapid transit, including the Marine Drive RapidBus service. It’s also been a strong proponent of more “active transportation,” including the all-ages bike network.

In 2021, the North Shore’s e-bike sharing program launched in the city, hitting the streets with e-bike sharing provider Lime deploying a fleet of 200 electric-assist bikes for rent.

On the horizon for the future: a plan to add a significant chunk of active transportation infrastructure through a proposed greenway north of the Upper Levels Highway, through the Westview and Tempe neighbourhoods. If all that talk of biking, walking and running around has got you thirsty, you’re in luck! 

The City of North Vancouver’s brewery district on East Esplanade is growing by leaps and bounds. Originals like Beere Brewing and House of Funk have quickly been joined by other craft brewers like Shaketown Brewing, Copperpenny Distillery, Windfall Cider, Streetcar, North Point and newcomer Braggot Brewing. Breweries and distilleries in the area now number over a dozen – perfect for your next pub crawl.

More food trucks and carts are also being welcomed across the City of North Vancouver this summer in designated spots, under a pilot program.

It’s a lot of activity to pack into a limited geographic space, but the city isn’t resting on its laurels. On tap for the future, a plan to revitalize a new destination in the city’s Harbourfront area, including a new public plaza at the foot of Fell Avenue, a children’s play area, shoreline habitat improvement and an off-leash dog area as part of the Kings Mill Walk Park master plan.

The other big project underway: the rebuild of the city’s Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre in Upper Lonsdale, scheduled to open in 2025.

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