Parks, beer, transit: A neighbourhood is born at Vancouver's South Cambie

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      Most people save downsizing for their retirement years, but Vancouver’s Kevin Li recently went from a house to a condo at age 37. He swapped the bigger space his home offered for a place that came with built-in community, one that’s springing up around Marine Drive at the south foot of Cambie Street in Vancouver—an area that, until recently, consisted mostly of a scattering of low-rise offices and barren industrial land.

      Li was one of the first people to move into Marine Gateway, an 830,000-square-foot mixed-use development that anchors the burgeoning neighbourhood known by the City of Vancouver as Marine Landing.

      At his doorstep are a T & T Supermarket, Dublin Crossing Irish pub, Winners, Starbucks, Shoppers Drug Mart, liquor store, and other shops, services, and restaurants, including Pink Elephant Thai, an 11-screen Cineplex VIP movie theatre, and a Steve Nash Fitness World.

      Then there’s the Canada Line’s Marine Drive Station and the South Vancouver bus exchange. Coming soon are a car-share program and a bike mobility centre for service and repairs.

      “I grew up seven minutes away at Fraser and 49th and I work two blocks away, so I was familiar with the area,” says Li, a TV and video producer who is coproducing Omni TV’s new House My Style show. “I really like areas where you don’t have to commute. I downsized from a house to be in 500 square feet to be able to get what I need when I need it without driving and polluting the environment.

      “It feels like a neighbourhood,” he adds. “I’m overlooking a school [Laurier Annex] and a big park [Ash Park]. If I decided to get a dog, it would be a great place to take my dog to. The area is pretty bustling. I went inside the pub the other night and there were so many people having a nice beer. People from the neighbourhood didn’t have a pub before, and this is their place now. If we want to see a more green Vancouver, we do have to build communities like these, where there’s density and where businesses can survive.”

      More homes, businesses, and amenities are coming to the neighbourhood within Marpole that’s bordered by 64th Avenue to the north and the Fraser River to the south, and roughly between Heather and Manitoba streets. The Peninsula Group is opening a new Chinese restaurant at Marine Gateway in late spring.

      Several other housing developments are under way, including projects by Onni, Intracorp, Concord, and Marcon. From Marine Drive Station, it’s a 15-minute ride on the Canada Line to downtown and a nine-minute trip to the airport.

      The new Marine Gateway is expected to house about 750 new residents alone.

      The area is just one that is included in the city’s Cambie Corridor Plan, with rapid transit being the catalyst for significant change. Among the principles outlined in the plan are to create walkable and cyclable neighbourhoods seamlessly linked to public transit, to provide a range of housing choices and affordability, and to create complete communities—defined as a land-use mix “that offers a variety of opportunities to work, live, shop, play, and learn”.

      “The Marine Landing area is quickly transforming from an area that has lacked neighbourhood shops and services into a highly walkable, vibrant urban area that responds to its evolving residential context, adjacent industrial area, and relationship to the Fraser River,” says Anita Molaro, assistant director of planning at the City of Vancouver. “New walking and cycling routes through the neighbourhood will provide safe and attractive connections to transit, shops, parks, and other key destinations.

      “A new 10-acre park at the foot of Cambie, as close to the Fraser River as possible, is planned for the area,” she adds. “Improvements to existing parks in the area, including Winona Park and Ash Park, are also planned.”

      Other amenities to come include a nonprofit space that supports families with young children and two 37-space child-care facilities for two of the new developments (the Northwest and Marine Gardens).

      Public art is part of the plan too. Marine Gateway, for instance, features baskets by Coast Salish artist Susan Point, a member of the Musqueam First Nation, and a statue of Simon Fraser by Ken Lum, among other works.

      The city also identified ensuring job space and diversity as part of the Cambie Corridor Plan. The land where the Marine Gateway development now sits used to consist of a vacant lot and an ICBC office employing about 60 people. With the project’s office tower, more than 2,000 people will be working there. Between the Canada Line station and the bus exchange, the site will generate approximately two million transit trips per year.

      “One of the strong arguments made for approval [of Marine Gateway] was placing that number of jobs right on transit,” says Andrew Grant, president of PCI Developments Corp., which developed Marine Gateway. “Transit was the draw. We believed that the Canada Line would be transformational for the city. The station site together with buses made it a natural place to take density.

      “This area has never had a real village or town centre before,” Grant says. “The energy that transit brings to the neighbourhood is something that existing homes are going to benefit from.”

      About 750 people are expected to live at Marine Gateway (which has 461 residential units, including 46 rental homes), while the Marine-Cambie intersection alone will be home to about 2,000 residents once other projects are complete.

      Though he’s still getting used to his smaller space, Li enjoys the area’s convenience and vibrancy. He can walk to other nearby shops like Superstore; he can be gone in a flash if he wants to hit the highway for a weekend south of the border; and it’s easy for friends to meet him for dinner and a movie via the Canada Line.

      “It’s been a big adjustment, but I don’t have to drive anywhere; everything is right downstairs,” Li says. “I like the density. I’m very happy with where I am.”

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