“Five years ago, I couldn’t imagine looking anywhere outside of my beloved Mount Pleasant ‘hood, let alone anywhere east of the Drive. But when my girlfriend — now my wife — moved in with me in 2006, space quickly became a premium in our creaky 620-square-foot leasehold apartment on East 14th Avenue. There weren’t any two-bedroom places available in the area for less than $300,000 — and those that were anywhere near that price were unlivable and needed extensive renovations.
Stubborn as I was, she convinced me to look outside Vancouver for places to live.
Not live in Vancouver? I hated the idea — I mean, I really hated it. I was adamant that I be able to walk to a cafe or a pub without having to follow a maze of residential streets or cross highways to get there. I wanted to be part of a community, not a matrix of parking lots and six-lane freeways.
Realistically, though, we had to get a bigger place. In desperation, we checked out options in Coquitlam and Burnaby — both of which, as I expected, made owning a car a necessity. Richmond and Surrey were, for me, out of the question. I wanted more character than the bland, cookie-cutter architecture I saw out there.
One night, I was looking on MLS.com. When I narrowed the search down to two-bedroom apartments under $300,000, to my surprise a huge cluster of affordable apartments showed up in New Westminster and not much west of there.
“What about New Westminster?” I asked my then-girlfriend. We’d been there once or twice on day excursions, and for a change, I didn’t feel a knot in my stomach when I considered the possibility of living there.
We quickly learned we could easily get a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment within our budget and it wasn’t long before we secured a great place at the top of Carnarvon Street with a beautiful south-facing view of the Fraser River and plenty of sun. Two years later, we don’t feel the need to be closer to anything, because, well, everything’s already nearby.”
“It’s not only more affordable than Vancouver, it’s brimming with character, artist studios, indie cafes, old parks, and fixer-upper opportunity. Young people are moving out here in droves, and Mayor Wayne Wright is openly courting them. The city’s downtown core also is one of the most densely populated areas in the Lower Mainland.
This is more than a story about the revival of New West. It also may be about the salvation of Vancouver. As B.C.’s biggest city verges on becoming a reserve for the wealthy, it chases away the younger, creative talent that gives a big city its lifeblood and secures its future as a productive centre. Do those priced out move 20 minutes away on SkyTrain? Or, as so many do, do they leave for Toronto, Montreal or cheap and cheerful Saskatoon? When New York got too expensive for the creative young people that make New York hum, other places separated by bridges and tunnels became home to that population — most famously Brooklyn.”
Urban issues journalist Frances Bula hears the future in conversations around her Vancouver dinner table.
“I know that my 29-year-old son and his friends, who are artsy and not very rich, often talk about New Westminster as a place they’d consider,” Bula tells me. “It has beautiful old buildings, a sense of place and… it’s easy to get to by transit.”
In fact, she adds, “New West is attractive because it’s one of the few areas outside downtown Vancouver with a sense of history. There are a few more areas scattered around the region — lower Lonsdale, Annieville, Steveston, Fort Langley, Cloverdale.
“But,” Bula continues, “New West is closer and not so suburban feeling as North Van. I see it possibly being more like Georgetown in Seattle or Williamsburg in New York.”
One person’s gritty, of course, is another’s alarm bell. In December, Maclean’s magazine ranked New Westminster Canada’s 15th most dangerous city.
New Westminster’s varied edges makes it a natural locale for the movie industry, actor and stuntman Patrick Sabongui says.
“You can look in one direction and be in New York City. Look in another direction, and you’re in Paris.”
– from ‘Vancouver Needs a Brooklyn, and New West Could Be It’, Keith Mackenzie, The Tyee, 5 May 2012 [hat-tip Jeff Murdock, and, via e-mail, Aldus Huxtable]
A good article, in many ways; worth the full read.
New Westminster sounds like it has all sorts of things going for it, without needing to be likened to anywhere else.
Similarly, Vancouver is a fine city that doesn’t gain by desperate wannabe labels like “Vanhattan“.