December 6, 2011

North Shore: The Living is Easy

The communities of the North shore offer safe, family-friendly housing in a pristine environment

BY STEVEN THRENDYLE

It’s pretty hard to imagine what Vancouver would look like without the North Shore mountains. Could you imagine Paris sans le Tour Eiffel, London without Buckingham Palace, or San Francisco disconnected from the Golden Gate?

Actually, it would be worse than that. For who, exactly, peers out the window of a downtown highrise on a gleaming winter’s day and marvels, “Gee, that Wall Tower sure is something!” The snow-clad mountain backdrop makes the creations of even the best-intentioned architect pale in comparison.

And to think that 175,000 lucky souls live there; spread between two districts (West Vancouver, North Vancouver), one city (North Vancouver), and Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations land. The Capilano River and watershed forms a natural boundary between West Vancouver and North Vancouver, but there are distinct neighbourhoods and commercial districts worthy of exploration. “Every day a new adventure” might be the perfect phrase to describe what living on the North Shore is all about. (How many local newspapers hired an ‘adventure writer’ like North Van’s “Super Dave” Norona?)

To call North or West Vancouver a ‘suburb’ of Vancouver is like calling Berkeley a suburb of San Francisco

The natural attractions are many – skiing, snowboarding, and hiking on Grouse, Cypress, and Mount Seymour, boating, kayaking, and canoeing on Indian Arm near Deep Cove, walking over the jiggling Lynn Canyon and Capilano Suspension bridges, fishing, golfing, mountain biking – it’s all here. From all of the ‘lifestyle’ advertising and imagery that North Van real estate marketers use, you might think you’re in Whistler.

Unlike most resort towns, the cultural and commercial vibrancy of the city of Vancouver is only a twelve-minute Sea Bus ride away. Indeed, to call North or West Vancouver a ‘suburb’ of Vancouver is like calling Berkeley a suburb of San Francisco. Like most of Vancouver’s suburbs, the communities of the North Shore are responding to worldwide demand for a kind of safe, easy, family-friendly housing that puts Canada so highly on city livability indexes.

From a jurisdictional point of view, there’s the City of North Vancouver, which starts on the shore of Burrard Inlet and runs all the way up Lonsdale, extending for a few streets west to Mackay Creek and east towards Park and Tilford Gardens.Celebrating its shipyard heritage, Lower Lonsdale is very much North Van’s lifestyle and cultural anchor; with a revitalized pier, Lonsdale Quay, SeaBus terminal, and boutique hotels. Highrise and condo development is taking place up and down Lonsdale – all the way from water’s edge to near the Trans-Canada Highway. It’s easy to see why – the neighbourhood truly retains a pedestrian friendly charm that favours small, independently owned stores and businesses.

Encircling the city, the larger District of North Vancouver is primarily zoned for single family homes. Notable neighbourhoods include family friendly Edgemont Village, tucked away on a flat plateau between Mosquito and Mackay Creeks, and Upper Lynn Valley with its perfect mixture of parkland, community centre, and commercial district. The waterfront community of Deep Cove is another favourite; with nearby Cates Park and Raven Woods — a successful housing partnership with the Tsleil-Waututh First Nations band.

Farther west, the stretch along Marine Drive was once a gauntlet of new and used auto lots and destination shopping malls. That’s starting to change, with several developers and municipal planners re-imagining this car-choked stretch to transform it into a bike and pedestrian friendly neighbourhood similar in nature to West Vancouver’s Dundarave. And while power centres with tenants like Future Shop and Save-On Foods (as well as Walmart and Sears, in Capilano Mall) still rule Marine, specialty shops similar to those found on Lonsdale have taken up residency as well.

While many North Shore residents either use transit or commute by car to workplaces throughout the Lower Mainland, all three communities will reap tremendous economic benefit from the recent shipbuilding contracts awarded to Seaspan Marine. The creation of 4,000 new manufacturing jobs is pretty much unprecedented.

Tourism businesses play a major role in the District of North Vancouver. Grouse Mountain, Capilano Suspension Bridge and Seymour Mountain fall within the district’s borders

For decades, buying a home in West Vancouver has been a lot like purchasing a DeBeers diamond necklace or a Bentley. “if you have to ask how much it costs, you probably shouldn’t be looking.” Geographically spread out from Taylor Way all the way out to Horseshoe Bay, its 46,000 residents — many of whom decamp to sunnier climes for winter — live a charmed life. With no manufacturing to speak of — it’s officially banned by municipal bylaw — West Vancouver’s defining elements are its highrise condo-lined waterfront and mountainside homes hewn from the coastal rainforest.

Park Royal was Canada’s first shopping mall and its sequel — the newer Park Royal Village — is one of Canada’s most successful in terms of sales per square foot as the parking lots filled with BMWs and Range Rovers will attest. However, traditional shops in Ambleside and Dundarave have a loyal clientele that goes back decades.

This is a neighbourhood where every morning, school buses shuttle students to private schools. Where long, winding streets leading to even steeper driveways, ending in palatial homes that are truly out of the pages of Western Living or Canadian House and Home. Though you’ll find more than one starter castle priced in the eight-figure range up in the British Properties, some of Canada’s most respected architects — Arthur Erickson, Bertram Binning, and Downs/Archambault, have taken advantage of the natural elements to create a West Coast Modern design ethic that is internationally celebrated.

As its genteel British heritage would suggest, urban renewal is coming to West Vancouver in a generally measured, thoughtful manner. West Vancouver is an aging community — with the second highest number of seniors in British Columbia — and services and neighbourhood planning must adapt to meet their needs.

The district is going through a comprehensive planning process that will enhance the quality of life and add to the number of services in the Ambleside Village Centre on Marine Drive. New towers, including seniors’ housing and rentals, will be added to the mix and help ensure that retirees can stay in the neighbourhood.

Above the Trans-Canada, British Properties owns the most desirable developable land left on the North Shore, if not all of British Columbia. The Rodgers Creek subdivision and Cypress Village shopping centre will add over 700 new homes on a 200-acre site located between the Upper Levels highway and Cypress Bowl Road.

With many of the Lower Mainland’s most loved parks and attractions and an increasing number of housing options, there is little doubt that North Shore residents will continue to enjoy perhaps the highest quality of life anywhere in Canada, if not the world.

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