October 11, 2011

Richmond City of The Future

The magnificent ice skating Oval and completion of the Canada Line were Olympic legacies that began the rapid development transforming Richmond into a truly exciting city of the 21st century.

BY STEVEN THRENDYLE

When Vancouver won the bid to host the 2010 Winter Games back in 2003, it would have been easy to predict the impact that hosting the Olympics would have on the mountain slopes of Whistler and spectator-packed arenas and venues in the city itself. Few, though, could have guessed how profoundly the Games would transform the city of Richmond.

Strollers outside Aberdeen Centre, a cultural hub and destination shopping centre.

Before the Games, many non-residents viewed Richmond as a pancake-flat suburb between the North and Middle Arms of the Fraser River – a place you unwittingly entered when you had to pick up a relative at Vancouver International Airport.

Those who explored this suburb more thoroughly were charmed by the historic fishing village of Steveston, surprised at the outstanding quality and diversity of Asian cuisine, and awed by the mountain and water vistas from an extensive riverside trail system.

Well before the Games began, it was easy to see how the architecturally stunning Richmond Oval – built to host the Winter Games’ long-track speed skating events – would become a focal point of pride for the city’s 190,000 plus residents. Thousands of people who had never even laced on skates came out to test the ice months before the torch was lit in February, 2010. The second major legacy from the 2010 Winter Games was no less impressive – completion of the long-awaited Canada Line light rail transit system that connects downtown Vancouver to Richmond in a little over 20 minutes.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie is an enthusiastic user of the Canada Line himself, but also notes that almost as many people ride the Line to access Richmond as those who ride it into Vancouver. “There is significant demand all day, every day – not just during peak hours.”

With highrise towers poking up from downtown and massive plans for lands surrounding the Richmond Olympic Oval, the city’s growth may seem phenomenal to the occasional visitor. However, Mayor Brodie says, “We’ve been growing consistently for the past 50 years; right now we’re in a reasonably rapid phase.” Indeed, StatsCan records relatively stable numbers of newcomers – one to two per cent annually over the past five years – putting the population at just over 190,000.

Now, post-Games, the Games’ legacy is paying off.

Richmond is, in fact, truly a city of the future. Home to dozens of industrial and commercial parks which house a variety of high-tech, green-tech, aerospace, and transportation-oriented businesses, Richmond is no longer a suburb of Vancouver, but an international, forward-looking community with ever-increasing ties to trade and commerce in the Pacific Rim. These businesses attract the most desirable kind of employees anywhere in the world – high-wage, highly sought-after “knowledge workers” in the fields of science, computer software engineering, technical support systems and aviation – MacDonald Detwiller Aerospace (MDA), Sage Software, Canadian Helicopter, and Sierra Wireless to name a few. Another major employer, and a key beneficiary of the Canada Line, is the Vancouver International Airport Authority.

Though the Canada Line carried its first passengers in 2009, light-rail line had been planned from Vancouver into Richmond Centre since the mid-1990s. Plans for Richmond’s city core, especially, called for greater zoning density in blocks immediately adjacent to the Canada Line. Which is where you’ll find Quintet, a multi-storey, multi-tower neighbourhood located right in Richmond’s retail and commercial “power centre.” This master-planned neighbourhood will feature five condominium towers and executive townhomes connected by a two-acre park. Quintet will also house the Richmond campus of Trinity Western University and a brand new community centre.

Much of Richmond’s future growth lies along its perimeter – to the north, along the North Arm of the Fraser, extending from River Rock Casino to west of the Olympic Oval. The centrepiece here is ASPAC’s massive River Green development, which partially occupies a former 600-acre farm that was purchased by the city in the 1970s for the then-princely sum of $1.5 million.

River Green will bring a similar level of luxury and opulence to its stunning river-front location that ASPAC brought to Vancouver’s Coal Harbour development. Meeting the equivalent criteria for a LEED Silver rating will make these residences attractive to environmentally-conscious buyers. The entire neighbourhood – collectively called Oval Village – will be also be home to Camber (MingLian Holdings) and Ora (Onni).

To the south, Fantasy Gardens, the floral theme park formerly owned by ex-B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm, is slated for extensive redevelopment. Finally, no story about Richmond’s rise would be complete without acknowledging the tremendously positive effect of recent Asian immigrants to Richmond, a trend that dates back to 1997 with the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese government.

Nowhere is this more evident than by visiting Aberdeen Centre, an “East meets West” gathering place that has become a cultural hub for not just the Asian community but also a destination shopping experience for everyone from the Lower Mainland. Its unique fusion of dining, entertainment and service amenities includes seven full-service restaurants, wireless Internet access in an 800-seat food court, exciting weekly arts and cultural performances, as well as the famous musical fountain show. There’s little doubt that as vibrant new neighbourhoods are created, Asian investors and families will contribute to the commercial success and cultural diversity of this truly emerging international city.

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