Are Vancouver’s suburbs becoming hot? Vv Magazine’s West Coast Editor Alexandra Gill looks at how the cool kids are leaving downtown behind…
Not a single day goes by that we don’t come across one or two, usually several, stories about real estate in Vancouver.
The headlines are always emphatic: “Money from Mainland China Is Driving Up Prices!”, “As Canada Simmers, Vancouver Starts Boiling Again!”, “How The World’s Really, Really Rich Live In Vancouver!”, “A House For Your Horse Within City Limits: There Goes The Neighbourhood!”
Real estate news is a certifiable obsession in the world’s second-least affordable city. And for the average Joe, home ownership is an impossible dream. If you’re haven’t already invested in a little square footage, you might as well just fuhgeddaboudit.
So what is the typical urban-loving, space-craving, child-breeding hipster to do? Move east to New Westminster. Why is this suburb so cool? Let us count the ways…
Small Town In A Big City
The tiny, old city of New Westminster is actually a small town, not a suburb. Centrally located in the middle of the Lower Mainland — on the hilly north bank of the Fraser River, across the river from Surrey, between Burnaby and Coquitlam — the 153-year-old city was the colony of British Columbia’s first urban centre and pre-Confederation capital. In its post-WWII heyday, before the rise freeways and shopping malls, the downtown core, known as the “Golden Mile”, was a regional retail hub.
Because of its history, “New West” has character that the surrounding suburbs lack. The neighbourhoods are lined with wide streets, tall trees, and old homes that ooze charm.
New West is also the fastest growing and most rapidly densifying city in the province. Urban planners estimate that its population of 70,000 will double in the next 20 years. A new breed of young homebuyers, in the 25- to 39-year-old demographic, account for 24 per cent of the city’s population. No wonder New West has become the region’s new real estate darling.
Built before the rise of the automobile, New West is one of the most walkable cities in the province, unlike its surrounding suburbs, which were built for cars. Boasting five SkyTrain stations, the town is only a 20-minute transit ride away from downtown Vancouver. If you drive, traffic jams both ways can be a headache during rush hour, mainly because commuters from others areas take the detour over New Westminster’s Pattullo Bridge to avoid the toll booth on the Port Mann Bridge. But who commutes anymore? If you work from home or have flex hours, it’s easy sailing.
Where else can you buy a 1,900-square-foot character home in good condition on a huge lot with a garden for $500,000? In New West, you can still find old-fashioned fixer-uppers with wrap-around porches and loads of potential. Home prices are approximately $200.00 less per square foot than in Vancouver – and $100.00 less per square foot than in Burnaby.
The growing condo market has about 20,000 units and thousands more on the way. Developer Robert Fung, whose heritage restorations turned Gastown into a hipster haven, has converted the late 19th-century Trapp + Hollbrook buildings into a 20-storey high rise. A roomy two bedroom with loft ceilings and water views starts at $339,000.
One of the coolest condo conversions is the C2C Lofts, built overtop of the New Westminster Police Station. At least you’ll be safe living there. Like any desirable area of gentrification, New West still has grit and a fair bit of crime.
Westminster Pier Park turned a crumbling industrial sinkhole into a grassy promenade. At the end of the park sits the newly revitalized River Market at Westminster Quay. Probably the coolest “mall” ever built, it features a fantastic food court (Longtail Kitchen, Re-Up BBQ, Wild Rice, and Wally’s Burgers), a year-round famers’ market, artisan booths, great shops (including Mid-Century Modern Home), the Vancouver Circus School, and the Network Hub, an open-concept co-working space for creative professionals with dedicated desk space and private office rentals.
Like we said, why commute when you get work next to a circus school and take trapeze lessons on your break? It gets even better now that there is a plan to landscape the old Timber Wharf into an artificial sandy beach like the ones that line the Seine River in central Paris. Don’t forget to bring the sunscreen to your next morning meeting.
Trendy Restaurants and Retailers
The lower downtown streets are filling up with trendy restaurants and indie stores. There’s the Old Crow Coffee Co., the vegetarian-friendly Coming Home Café, and Localo Living Espresso Bar, where lavender lattes can be ordered with acclaimed pastries from Vancouver Pie Hole, Cartems Donuterie, and To Die For. There’s also a gelato shop, an Italian bakery, Steel & Oak microbrewery, and the awesome Brick and Mortar Living, an excellent home décor and gift shop that has recently expanded with a pop-up art gallery two doors down.
Your Kids Will Score
Every Halloween, the Vancouver architecture firm BTAWorks conducts a survey of the best neighbourhoods for trick or treating. Every year, Queen’s Park in New Westminster lands on or near the top of the list, with close to 400 costumed candy seekers knocking on front doors. The count is done for fun, but the numbers also indicate which neighbourhoods have the strongest social cohesion. #NewWest: where hipsters go to have kids.
Do you think BC’s New Westminster is the new Brooklyn? Share us your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.