Winning visions of North Van waterfront revealed

Timothy Flores, centre, a Langara College planning student, won the Lot 5 design contest.  - Submitted photo
Timothy Flores, centre, a Langara College planning student, won the Lot 5 design contest.
— image credit: Submitted photo

The long-awaited revitalization of the North Vancouver waterfront took a real step toward tangibility last week as a dedicated group of design-minded North Van visioneers chose a winning plan for their foot-of-Lonsdale redesign contest.

The 60-day Project Waterfront: North Van Design Jam was hosted by the North Van Urban Forum, a citizen group that doesn’t pretend to have any legal claim to the 1.5-acre Lot 5 lands south of East Esplanade between Lonsdale Quay and St. Georges Avenue.

But that doesn’t mean the design contest hadn’t caught the attention of city officials. Attended by city councillors and staff, the design finale was judged by artists, architects, urban design experts and a city mayor who in 2011 ran on a promise to revitalize the waterfront lands.

“I think that there’s elements of all of these [designs] that could very well work at [Lot] 5,” Mayor Darrell Mussatto told The Outlook at the Nov. 29 event. “There’s activity space, public market space, retail space — they’re all thinking about components that would work down here.”

The mayor lauded the five finalists’ design recommendations  for things like a public market, skating rink, swimming pool, concert barge and theatre space.

“There’s something in each of these that I find really, really inspiring,” he said.

Contest rules meant that all entries had to include a Capilano University campus, a completed Spirit Trail, and the stern of the Second World War Victory-class ship Flamborough Head, which was built at the Lower Lonsdale site and today awaits its final commission under shrink wrap at Lot 5.

One victory that’s no long under wraps is that of design jammer Timothy Flores, whose six-part waterfront proposal took home the top honours.

His plan involves dedicated recreational and retail space alongside a possible North Vancouver museum building and year-round market. It’s all centred around a large plaza which can double as an ice rink next to a community garden and a playground.

“It’s about the aspirations of what the community wants it to be, the history of the place and the context of North Vancouver and the surrounding area,” the Langara College planning student said.

Building on that idea of a North Van identity, renowned sustainable cities expert and former Vancouver city councillor Gordon Price gave the event’s keynote address.

“We’re all very, very young in this part of the world. We don’t have a long story to tell but it can easily be forgotten,” Price said, noting that a century ago, North Vancouver was expected to become the area’s major centre for business, culture and industry, not Vancouver.

“It’s always been from the water, appropriately, into the mountains — Lonsdale. But that’s all shifted.”

Price said North Vancouver city has lost its connection to the water — both visually and culturally. But with projects like the waterfront redevelopment and the Spirit Trail east-west corridor happening, the city and the whole North Shore are in the midst of the kind of fundamental realignment that often comes only once in a community’s history, he said.

Mayor Mussatto told The Outlook the city would begin to tackle the Lot 5 rejuvenation project in the New Year “in a few bite-sized chunks” at a time, rather than all at once.

The process, he said, will first involve some remediation to shore up site stability before consultants are brought in to discuss things like retail potential and cultural amenities.

“We can’t just pour money in there,” Mussatto said, explaining that corporate partnership options and restaurant and retail leases will be explored for part of the site. “It has to help pay for some of those amenities on-site. We’re not trying to make any money but I don’t expect it to be hugely subsidized either.”

Urban forum founding member and design jam mastermind Ben Woodyatt said his group is under no illusions the city will follow any or all of their recommendations for Lot 5. He’s just happy they came out and got involved.

“We’d like to think that with so much open potential [for Lot 5] right now, that our main aim is just to involve the community in the development process,” Woodyatt said. “As North Van Urban Forum, we all have our own ideas about what we want to see on the waterfront, but we wanted to throw it open to the wider community because everybody has ideas about what should go there.”

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