In her short series of blogs, Cities for Families, Canadian urbanist Jillian Glover showcases how local governments, non-profits and the private sector are working to create a family friendly city in Vancouver. This third instalment of the series spotlights the private sector, examining how Wesgroup Properties is achieving this goal with its latest project, River District.
Several months ago, I took my son to a friend’s birthday party at her new home in River District, a recently developed community along the Fraser River in South Vancouver. The day started with Halloween crafts offered at River District’s community centre, which is operated by the developer, Wesgroup. Within five minutes walking distance, we then visited the local farmer’s market (hosted by Wesgroup), played at the playground, strolled along the seawall, and went back to their two-bedroom condo to celebrate with drinks and cake. Later that evening, we went to a Halloween drive-in movie (also organized by the Wesgroup).
This is how you experience a community where the developer is creative in prioritizing the needs of families and children. The goal of the series, Cities for Families, is to provide examples of how the public, private and non-profit sectors are creating family-friendly cities. It is my hope that these sectors continue to join forces to build homes that are affordable and appealing to families like yours and mine.
A Master Plan for Families
River District was a product of this type of collaboration. Wesgroup worked closely with the City of Vancouver and community groups to bring to life the vision of a master-planned, walkable community for all ages.
“We have invested a great deal of time in building out a truly pedestrian oriented community where families can live, work and play and our vision is starting to unfold,” said Beau Jarvis, Senior Vice President of Wesgroup.
It took 10 years of community consultation to produce an Official Development Plan for River District, currently the largest master planned community in Vancouver. From the beginning, the City of Vancouver’s goal was to work with the developer and local community to make it appealing to families. Public engagement was paramount in creating the Official Development Plan, which requires that 35% of all units to be suitable for families with children.
“Through multiple levels of consultation including social community gatherings, neighbourhood and public open houses, third party telephone surveys and polls, a committee, design charrettes and direct feedback, we were able to better understand what the community wants and needs from River District,” said Beau. “We are committed to continuing to offer these touch points throughout the development of this project.”
Design + Amenities = Family-Friendly
River District offers one, two and three-bedroom suites in order to provide housing options that meet the diverse needs of families. There is also a selection of four-bedroom suites, two-level townhomes and lock-off units that can covert from a three-bedroom home to a two-bedroom with a nanny suite or a mortgage helper. In addition to market homes, a rental building is currently under construction.
Functional home design is only part of the package. Beyond the front door, River District will provide over 25 acres of planned parkland, an elementary school, community centre, daycare facilities, and local businesses (including banks, a grocery store, coffee shop and a liquor store), all in a walkable community. Residents can also head outside to a private park, community garden plots, a children’s play area, or for a walk, jog, or cycle on paths along the Fraser River. “Through a series of touch points we identified the need for walkable amenities, safety and green space for families,” said Beau.
Thinking outside the box
Unlike most master-planned communities, Wesgroup has gone beyond the requirements of the Official Development Plan to offer creative, fun activities for residents. Before any residential towers were built, they added a restaurant and community centre, which they own and operate.They also support a weekly farmers market, drive-in movies, co-ed sports leagues, fitness and community classes. According to Beau:
“We approached the use of the land from a different perspective. Rather than allowing the lot to sit vacant, we created engaging public spaces throughout the community. From our community centre that has something for everyone; from social events like movie nights and knitting clubs, to fitness classes, to our weekly summer farmers market and drive in movies, or restaurants and a grocery store; we want to build community and ensure that residents have everything they need at their fingertips.”
The developer’s initiative and creativity led the Urban Development Institute to give River District’s Community Centre the Award for Excellence for ‘Best Outside the Box.’ “The 6,200-square-foot centre engages the surrounding community through a variety of partnerships, activities and events that bring both the young and the young-at-heart to the area,” reads the UDI press release.
In most cases, we expect local governments to set the requirements for master-planned communities while developers do the bare minimum to meet those requirements. River District shows how developers can think beyond the plan, work with the community and use imagination to build a neighbourhood that is fun for all ages.