A town centre, ought to have a centre. Call it a public square, a ‘commons’ or a piazza. There must be a large, central publicly owned space for people to gather. This is the foundational element for successful town centres. Around that centre, density. A mix of homes, businesses, services and activities that make the central square the place you want to be. The centre must have gravitational pull. It’s a design challenge that many don’t succeed with. But around the world there are proven town centre successes. Portland is one. Copenhagen another. In the 1970s Copenhagen removed cars from the centre of town and replaced them with human feet. It was a great success. The community has considerable density – density that’s seldom higher than 5 storeys. It’s social for people, for meeting, walking, shopping, cycling, using transit, and it allows cars on its periphery – but it’s not so car dependent that a lack of one creates impediments to happy living. And it’s a safer environment for everyone, especially for children and elders.
While North Vancouver is not Copenhagen or Portland, there are design lessons and insights for our community. We have much more study and conceptual work to do if we are to create successful town centres that enrich community life. Town centres are so important to our future, our municipal government should not hand over leadership to real estate developers as they did in Lynn Valley. While developers are valuable and necessary participants in our projects, their interests are not directly aligned with community needs – as demonstrated by Vancouver’s current ‘nobody’s home/lights out’ vacant condos.
In the case of Lynn Valley Town Centre, the approach employed by Council, letting Bosa drive the bus, was stressful for the community and the outcome is mixed. After all the debate and study, transportation, traffic and transit issues were never properly addressed. We will find ourselves with more roads that could have been human spaces, more cars to congest Mountain Highway, Lynn Valley Road, Keith Road and Highway #1 entry points. And still no centre for this ‘town’.