Friday, September 18, 2009

New West - Centre of the Universe?

Or at least Metro Vancouver. New West is in a unique and somewhat odd position. Historically, it was one of the major urban centres and the first colonial capital of B.C. However, as development focused in on Vancouver, New West seems to have lost its way. Now, as part of Metro Vancouver, it is in the middle of the pack as far as population goes, but sandwiched between the big cities of Burnaby and Surrey.

The geographical benefits of New West
o 10 minute drive to Central Surrey,
o 15 minutes to Surrey Docks, Newton, Metrotown, Coquitlam Town Centre
o 20 minute drive to Central Richmond
o 25 minute drive to YVR, the US Border, Cloverdale and Langley
o 30 minute drive to Downtown Vancouver
o 35 minute drive to Deltaport.
o Two rapid transit lines connecting to Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey
o Reasonable bus schedules (through Uptown/Downtown at least)
o Easily walkable neighbourhoods
o On the North/West side of the Fraser (Crossing the Fraser is a major psychological barrier the further you get away from it, and depending on traffic a major physical one as well)

The geographical challenges of New West
o Sandwiched between Burnaby and Surrey, attention is drawn away from New West to the bigger cities
o Hilly terrain, affects mobility, particularly in winter.
o No port facilities within the city

While it is mentioned in passing in places like the Official Community Plan (OCP), I don’t see how we are really leveraging our position. This is just a quick list of potential businesses types and agencies that could potentially benefit from locating in New West.

- Distribution centres
- Couriers
- Shipping
- Sales
- In-home services (cleaning, cooking, nursing)
- News reporting
- Private investigators
- Trades (Plumbers, electricians, etc)
- Construction Management
- Consulting Firms
- Auto parts
- Pilot Car Operators
- Movie Servicing
- Construction Supplies and Equipment

- Regional policing
- Taxis
- Postal Centre
- Corrections/Probations
- Hydro/Utilities
- Revenue Canada
- Children’s Ministry
- Metro Vancouver Parks

Essentially any kind of business or agency that needs to work throughout Metro Vancouver or needs decent connections to major transportation infrastructure (highways, docks, airports, border crossings) could potentially benefit from locating in New West.

In addition to location, New West has a number of other positives that make it attractive for business, including

Land Costs – Low office rates compared to region. Lower land costs than Vancouver, higher than south of Fraser
Taxes – comparable with the region.
Labour availability – local labour is available, however New West is a job neutral-job creating city, so immediately local labour may be lower than average. However, strong transit connections should mitigate this somewhat. Another issue identified in the background of the OCP is the average education of the local area is below the regional average. Along with being distant from the two major post-secondary institutes, this can make attracting high-tech business more difficult.
Image/Prestige of Area – Downtown is negative due to crime
Parking and accessibility – generally cheaper and more available than most of the region.


Under the OCP, Uptown is meant to be the Professional/High Tech centre, Downtown is the historical tourist and retail (maintaining some office and professional), Sapperton/Braid the Manufacturing centre and Queensborough the heavy industrial site. However, it is not just enough to designate certain areas for certain types of development, and restrict that through the development process. How are we encouraging business in general and the specific types of businesses we want to start or move to New West?

Two of the items identified in the OCP:

Promote new office development – this puts the cart before the horse. Construction follows demand. We need to promote professional and office based businesses to locate within New West, as they require more office space construction will follow to meet the needs.

Vibrant streetscapes – badly needed downtown to improve the perception of the area
Industrial – just platitudes on supporting and promoting for more jobs, consolidated facilities, and specialized areas.

To their credit, the city is working on some of the foundational type work such improving transportation infrastructure. However, this is moving very slowly and there appears to be little support outside of this. Business services consist of Initial Building Consultation, which is only for construction. Very little is on city website about business development or support for business, just a hard to find reference to BIA and Chamber of Commerce. While I have not spoken to them, from all accounts city staff are very helpful when calling, but who will call if they can’t get the information they need beforehand?

Despite all our benefits, the city seems content to do some of the work identified in the plan, put out less information and let the business community find us. The biggest problem New West has is being found amongst the other bigger cities. The city needs to take on a strongly active role in promoting itself to business, lest we lose our position as a job creator and settle into being just another suburb.


  1. Completely agree with your comments about the city making more efforts to attract more businesses to locate in New West before building more office space.

    I'm a bit surprised to read the breakdown of industries by neighbourhood as laid out in the OCP. East Columbia St. in Sapperton, for example, is starting to beat out the downtown part of the street in terms of small business retail presence. There are a ton of great little shops that have recently opened up there. I would think Downtown would be a better fit as a professional/high tech office environment due to proximity to SkyTrain for commuters. Uptown seems better suited for residents' shopping requirements.

    Nice start to the blog, by the way. Let us know if you're interested in a guest post or a collaboration of some kind!

  2. Thanks Briana! Yes, downtown seems to have its little niches, but it feels like it's stagnating. While I don't get out there as much as I'd like, the E. Columbia area has more of an - almost optimistic - feeling. Is it just me, or does the OCP seem very out of date?

    Thanks for stopping by - I would love to do some kind of collaboration with you. I don't know exactly what you had in mind, but I would be happy to trade guest columns, quote stories, or whatever else you were thinking. I really like a lot of the stories you have over there, so you can expect a fair number number of links from me.

    Funnily enough, I started this blog for the exact same reasons you started TTTF. If I had found it before I started this one, I probably wouldn't have done it:) Keep well

  3. The more the merrier! But we should definitely work together. Guest posts are a good place to start! What is your Twitter handle?