The Royal City gives young families plenty of reasons to call it home
New Westminster is more than booming—it’s blossoming into a nexus of urban cool. Chic bistros, cocktail bars and juice cafés spill out from once-empty storefronts on downtown Columbia Street and in other neighbourhoods. A street-food truck festival rolls in every summer. The skyline is sprouting numerous new offices and condo towers that quickly fill with new occupants.
These are dramatic changes for a city whose retail sector had withered for decades after the Trans-Canada Highway opened in 1964. The new freeway skirted New Westminster, bypassing what had been a major commercial centre drawing shoppers from nearby Burnaby, Coquitlam and Surrey. Big department stores like Eaton’s, Kresge’s and Woolworths shuttered as consumers drove to suburban malls with their free parking lots.
People are now flooding back to New Westminster to live and work. Homebuyers fleeing Vancouver prices and suburban sprawl come for the compact, character-filled, walkable streets of Western Canada’s oldest city, which was founded in 1858. Commuters can choose from five SkyTrain stations that get them to downtown Vancouver within 25 minutes. And despite its growing urban amenities, this city of about 74,000 retains much of its small-town charm and friendliness. People know and greet their neighbours.
More New West residents will be able to work closer to home as employers keep expanding operations or setting up here. Developers, spurred by reasonable costs and available prime locations, are building millions of square feet of new office, industrial and retail space.
Last year, in one of the largest such deals in Metro Vancouver, clothier Aritzia LP snapped up 233,000 square feet of industrial land at the Queensborough Industrial Park. The South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink) recently leased 261,000 square feet, and the Health Sciences Association of British Columbia bought 28,000 square feet of offices in the new Brewery District mixed-use community. The site, which offers 1.4 million square feet of buildable space, will include shops and about 750 homes when it’s finished sometime in the next 10 years. After city council passed a bylaw in 2015 aimed at keeping young families in the community, all new multifamily buildings must include two- and three-bedroom units.
TransLink is one of the New West’s biggest employers, along with the Royal Columbian Hospital and the Port of Vancouver. The hospital, B.C.’s oldest and one of its busiest, began a $1.3-billion expansion in 2016. The port, which has been part of the city since its founding, contributes almost 11,000 jobs. These three pillars will ensure a stable base of employment for decades to come. The boom is here, with no bust on the horizon.
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 40.6%, 39.1%, 20.3%
University grads: 29.6%
Average household income: $84,821
Average household income under 45: $82,360
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 13.8%
Five-year population growth: 7%
Average detached home price: $1,159,700
Average condominium price: $529,100
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $1,400
Average annual household spending on shelter: $21,684
Key industries: Retail; professional, scientific and technical services; transportation; shipping; health care and social services
Notable employers: Fraser Health Authority (Royal Columbian Hospital); Port of Vancouver; South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink); Starlight Casino; Lowe’s Home Improvement
Regional unemployment: 4% (February)
Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $219,579,000
Change from 2016: 22.1%
Average processing time for a building permit: 180 days
Median cost of a business licence: $33-$2,700
Business property tax rate: $17.47 per $1,000 of assessed value
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: $21
Average retail lease rate: $12-$40
QUALITY OF LIFE
Major post-secondary institutions: Boucher Institute; CG Masters School of 3D Animation and Visual Effects; Douglas College; Justice Institute of British Columbia; West Coast College of Massage Therapy
Major recreational amenities: 22 outdoor playgrounds; 13 community parks, 10 with sports fields; two outdoor pools; indoor pool; five spray parks; three community gardens; two sand volleyball courts; 24 tennis courts; petting farm; two outdoor fitness parks
Key annual events: LitFest New West; Sapperton Day Street Festival; New West Grand Prix (cycling races); Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Festival; New Westminster Cultural Crawl; New West Pride Week; RiverFest
Average annual household spending on recreation: $4,204
Residents who walk or bike to work: 4%