Community and outdoor areas are becoming increasingly important as homebuyers consider how exterior spaces enhance the livability of new developments and how they support social interaction, says Ryan Thé, vice-president of development at Wesgroup Properties.
“It’s clear the general population is moving away from requiring a lot of privatized space – people don’t just want to buy a home, they want to buy into a neighbourhood,” says Thé. “This puts good pressure on us as developers to not only carefully design what is in the building but also how it connects to the newly built or existing community, and we’re up for the challenge. To achieve it is to focus on placemaking and looking at communal spaces and public spaces.”
One such space is the Brewery District in New Westminster, a master-planned, mixed-use development on the former Labatt Brewery site at East Columbia Street and Brunette Avenue.
The nine-acre site comprises several different types of public space, including a plaza with seating areas, tables where office workers and employees from places such as nearby Royal Columbian Hospital can enjoy lunch, a dedicated children’s playground and linear parks that connect to the hospital and transit.
There are also public viewing decks so residents – in the Brewery District and from neighbouring single-family homes – can view the scenic backdrop of the Fraser River, says Thé.
In the District of North Vancouver (DNV), Lions Gate Village , a master-planned community at the corner of Capilano Road and Marine Drive, is guided by a public realm strategy that focuses on creating a pedestrian-oriented neighbourhood with community facilities and new parks plus green spaces that connect to existing local parks and trails.
Rebecca Nguyen, director of development for Citimark, one of the companies with a project in the burgeoning Village, says feedback shows that exterior space is an important factor for buyers.
“Exterior space is immensely important – townhouses or homes that face open space or green space are valued more highly,” she says.
While residents of Citimark’s Belle Isle , a three-storey stacked townhouse development, will be able to enjoy their own courtyard and rooftop decks, they will also benefit from enhanced community outdoor space, including a revitalized park, improved access to trails and proximity to a woonerf or living street, a concept originally implemented in the Netherlands.
According to the DNV, the woonerf, named Lions Gate Lane in 2019 after a public consultation, was originally conceived as a pedestrian-friendly street about 10 years ago. As neighbourhood input progressed through the local planning and application stage, the ideas for this street continued to be refined to create a space to accommodate slow-moving traffic while also being a comfortable space for pedestrians and cyclists, and that could occasionally be closed to traffic for special events.
When Citimark assembled the site for Belle Isle, it purchased a redundant road that previously serviced the homes and also transferred land to DNV to contribute to the redevelopment of Belle Isle Park, which will be expanded from 1, 500 to about 5,700 square metres. The new park will connect to a network of green and open spaces that will run through the Village, says Nguyen.
The area’s planning is reflective of how society is changing.
“When the original houses were built, subdivisions focused on cars and a cul-de-sac design where you drove up to the front door and parked your car. Now we’re more focused on pedestrian and bicycle-friendly connections, walkability to community centres, bus stops and transit-oriented developments,” she says.
Nguyen says the design of Belle Isle is based on the concept of people walking out of their front doors into public areas without needing to cross a road to get to gathering spots.
Work has started on the Belle Isle site, and the first homeowners are expected to take possession of their townhouses in fall 2021, says Nguyen.
Nic Jensen, vice-president of sales, Onni Group, notes amenities are not limited to green space features but also include shops and services that benefit people who live in the development and the broader community.
Outdoor amenities do influence potential buyers, confirms Jensen.
“This is valuable land, and the developer, the city (municipality), landscape architects and architects put in plenty of time and thought. A lot of time and money go into these decisions.”
He notes Cambie Gardens , Onni’s master-planned community on 25-acres of land between Cambie and Heather Streets from West 57th to West 59th Avenues, is an example where outdoor space will complement the residential towers and townhouses on the site.
While the first phase is scheduled for completion in late 2021, the development will ultimately include more than 2,000 new homes along with significant outdoor amenities such as a two-and-a-half-acre park, a central plaza and even a one-acre urban farm along with retail space to accommodate a grocery store and other shops and services.
Hardscaping – pathways and plazas – will provide a foundation for the outdoor areas, while soft scaping – the living elements such as trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers – are designed to enhance the overall look.
The planting design for Cambie Gardens begins along the perimeter streets where trees such as Red Maples, Hornbeams, and Katsura have been carefully chosen to be consistent with the larger Cambie Gardens street network.
Within the development, the planting design ranges from broadleaf evergreens to provide year-round green buffers to perennials, grasses and groundcovers that provide seasonal texture and colour. There are also drought-tolerant and native plants such as Red Currants and Nootka Rose to reduce water demands.
One of the unique features at Cambie Gardens is the existing one-acre urban farm. Jensen says the objective is for the farm to continue to operate and provide hands-on opportunities for children to learn how food is grown – ideally run by a local group that currently offers an on-site program to neighbourhood schools.