Downtown New Westminster is staging a remarkable comeback due to lots of political will, big investments, and youthful energy.
In many respects, Jonathan X. Cote—the “X” stands for Xerxes—is emblematic of the new New Westminster. Young, progressive, and well-educated, he was elected to city council seven years ago, at the tender age of 26. Cote, who topped the polls in the last two elections, is also a graduate student in the SFU urban-studies program and works part-time as an ICBC adjuster. Not only that, but he and his wife Alix are raising two young daughters, both under the age of five.
No wonder the busy councillor is looking a tiny bit harried as he sits down in a booth at the Heritage Grill, a funky Columbia Street restaurant, to discuss the revival of New West’s historic downtown.
“One of the main reasons we’re starting to see this upswing is actually the demographics,” Cote explains to the Georgia Straight. “Younger people and baby boomers are starting to appreciate the urban environment—and that urban feel is missing from most suburban communities in Metro Vancouver. This is actually becoming a value: being able to walk everywhere, being able to take public transit, being able to jump on a SkyTrain to go downtown.”
The 15.6-square-kilometre city boasts five rapid-transit stops, including the New Westminster and Columbia stations that bookend the downtown.
Cote acknowledges that the city, which was once the most important in British Columbia, went into a long decline that coincided with the rise of suburbia. But the presence of SkyTrain has finally spurred a rebound that’s apparent to anyone who walks through the downtown.
According to Mayor Wayne Wright, half a billion dollars have been invested in the area in recent years, and up to a billion around the entire municipality. This spring, the city will open a sparkling $33-million waterfront park covering 3.2 hectares just east of Westminster Quay. Civic officials hope it will attract more festivals and tourists to the area.