February 2, 2016

Delbrook Lands – Small Piece of a Big Picture

Upon completion of the new $50-million Delbrook Recreation Centre in North Vancouver (map here), the existing 40-year-old centre will be demolished and replaced with … something. In the grand scheme of Lower Mainland development, this is small potatoes, but this process of ‘figuring out’ what’s going to replace the old centre on the District-owned 1.7-hectare site is an interesting case study in managing expectations.
The District of North Vancouver undertaking has paired up with Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue to engage local stakeholders about what their priorities are for the site. Last Thursday night, over 300 turned up to the Windsor House School gym to present their ideas and, let’s be honest, hope to persuade others to agree with them. Another 75 had to be turned away due to the venue’s limitations.
Site of Delbrook Lands – to be redeveloped
The new recreation centre, located 400 meters down the street, was approved partially with the understanding that costs would be leveraged by new development at the old site. However, District representatives at the event, including the Mayor, insisted this was not a legal requirement.
This site is located on two major arterials, one of which is a future part of the Frequent Transit Network, and about 600 meters north of Highway 1 access. It is an ideal place for some reasonable residential or mixed use to partially relieve the housing shortage endemic to the region. But the vocal majority preferred keeping it as some form of community or recreation-based use. Ironically, many claimed they were only thinking of the future in doing so.
At my table, several older participants worried about the added traffic that new residential would bring, and were also worried about what they felt was any development option necessarily having to sell off some of the public land. I don’t subscribe to either of these fears, but recognize that the anger many residents express about more people/cars/chaos is real. The feeling of having no control over what they feel is happening is also real.
The evening was a first step in determining what may happen with this piece of public land and event organizers ran things smoothly, respectful to all views and only a few soap-boxing trolls. It was a successful first step, and I’ll continue to participate.
Sitting around a table with a half dozen strangers discussing the ‘fate’ of a piece of land is a fine lesson in both civics and tolerance. And if nothing else, whichever proponents eventually ‘lose’, this thoughtful and considerate engagement process will soften the blow of their inevitable disappointment.

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