August 6, 2019

Tony Valente and The Shipyard Commons

City of North Vancouver Councillor Tony Valente has been involved with The Shipyards development for at least ten years as a community member, leader, and now a City Councillor.  I asked Tony to tell the story of his involvement and how The Shipyards Commons came to be.  He begins with referring to the “bloodlessly named” Lot 5 that was his motivation for engaging with local government back in 2009.

I was one of a group of neighbours in Lower Lonsdale (LoLo) who petitioned the City to get moving on the North Van central waterfront following the failure of the National Maritime Project.   The petition was, sadly, promptly filed by City Council following my delegation and presentation.

It wasn’t over, of course. The petition connected me with other neighbours, including the owner of the Cafe for Contemporary Art (Tyler Russell who has continued to spread culture across our province) – where we held our own guerrilla consultation, discussing elements of what could be on Lot 5. That turned into a non-profit society – the North Van Urban Forum – which brought together a diverse group of community members to transparently and openly engage in ideas for developing our public realm.

One of our first events, The Commons: Sharing Public Spaces (download the summary report) focused on what people look for in common spaces and sought to connect those ideas with Lower Lonsdale.

There were presentations from Capilano University (now part of The Shipyards project), the North Vancouver Museum and Archives (soon to open in LoLo), panels on sustainable building design and district energy (The Shipyard’s ice sheet will create heat for the Lonsdale Energy Corporation) and a host of others.

All of our efforts culminated in a Design Jam for Lot 5, with celebrity judges Darrell Mussatto and Gordon Price. You can download the report, Project Waterfront: North Van Design Jam.

While some of the designs were more abstract, others were not far off the mark. One proposal featured a floating swimming pool off of the Shipyards Pier, which still sounds like a great idea!

As North Van Urban Forum wound down, I was invited by Mayor Mussatto to become part of the Central Waterfront Brand Development Team, grouping local businesses and residents together to advance a plan. This team developed The Shipyards moniker and the big concepts behind what was required to make The Shipyard Commons a reality. From there it was over to the then-City Council to allocate the funding and design the public-private partnerships required to deliver this paradigm-shifting amenity.

That took courage and vision, especially early on, and all those members of the then City Council should be commended for making this happen.  Today as a newly elected Council member who risked little politically to make this project happen, it was an honour to be present at the opening to celebrate this space and what it will do for people in North Vancouver.  And to raise the bar for other public spaces in the region.

Unfortunately, the North Van Urban Forum ceased to exist as an official non-profit some years ago.  However, its legacy continues in the Shipyards Commons – a realized project that offers us infinitely more than the National Maritime Centre aspired to.

As a public space designed around people first, it’s a milestone in the relationship between the City of North Vancouver’s and its citizens.

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  1. A great story. So much credit to so many people. A great big shoutout has to go to Gary Penway who, as CNV’s heritage planner, waterfront planner, chief planner and on and on, never gave up faith on keeping the dream of an active, heritage-respectful waterfront alive. As did his predecessor Richard White. I’m happy I had a small role as well, both in the late 1980s and c. 2012-13.