For Adrian Crook, moving back to Yaletown was like coming home. The video-game designer and father of five grew up in Port Moody, lived downtown, and bought a house in North Vancouver after getting married.
But the suburban life on the North Shore didn’t suit him well at all. Over coffee outside the Small Victory Bakery on Homer Street, Crook tells the Straight how out of place he felt when he would venture into his Lynn Valley neighbourhood.
“I would just be walking up the road with no one else and nothing but cars flying by,” he recalls.
That got him thinking much more deeply about urban issues and why he was so attracted to the downtown lifestyle. After splitting with his spouse, he returned to the Yaletown neighbourhood he loves and launched his 5 Kids 1 Condo blog.
It tells the story of him raising his children, ranging in age from 6 to 11, in a sustainable, minimalist way—and without a car—in a joint-custody arrangement. Dad and the kids can regularly be spotted cycling through the area on delineated bike lanes.
“Housing to me is much more than just a roof over your head,” Crook explains. “It ties into everything. Obviously, every housing choice is a transportation choice. It underpins pretty much everything.”
As he immersed himself in urbanism, he came in contact with some of Vancouver’s leading authorities on the subject, including Happy City author Charles Montgomery, former mayor Sam Sullivan, and former city director of planning Brent Toderian.
Over time, Crook came to appreciate why he feels so comfortable in Yaletown—from its first-rate Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre to its close proximity to the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch to the plethora of grocery stores.
“It’s clean,” he adds. “There isn’t a ton of crime.”
He also loves the wide sidewalks, tree-lined streets, abundant park space, Canada Line station, and how traffic seems to move more slowly through the area.
He concedes that if he had his way, the city wouldn’t allow so many sandwich boards on sidewalks along Mainland and Hamilton streets. But for him, that’s a minor inconvenience in comparison to the drawbacks of raising his family in other parts of the region.
The neighbourhood has also attracted some of the city’s savviest developers, including Peter Wall, who’s been in the business in Vancouver for 60 years. A few years ago, when condo prices were lower, his company, Wall Financial Corporation, developed the 880-unit Yaletown Park project.
His new development, PETER WALL Yaletown, is a 50-storey tower with 273 rental units at 1310 Richards Street. It’s built on a 6,000-square-foot floorplate, giving it a sharper, more piercing appearance than some of the blockier high-rises in the area.
“It’s completely strata,” Wall tells the Straight by phone. “But we decided to rent it because we feel that Yaletown is such an important part of the building of our city.”
He emphasizes that he wanted younger Vancouverites to have a chance to live within walking distance of downtown workplaces—and that wouldn’t be possible if these units were put up for sale. If he can find the right site in Yaletown, he says he’ll build more of these units in the future.
“A big city needs apartments,” Wall adds. “I am more for building rentals—but stratarentals—so you can finance it better. Basically, it’s much better for everybody.”
With hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a professional-grade gym, PETER WALL Yaletown offers a combination of luxury and amenities to attract discerning tenants seeking upscale accommodation.
As part of the rezoning application, Wall Financial Corporation contributed $23.6 million to the city toward an 11-storey housing and social-services centre at 1107 Seymour Street. It includes 81 units of social housing and four storeys of social-services space, providing a new home to Positive Living B.C.
One person who’s been keeping an eye on Yaletown since the 1980s is former city councillor Gordon Price. That’s when the former warehouse zone began its conversion into a hip, high-density restaurant and shopping district.
Price tells the Straight by phone that the intent from the start was to keep some of the district’s older touches—such as the balustrades, overhead wires, Dumpsters, and canopies—to retain a more rugged look than neighbourhoods such as Gastown. “I think in that respect, it’s done fine,” he says.
But he also notes that the real-estate rush of the 1990s led to a really rapid buildout even as the area continued being used for warehousing and storage. That meant it bypassed some of the stages of growth of other neighbourhoods that were also home to a Vancouver streetcar line.
Price believes the biggest question for Yaletown is how retail will evolve over the next 10 years in Vancouver.
“One thing you can be confident of is it will retain its appeal as a restaurant area because that’s basically what almost all the streetcar neighbourhoods are evolving into,” Price declares. “They become the dining rooms for the surrounding neighbourhoods and have some regional appeal.”
The former councillor happens to be another of the local land-use experts who have influenced Crook’s thinking about his neighbourhood. It has led the game designer to launch a bid for an NPA council nomination.
That’s because he says that party is more open to housing solutions he prefers, including greater densification across the city to provide more options for younger residents.
“I’m probably the most left-leaning person in the NPA,” Crook admits. “So it’s strange now to be spending so much time chatting with people like Sam [Sullivan] and Gordon, but they’re also really smart urban thinkers.”