British Columbia

Pop-up neighbourhood: S.W. Marine Drive and Cambie's rapid development attempts to create instant community

In the span of just a few years, the corner of Cambie Street and South West Marine Drive has transformed from an industrial crossing to a home for hundreds of people.

The Early Edition's Intersections series explores change in Metro Vancouver by looking at 5 intersections

Jonathan Laflèche is a resident in a residential tower at the intersection of Cambie and South West Marine Drive. The intersection has been the site of massive and rapid development over the past few years. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

With the Canada Line SkyTrain rushing past, the gleaming residential towers and busy shops at Cambie and South West Marine Drive sprouted up seemingly overnight creating what some have dubbed an "instant neighbourhood."

As part of the Intersections radio series, CBC's The Early Edition is looking at intersections as microcosms of broader community change.

Reporter Margaret Gallagher went to this South Vancouver juncture at the edge of two worlds — Richmond and Vancouver, industrial and urban — to see whether rapid changes can also create community.

Ryan Bragg is a principal with Perkins and Will, the lead architect on the Marine Gateway Project attached to the SkyTrain station.

The project officially opened last spring and includes residential towers, multiple shops and restaurants, an 11-screen movie theatre and office space.

Construction began in 2011, and Bragg said a thoughtful mix of residential, office and retail is key to creating a lively block.

"It has a scale, a texture and a diversity that is reminiscent of old streets like Fourth or Main Street. Those are places that people feel at home in and that's what we're trying to create here and to a large part, why people enjoy this space already," he said.

Architect Ryan Bragg, from Perkins and Will, is the lead architect on the Marine Gateway Project. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Up to 2,000 people could live at this intersection, and, Bragg said, many of the people who live in the development are younger buyers who grew up in the neighbourhood who couldn't afford a house.

There are also a number of renters, including tech worker Jonathan Laflèche. He lives in the intersection's MC2 tower with his girlfriend and brother.

While he likes living in his spacious and reasonably priced 33rd floor apartment — especially compared to his previous Yaletown apartment — he says he isn't sure how long he'll stay.

"You sort of feel like you're in an oasis of density ... You have your immediate needs covered but it's not really a fun neighbourhood that you're going to take a walk in."

Laflèche isn't convinced the new neighbourhood has a sense of community.

"I think you can foster it, but it's not a short term thing," he said. "It's like planting trees, right?  It'll take a while before you have these beautiful majestic oaks."

Joely Collins, member of Soka Gakkai International Association of Canada, in front of the centre which opened in 1991. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

But the answer could lie in rediscovering things that have been in the neighbourhood for a much longer time.

For example, the Vancouver Cultural Centre for Soka Gakkai International, a Buddhist faith group, is the only unchanged corner in the intersection.

The two-storey red-brick building opened in 1991, and member Joely Collins says the centre has no plans to move in the foreseeable future.

"It's nice amongst so much change to have something that's consistent and solid and maybe that's what we'll provide for this neighbourhood," she said. 

"To know that we're going to be here and we'll always be here, to be a part of the community that's grown around us, that's kind of cool, too."

Keep listening! Catch the rest of the Intersections series on CBC's The Early Edition this week, Feb. 20 - 24, 2017.

To listen to the audio, click on the link labelled Intersections: is it possible to create a pop-up neighbourhood in 10 years?