Growing population, increased public space usage, and aging facilities have prompted the City of Vancouver to launch a master planning process for English Bay Beach and Sunset Beach in downtown Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood.
The municipal government is seeking a design contractor to lead the creation of a new master plan for waterfront area in English Bay spanning about 95 acres, which includes English Bay Park, Sunset Beach Park, Mortan Park, Alexandra Park, and the roadways of Beach Avenue, Pacific Boulevard, and the foot of Davie Street.
The master plan could lead to major changes and improvements implemented over the longer term, spanning the upcoming two capital plans ending in 2026 and through 2050. It will require public consultation and approvals from both the Park Board and City Council.
This area is, of course, one of Vancouver’s most iconic and popular locations for both local residents and tourists.
Based on estimates created in 2018, fuelled by the city’s 2013-approved West End Community Plan, the population of the West End is expected to grow by up to 15,000 by 2028 and 18,000 by 2041 — a 40% increase over the existing population number. By 2041, Vancouver’s city proper population will also grow to 765,000 from 650,000 today.
This population growth, along with the forecast for rising tourism, will create a higher number of visits to the area’s beach parks and seawall.
The seawall area within English Bay Beach and Sunset Beach also sees about 1.5 million biking annually, with a monthly average of 83,000 people on bikes. During the peak summer months, there are days when cycling traffic volumes reach upwards of 10,000 cyclists per day.
Furthermore, city staff note a significant amount of infrastructure in the area is aging and becoming cost prohibitive to retain, which either requires replacement or reconsideration altogether.
“With its natural setting and recreational opportunities, this area plays an important role in sustaining the health and wellness for Vancouver residents. There is a strong need for space for these activities, especially in a dense neighbourhood like the West End. With all of these demands for space, infrastructure and programming, it is important to carefully consider all of these uses, and how to balance various demands for current and future uses,” reads a request for expression of interest (RFEOI) document from the city.
“Therefore it is critical that the identity for the park is discovered through the masterplan process, to establish and prioritize the park’s uses, programming and infrastructure. From this, creativity in park and streetscape design can be employed to improve park features, infrastructure, vegetation, furnishing, lighting and hard and soft surfacing materials and any other park elements.”
Considerations should particularly be given to rising water levels from climate change, a potential expansion of the parks, beaches, and open spaces, and more opportunities for recreational uses.
There is also a need to improve the beach and park area’s access and connectivity with the surrounding neighbourhood to create “a sense of arrival to the waterfront.”
Other considerations include new and expanded food and beverage spaces, and new washroom and changing facilities. City staff have deemed the existing English Bay bathhouse and its washrooms facilities as “outdated” and “an operational burden,” and the development of a master plan for the area will consider how this building will be overhauled.
English Bay and Sunset beaches are also the locations of Vancouver’s most highly-attended annual public events, namely the Celebration of Light fireworks. Infrastructure changes, such as wider entry points into the beaches and new lighting, would improve safety during such events.
Another consideration is the future of the 1974-built Vancouver Aquatic Centre at the easternmost end of Sunset Beach Park. The Park Board is undergoing an early-stage planning process to replace the aging facility.
“Based on the outcome of the Aquatic Strategy later this year, the masterplan will guide the siting of the new location, footprint and access to the facility within Sunset Beach Park,” reads the RFEOI.
Up to five teams will be shortlisted from the RFEOI and asked to submit a request for proposal to develop a master plan. On top of the new visioning, the selected contractor will create a phased concept plan and implementation plan. A funding strategy is expected to partially incorporate funds provided by developments in the area.