Building A Ground-Up Innovation District
Developing a strategy and vision for a brand-new neighborhood in North Vancouver, an innovation district that celebrates wellness and the outdoors.
Darwin Properties is a family company. It started thirty years ago as a construction company, building houses, infrastructure and commercial space throughout North Vancouver (a heavily residential city just across the ocean inlet from downtown Vancouver), and across British Columbia. When Oliver Webbe took the reins of the organization from his father, he started taking on development projects as well as construction, creating Darwin Properties, which has rapidly grown into the leading development company in North Vancouver.
Darwin and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and have come together in a joint venture partnership to develop a 45-acre former gravel pit into the North Shore Innovation District, a vibrant neighborhood that provides the kinds of spaces and places that help innovation thrive, as they say, “in a specifically West Coast kind of way”.
Darwin reached out to me in 2017, wanting to visit the Boston Innovation District and learn from our approach here. Since that initial visit, we have collaborated on a number of research and stakeholder engagement projects, all focused around the specific potential of the NSID.
The North Shore Innovation District is a unique opportunity for a number of reasons.
First, it’s a ground-up site. Most innovation districts, including Boston, are redevelopments of existing neighborhoods, technology parks, or industrial assets. There are very few that have been built ground up, and so the potential for experimentation and new models is huge.
Second, Darwin is a construction company. This means that they can build it themselves, in an innovative and sustainable way. In most built projects, the contractor is a partner, but their brand is not tied to the success of the district in a deep way. Darwin can apply their own construction expertise to bring innovation into the very DNA of the buildings themselves.
And third, the North Shore Innovation District brand is distinctive from other innovation districts and tied deeply to their geographic and economic roots. I always tell Innovation District planners and practitioners to play to their city’s strengths, and NSID is doing that very well. This is a place that will be about what North Vancouver is about: enjoying outdoor living, prioritizing wellness, and highlighting tradition and deep, generational sense of place.