Since 1892, New Westminster has had bustling markets on the riverfront that served farmers and merchants from across the Fraser Valley. In 1986, the building opened as Westminster Quay Public Market, accompanying SkyTrain construction and alongside residential development on the City’s riverfront.Over the years, it declined steadily like many market halls in North America. In 2008, after a major renovation, it reopened as River Market to reconnect it to the water that feeds much of our commerce and culture. Today, with a vision dubbed Food 360, River Market is a culinary playground where guests can engage with all the activities related to food.
Our hypothesis is that public markets need to become a place for activities, beyond commerce. A “market” is where one buys and sells things. But commerce by itself does not distinguish a public market from a shopping mall. We believe “public” means cultural and communal activities; and in our project these activities are centred around food.
River Market aims to be a prototype for the future of retail. During the past decades, academics and practitioners have observed our society’s shift from the “Service Economy” to the “Experience Economy.” We see another shift to what we call the “Activity Economy.” If value in the Experience Economy comes from how a customer feels about a brand, then value in the Activity Economy comes from customers and neighbours doing things together in a place. We applied this thinking to building a market around the activities of food. Then, we developed the spatial design and programs to support this focus.
In this model, we paid special attention to creating synergy. For instance, second floor retail is challenging. Thus we looked for school and office uses on the Market’s second floor that complements the restaurants and shops on the first floor. For example, parents can drop off their children for classes at the Vancouver Circus School on the second floor, and then go to the first floor to do grocery shopping at City Avenue Market. We call the first floor The Hungry Floor (food for the body) and the second floor The Curious Floor (feeding creativity).
River Market’s revitalization received Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia Land Award, 2012.
A detailed discussion of the revitalization efforts is in the 2012 issue of Real Estate Institute of BC Input Magazine titled “River Market and the Activity Economy: Reinventing the Public Market.”