Vancouver city council will vote Thursday on whether to construct a separated bike lane on Dunsmuir Viaduct seen here February 2, 2010. - Vancouver city council will vote Thursday on whether to construct a separated bike lane on Dunsmuir Viaduct seen here February 2, 2010. | John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver city council will vote Thursday on whether to construct a separated bike lane on Dunsmuir Viaduct seen here February 2, 2010.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

City limits

Bridges, swimming pools, unicorns – just think what the viaducts could be

Stephen Quinn | Columnist profile | E-mail

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Last updated 

“We propose to flood False Creek back to its 1898 boundary. An archipelago of over 800 fixed and floating islands and a flexible network of 1,500 bridges occupy the flood zone. Islands and bridges re-assemble in multiple ways creating a flexible, open ended, self-governing spatial and programmatic system.”

That is the actual text that accompanies submission No. 106 in the City of Vancouver’s invitation to imagine what life might be like with the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts either torn down or repurposed.

The competition is called re:CONNECT.

The idea of doing away with the viaducts was embraced by city councillor Geoff Meggs, who noticed that closing the viaducts to traffic during the Olympics significantly reduced traffic on the viaducts.

“The 22-day shutdown required by 2010 Winter Olympic Games security rules gave neighbourhoods east of the viaducts their first traffic-calmed days in more than a generation, a real-life test of what life without the viaducts might be like,” Mr. Meggs argues on his website.

That may be sort of true, but the 2010 Winter Olympics were also accompanied by lane closings and restrictions that made it virtually impossible to navigate Vancouver’s streets by car.

Further, Mr. Meggs argues that the viaducts are the remnants of a freeway no one wanted and was never completed, and that they limit development opportunities and sever vital links that could connect neighbourhoods.

Whatever the reason, the competition has sparked the imaginations of people for whom the practical consideration of getting to work must be a totally abstract and bourgeois concept.

How else could you explain submission No. 114, which shows the viaducts covered in an undulating wooden lattice with cyclists riding on what appears to be a red carpet.

The accompanying text reads as follows: “The complexity of initiating a paradigm shift in how we operate Vancouver’s economy will gain momentum at the community and localized scale, where intricacy is most manageable. The word economy, derived from the word home, brings a call to the domestic, where green discourse and collaboration can take root and prove that spaces we inhabit actually reflect the culture of its time.”

See, I was just going to say that.

Or the submission that imagines dismantling the viaducts as though they were made of Lego and clicking the pieces back together to form a gigantic cone-shaped cavern.

No. 113: “Like the monuments of ancient cities, the viaducts could be disassembled and used to make new monuments. New public spaces, more exciting and mysterious, could take shape where the viaducts stood. A grotto, filled with water from False Creek, is also filled with strange echoes; its walls drip with water, cleansed by a natural landscape and ready to return to the sea.”

Clearly written by a person unfamiliar with the fecal coliform counts of False Creek.

Not to be outdone, submission No. 67 imagines swimming to work as a practical commuting option. The illustration shows one of the viaducts as a kilometre-long glass-bottomed swimming pool: “The urban outdoor public pool is a node that sparks play, fitness, and communal well-being. The elevated concrete structures of the viaducts are a unique resource, and they may be creatively re-purposed to create such a node in downtown Vancouver. Let’s pool our resource.”

The submission has sparked serious debate in the website’s comments section. “Suspect maintenance would be a major issue,” says one commenter. Another complains that the concept is devoid of trees and greenery. “No grass, flowers or food. Too much like the downtown core.”

Water in fact is a major theme.

One submission imagines the land beneath the viaducts as some sort of water park, looking not unlike the viaducts of today after a heavy rainstorm. The difference is that the people standing in deep puddles are dressed in colourful swimwear and appear to be happy. Also, hot-air balloons hover overhead.

I know. Only a true vulgarian would fail to appreciate these efforts. I applaud them all.

Sadly, my own submission to replace the viaducts with rainbow-coloured cotton candy topped with unicorns and fairies didn’t arrive in time to be seriously considered.

I bet it would have not only passed muster, it would have sparked some serious debate.

The most commented-upon submission is also the most simple. It consists of seven words, printed in black on a grey background. It reads simply: “Please, leave the viaducts as they are.”

Crazy talk.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.

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