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
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“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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City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used. - City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used. | Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Plans envision transformation of viaduct lands

frances bula

VANCOUVER— From Monday’s Globe and Mail
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Vancouver is developing detailed options for the land around its downtown viaducts – if those major commuter connections are eventually torn down – that include public open space, low-cost housing, business projects, or a combination.

In a sign of how seriously the city is considering the ultimate removal of the viaducts, the land-use plans, being worked on jointly by the architecture firm Perkins + Will with city planners, were going to be presented at a city urban-design panel next week. That presentation has now been cancelled and pushed to an undefined later date, but only in order to incorporate ideas from the city’s parallel design competition on the viaducts. Awards for the best ideas will be announced on Dec. 1.

City planner Brent Toderian said there are some themes coming forward among the designs in the competition that might be included, like ideas about including water features in this former tidal-flats area.

Ultimately, though, it’s the detailed planning being done by the city and its consultants that is setting the stage for what use to make of the 4.8 hectares that are under and around the viaducts.

The city plans are looking at how the land could be used under several different scenarios: leaving the viaducts as is; altering the eastern end to bring them down to street level at Main; closing one viaduct or another; keeping the viaducts but converting them to other, non-car uses.

“Council could decide to make it open space. It could be social housing. It could be rental housing,” said Mr. Toderian. “And, if it’s sold, it may not all be to one developer.”

A previous engineering report had said closing both viaducts – they’re 822 and 670 metres in length – if council chose that option, would not be feasible for at least 15 years. That’s because better transit and alternative truck and car routes would need to be put in place.

The city owns almost all of the land under and around the viaducts – 4.1 hectares – and Concord Pacific owns the small amount remaining. That’s about half the size of the Olympic Village site.

There’s been a perception among some that the proposal to tear down the viaducts is some kind of giveaway to Concord Pacific, the mega-developer that has built thousands of units on the former industrial land of False Creek since Expo 86.

But since the city owns most of the land, the real question is what it could do with that land, if the viaducts were fully or partially removed, that’s of most value.

Even if the city did nothing but alter the eastern end of the viaducts to bring them down at Main Street, something that its engineering consultants said would be easy to do immediately, that would free up two huge blocks of city land next to Chinatown that could be developed into housing – what that land was used for before the viaducts were built.

The city’s detailed land-use planning with Perkins + Will has been proceeding quietly – so quietly that even Vision Councillor Geoff Meggs, who has been seen as the public champion of reconsidering the viaducts’ future, was surprised to hear it was going on.

Mr. Meggs said he’s waiting to hear about the design-competition winners Dec. 1 and how the planning department will mesh those ideas with its existing consultation.

But, he said, it’s clear to him that the public will not support doing anything different with the viaducts unless they’re persuaded that there won’t be a negative impact on transportation or that it isn’t just a bonus for some developer.

But, most important, he said, “Not a lot of people are very interested if there isn’t a big benefit to the public.”

That benefit could be more open space or more affordable housing.

Mr. Meggs said some of the stakeholders in the area – landowners like Concord Pacific and Aquilini Developments – as well as neighbourhood groups need to get involved in the debate about the viaducts’ future.

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In this article by Frances Bula in last week’s Globe and Mail, Westbank’s JV with Vancity Credit Union, Habitat for Humanity and Portland Housing Society at 6o West Cordova is announced.

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Matthew Power of Slate reports on the Downtown Eastside and Insite, the supervised injection site, in this article.

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Follow up article on yesterday’s Council decisions regarding the Planning Department’s recommendation that four sites it identified on the downtown peninsula be allowed to penetrate existing view corridors and increased building heights in Chinatown/Gastown.

via CBC News – British Columbia – Vancouver rejects downtown high-rise proposals.

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Nothing gets people’s knickers in a knot faster than creating affordability by reducing unit size.  Back in the early 90s, VLC (now Concert Properties) caused serious commotion when it sought approval for the inclusion of  300+ square foot studio “micro-suites” in a proposed rental project on Seymour now called 600 Drake. Rather than welcoming the introduction of a new choice for combatting the declining affordability of rental accommodation, VLC and the micro-suite concept were vilified in the press. Battery hen coop comparisons were common, as were armchair psychologists’ predictions of increasing suicidal tendencies amongst micro-suite residents.  Council of the day bravely forged ahead and the project was built.

The controversy has been rekindled by Reliance Holding’s announcement that it was proceeding with the renovation of the Burns Block east of the Woodward’s project in the DTES into thirty 275 square foot “micro-loft” rental suites.  Frances Bula’s article in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail is here.

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In this guest editorial to today’s Vancouver Sun, Jean Swanson, coordinator of the Carnegie Community Action Project, adds another voice to the discussion around the opening of the Woodward’s project.

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The Woodward’s project has received a great deal of press in part because it is perceived by many to have been a bold and risky venture given the neighbourhood and in part because of the speculation about its potential for being a transformative force.  In anticipation of its formal opening next month, Frances Bula writes about some of the many variables that were at work in bringing the project together in this article in today’s Globe and Mail.

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