My Remarks To Mayor & Council On Viaduct Study

Madam Chair, Mr. Mayor, Councillors, Staff and Guests:

I speak to you today as the President of the Paris Place Strata Council and as a resident of the International Village on the proposed study to examine bringing down the Georgia Street and Dunsmuir Viaducts.

Forty years ago, a misguided government of the day built those viaducts in an attempt to remake Vancouver into Los Angeles, destroying Hogan’s Alley – Vancouver’s historic black community – in the process and walling off Chinatown from growth and from the rest of the city.

Today we’re finally contemplating the correction of that ancient mistake and in so doing see the possibility of re-integrating a long-neglected neighbourhood into the traffic grid and the downtown core of the city.

Photo: Tom Hudock

I pass under those viaducts almost every day on my way to walk on the seawall. The space underneath is dead, littered with needles and the broken glass of too many car break-ins to count. The vacant lots beneath the viaducts sit empty most of the time, used sporadically for temporary parking, junk storage, as public latrines and far worse.

Put very simply, dead streets are not safe streets.

Seattle’s tearing down their viaducts, as are cities across North America including Toronto, Montreal, Boston and San Francisco among others. And during the Olympics, we learned we could live without them too.

For all these reasons and more, back in January, I issued a New Year’s greeting to friends and supporters calling for the viaducts to come down and a 1000 parks to bloom in their place.

I received a number of unhappy calls as a result …

Hogan’s Alley, Vancouver’s historic Black village

But I’m here today to support this study as a resident of the area and on behalf of my strata because I believe it’s the right thing to do for my neighbourhood and our city.

To ensure that this works for everyone, though, care must be taken to ensure that Strathcona and the neighbourhoods along Pacific are not inundated with diverted traffic while Georgia Street traffic flows are accommodated. This study is crucial therefore to be sure this step can improve the quality of life for everyone in the areas affected.

But more than just a study of the viaducts in isolation, we need a comphrehensive, integrated plan that encompasses all of the changes and needs currently facing this dynamic area of the city.

First, this study should address solutions to deliver Creekside Park in the context of all the new development in Northeast False Creek. I find it greatly encouraging that the planned study will examine new technologies and scientific research on remediation, which may well solve the current impasse on remediating soils on Lot 6c – the challenge holding up delivery of Creekside Park on Lot 9.

Photo: Tom Hudock

We are facing an estimated increase in population around False Creek of nearly 25,000 new residents and need park space and recreational and cultural amenities commensurate with that increase.

Tom and I lived in Manhattan for twenty years and loved that dense, vibrant environment. One of the things that makes it possible to live there is the huge park easily accessible in the centre of the city – Central Park – and all of the large neighbourhood parks and pocket parks scattered across the city. As we grow, we will need the same.

Other issues need to be addressed.

The Dragonboat Festival needs a new home. The Sun Yat-Sen garden celebrates their 25th anniversary next year, yet they lost a crucial tour bus stop in the construction of the Carrall Street Greenway, and want to open the garden to the south. A massive and ugly casino is proposed that offers no amenities to the community and no funding to the arts. Why should anyone support that zoning change?

And many are concerned that the Great Wall of viaducts currently isolating Chinatown is not simply replaced with a Great Wall of towers that do the same thing. Development in proportion to new park and recreational opportunities is called for.

We have an opportunity to plan an entire community and I hope this viaduct study will lead to that more comprehensive neighbourhood plan with full public input and participation.

Thank you.