A vision for transforming False Creek Flats
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It all starts with the railroads that created the Flats and that still own vast swaths of the land. Williams hired a railway consultant when he was with the Vancouver City Planning Commission and he was advised that except for those used by Via Rail and Rocky Mountaineer, most of the east-west lines in the Flats are just “appendage[s] as they appear to be”. He was also told by the port authority that the “north-south [rail corridor that services the waterfront] is absolutely critical and it’s too tight”. This is the backbone, Williams asserted: “Shift the rail to the east, strengthen the north-south corridor; probably, because the city has expropriating powers, it can pick up that Glen Drive corridor relatively cheaply and at the same time buy CN [Canadian National] on the western face. And you’re basically trading cheap land for valuable land as the basic real-estate deal that transforms the Flats.” The Main Street–VCC streetcar could also be realized by buying, from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the rail spur that runs between the two stations.
The second step is daylighting China and Brewery creeks, which are buried under the Flats. Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer said that digging up creeks is consistent with the action plan produced by the city’s Greenest City Action Team, which calls for green space within 300 metres of every city resident. The “most logical [way to accomplish this] in the East Side is salmon, daylight the salmon streams”, Reimer said. Williams gets excited about the prospect of canals bringing waterfront back to Clark Drive and rising property values bringing new amenities to East Vancouver.
Land acquisition and financing is the next part of Williams’s strategy. The city has “a property endowment fund worth two to three billion dollars now, despite what they pissed away with the Millennium project [Olympic Village].”¦Let’s start using it to buy the whole rest of the Flats,” he said. Once the city has purchased property, Williams would like to see tax-increment financing (TIF) introduced. With TIF, the False Creek Flats would have their boundaries properly defined, and the City of Vancouver would issue bonds to pay for its infrastructure improvements. TIF would allow those bonds to be repaid through taxes collected in the Flats. As the area’s property values and tax revenues increase, the city will effectively have paid for the revitalization of the Flats without needing outside investment.
Designing the new community is the final stage. Williams favours development in patterns or threads, an idea popularized by noted architect and designer Christopher Alexander. “So Chinatown or Strathcona should be extended in with the same kind of height wave so it becomes a natural extension of Strathcona, and the uses may be mixed and different, but the patterning has to fit, and similarly on the other side.” He didn’t offer any specific development ideas and laughed when asked if he owned land in the Flats. “No,” he said. “No, I don’t.”
Williams argued that keeping the Flats purely industrial is flawed. The way to generate wealth in a “modern society is by breaking through the silos of the individual parts of the economy.”¦Often the arts are the secret to adding value, although most societies haven’t caught up to that yet.” Williams says he can see live-work studios for lower-income artists built near the Great Northern Way campuses.