Last summer, New York City opened the first section of a new park that was once an elevated railway. Known as the High Line, this green space on Manhattan’s West Side was hailed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as an “extraordinary gift” to the city.
Imagine if Vancouver developed its own High Line–style promenades on the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts. It’s an idea that has caught the attention of former Vision Vancouver councillor Jim Green amid talk of examining whether the city needs to maintain these structures.
Vision councillor Geoff Meggs has suggested the twin overpasses be torn down, a move that would free up as much as five city blocks of valuable property. Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Team, cochaired by Mayor Gregor Robertson, mentioned “replacing” the Georgia Viaduct in a report released on October 20.
For Green, keeping the viaducts but removing vehicle traffic is a better idea.
“One of the things that we could do is to make bicycle lanes and pedestrian park space up there,” Green told the Georgia Straight. “It [the viaduct] would stay there, and you would have the park up, elevated three storeys.”
There are residential and commercial possibilities as well. “You can have retail opening onto the high park, which is now the viaduct, and then have that also open down [below on] the street,” the former councillor said. “You could really enliven two different areas of Vancouver.”
Determining the viaducts’ future will evidently take some time. What’s certain is that there’s no shortage of ideas on how to deal with these thoroughfares that were originally intended to be part of a freeway, a proposal that was defeated in the 1970s by activists including Green.
According to Barbara Lee, a resident of Prior Street and an active community member, the viaducts send eastbound vehicles into the residential neighbourhood of Strathcona, creating traffic jams.
“I would prefer not tearing it down but rerouting it over the railway lines,” Lee told the Straight by phone. She explained that she’d like to see traffic directed onto Malkin Avenue and then over to Terminal Avenue.
The city owns the property below the viaducts, which forms part of one of the most expensive tracts of land in Vancouver—the Northeast False Creek area. Major players in the city’s real-estate industry, including Concord Pacific, hold land there. Canadian Metropolitan Properties owns the Plaza of Nations site, while the Aquilini Investment Group has GM Place. B.C. Pavilion Corporation, a provincial Crown corporation, operates B.C. Place Stadium.
On Thursday (October 22), city council is scheduled to consider staff recommendations that include bringing high-density developments to this area. A staff report prepared for the council meeting reiterates previous suggestions that 1.8 million square feet of office space and four million square feet of residential space be created.
If this goes ahead, a total of 7,200 new residents would be expected to move into the district, and the availability of parks and open spaces would be an issue. According to the staff report, if the ideal park ratio of 1.1 hectares per 1,000 residents is to be met, eight hectares of new parkland would have to be added to accommodate these new residents.
The city has allowed the property underneath the viaducts to be used for recreational purposes, like skateboarding. Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor David Cadman said the land under the viaducts should not be subject to real-estate deals.
“What I don’t want is to lose some of those amenities that the community has struggled for a long, long time to get,” Cadman told the Straight. “But that said, I don’t know structurally how sound the viaduct is at this point. We’re not having a freeway coming in, so we can look at it and see what might be done.”