Homeless in Vancouver: 2015 Hemlock Street sidewalk eroding worse than 1912 sidewalk it replaced

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      Sections of concrete sidewalk poured less than two years ago along Hemlock Street are already beginning to crumble—particularly in the 2700 block between West 11th Avenue and West 12th Avenue.

      The pock-marked concrete on the northeast corner of Hemlock Street and West 12th Avenue.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The new sidewalks date from late summer of 2015 and were part of the Hemlock Street Rehabilitation project, which also saw sewer line upgrades and full road repaving along Hemlock Street, between West 4th and West 16th avenues.

      A close look at the southeast corner of Hemlock Street and West 11th Avenue.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Most of the 2015 sections of sidewalk, which are wearing so quickly, replaced very functional sections of sidewalk that dated back to 1912.

      The centenarian cement, before it was so rudely ripped up and replaced, was surprisingly well-preserved; being worn but evenly so and with few of the old panels being cracked.

      Concrete proof they don’t make things like they used to

      Two squares of sturdy 1912 Hemlock Street sidewalk, photographed in February 2015, just months before they were replaced.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Before the 2015 rehabilitation project there were sidewalk panels with perfectly legible “1912” date stamps pretty much in all but one of the blocks of Hemlock Street between West 11th Avenue and West 16th avenues. Now there are none, so far as I can tell.

      I was mad as a nest full of hornets hit by a fly ball when I realized, in early fall of 2015, that the city had indiscriminately ripped out and replaced the “1912”-stamped sections of sidewalk. Now seeing how the replacement panels are already showing more signs of uneven wear that the 103-year-old panels that they replaced, well, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

      Arguably, more than old concrete was lost when the city cavalierly removed every date-stamped trace of 1912 sidewalk from Hemlock Street between West Broadway and West 16th Avenue.

      The various century-old “streetcar apartments”—so meticulously-maintained by their owners and loved by their tenants—and which help define the character of this seven block stretch of Hemlock—had a bit of supporting historical character ripped out from under them at the same time and for no good reason.

      Another way that people left their mark on the city

      A 1932 date stamp preserved and surrounded by newer sidewalk, at Kingsway and Wenlyn Street.
      Joseph Jones

      The practice in Vancouver of date-stamping new sidewalks began in 1906 and continues to the present day.

      The oldest surviving sidewalk date stamp that I know of is from 1906 and is located in the West End, on the northeast corner of Robson and Bidwell Street. The second-oldest is from 1907 and is located in East Vancouver, on the northwest corner of East 7th Avenue and Yukon Street.

      There will certainly be hundreds of extant sidewalk date stamps located across Vancouver but I have, so far, only kept track of 30 stamps, covering dates from 1906 to 2009—these can all be seen pinned to a simple Google map, if anyone is curious.

      Previous civic administrations have taken some care to preserve at least some old date stamps when pouring new sidewalks. One such example is on the northwest corner of Kingsway Avenue and Wenlyn Street, where, by careful cutting, a 1932 stamp sits, preserved in its original location, surrounded by newer (probably 1992) concrete.

      It was unfortunate that Vancouver’s current administration was not willing to go to the same trouble to preserve even one of the historic 1912 sidewalk stamps along Hemlock Street—1912 being the oldest sidewalk date stamp that one should find in the comparatively young Fairview neighbourhood.

      I am thankful, at least, that phase three of the Burrard Corridor Infrastructure upgrade in 2016, which saw sewer upgrades, road repaving and sidewalk repairs along south Burrard, did not similarly result in the destruction of all of the remaining pre-1932 date and name stamps. At least one has been left to identify the street by the name that it bore before the July 1, 1932, opening of the Burrard Street Bridge—namely “Cedar Street”.

      A bad result no matter how you look at it

      I would argue that the loss of the small but irreplaceable heritage value represented by the Hemlock Street sidewalk date stamps was neither necessary nor was it offset by a sufficient gain of improved pedestrian infrastructure. Putting aside the heritage issue (which, I realize, many Vancouverites couldn’t give a fig a about), the bottom line is that the city threw away free and perfectly functional old concrete for new and costlier concrete of seemingly poorer quality.

      And the city will probably also end up throwing good money after bad (as they saying goes) by having to replace the replacement sidewalks within a decade.

      I say that believing that most of the replaced sidewalk could have served perfectly well for at least another 10 years But I will be surprised if the replacement sidewalk—breaking down as it already is—will even last that long. 

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.