News / Vancouver

Tear ‘em down or leave ‘em up: Public divided on Vancouver viaducts removal

Vancouverites weighed in on city hall’s plan to demolish the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts – one of the biggest infrastructure decisions council will make.

A man cycles by the viaducts.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

A man cycles by the viaducts.

Vancouverites aren’t universally sold on demolishing the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts as council is poised to determine their future – an infrastructure decision that could forever change the city’s east side and False Creek neighbourhoods.

More than 45 people signed up to speak at a council meeting Wednesday in an attempt to sway council before they decide whether to tear ‘em down next week.

Not all had spoken by Metro’s deadline, but the scales seemed tipped in favour of getting rid of the elevated roadways. Numerous citizens expressed optimism at the possibilities going forward, including the chance to build a park, finish the seawall and create a walkable area. The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association gave its full support.

Others see it as an opportunity to get rid of the only segment of the defeated 1960s freeway project and to right a past wrong with the black community that was displaced to construct the viaducts. SFU urban studies student Stephanie Allen and writer Wayde Compton encouraged the city to consult the black community on how to recognize Hogan’s Alley after the demolition, be it with art or a community facility. (The man who runs the Jimi Hendrix shrine wants to build a statue.)

Critics of the plan argued it will lead to gentrification and won’t deliver the long-promised Creekside Park quickly enough. Carnegie Community Action Project representative Maria Wallstam expressed concerns about the lack of social housing and the potential displacement of low-income residents if rents rise around the new condos.

Some urged council to leave the viaducts up until they come up with a better plan to divert traffic off Prior, which hinges partly on yet-to-be-secured federal funding to build a new connector on Malkin or National. Strathcona residents are particularly worried about safety on Prior and want a firm commitment from council to re-route traffic.

John Murray, director of the False Creek Residents Association, questioned whether residents will actually get a bigger park if the viaducts are removed. The new map simply shows a reconfigured park, he argued, and it won’t be adequate for the thousands of extra residents.

Developer Concord Pacific stands to nearly double its density if council removes the viaducts. Vice president Peter Webb said the removal would trigger a rezoning application so Concord can complete its final patch of Expo ’86 land along False Creek.

“This is it. This will define the evolution of Concord and how we’ve become more creative in our thinking,” Webb said.

Its goal is to deliver as much of the park as early as possible, with the seawall and Georgia Wharf first on the list. (It’ll be a “show stopper.”)

Concord is ready to negotiate with the city over how much it will pay in community amenity contributions for the extra density – a similar project netted the city $148 million – and how much will go to benefits such as affordable housing, Webb said.

“We don’t see this as a highly exclusive neighbourhood that we just sell for a fortune and wander off,” he said.

Council is expected to vote on the removal on Tuesday.

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