News / Vancouver

Hogan's Alley architect, advocates share vision for post-viaducts future

Renowned U.S. architect among experts on forward-looking local panel.

Architect Zena Howard in front of her largest project, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture

Courtesy Alan Karchmer/Freelon Adjaye Bond

Architect Zena Howard in front of her largest project, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture

One of the world's most prominent African-American architects has turned her attention to Vancouver's own seldom-told black history.

On Friday, Zena Howard — who led design of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. — joined a conversation decades in the making here in B.C. after the city hired her to create a centre in Strathcona for the displaced downtown black community.

"What's happened here in Vancouver is similar to what's happened in every major city in the U.S.," she told the audience attending a 10-expert panel at Simon Fraser University's Vancouver campus Friday. "All across the country in the States … and here in Vancouver, the next frontier is really about what's happening.

"Engaging with the community, hearing the stories, and being able to somehow express what they value and I value … is so critical and so important."

Howard spoke alongside members of the Hogan's Alley Society — a group working with the city to plan a future African-Canadian community centre in Stratchona where the viaducts currently stand.

"Working with the Hogan's Alley Working Group has been a source of inspiration for me," she told Metro via text message after the event. "I am encouraged by the sense of commitment and devotion to the success of the project."

The award-winning architect told the audience Friday that Vancouver wasn't alone in "razing and displacing" its black community in the 1960s, but that the same happened then in cities across the U.S. too. But many of them, she told the packed audience, are now creating memorials and centres to honour those evicted.

"You're not alone," she said. "I was blown away — moreso than any other place I've been — by the passion, the commitment, the discipline, the drive, the intelligence and the rigour applied to this, not only by community members but by the city."

Howard also revealed that she recently told an audience in New Orleans about Vancouver's Hogan's Alley efforts.

"People are excited about what we're trying to do here in Vancouver," she told Metro.

Two years ago, Council voted to demolish the 50-year-old viaducts, built to connect to a freeway that was never built. But it was too late for the black community evicted in their path.

Friday's event was "to discuss systems of exclusion and how to build a more equitable and inclusive metropolis," according to its hosts. Her talk was titled "This place matters: Honouring our communities... urban displacement and restorative justice."

Howard, a principal at architecture and design firm Perkins+Will, previously designed the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in North Carolina, and Detroit's Motown Museum.

Hogan's Alley Society members told Metro they hope will be not just a monument to Vancouver's black history — which included the childhood summer hangout of Jimi Hendrix — but a future gathering place, community-run space and arts venue located where a vibrant black music scene once thrived in Strathcona.

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