My Comments on “Envisioning the Viaducts”: Too much Park Space

It took me a while to get this posted, but here are my comments on the “plan” for the viaducts.

It’s the last undeveloped part of Vancouver’s Waterfront, but the Viaducts are serving as a blessing rather than a curse. Because it’s the last undeveloped part, urbanists, planners and citizens alike can now collaboratively decide on their design of their waterfront. Unlike the walls of glass, because of the viaducts, the people of Vancouver get to decide how this new section will look. This is how the Planners of Vancouver envision it:

So basically, the concrete walls will be taken down in favour of a large green carpet. It looks like people are sitting on the bright green grass enjoying the sun, and (like in all renderings) the solution is perfect.

It looks great, but lets do some further research: Is that what I think it is? A super Houston Sized 6 lane Boulevard in a Surrey-sized block 250 metres long that cuts through a park! So much for “removing the viaducts”, because I see the plan is to remove the viaducts and replace it with a barrier of another type.

There’s already a park called “Andy Livingstone Park” of 4.2 hectares. The last few times I checked, the park was deserted except for the field hockey players, basketball players, and homeless free goers. So if nobody uses the park, why make the park bigger?

The new park is supposed to be an extension of “Creekside Park”. Creekside Park is next to Science World with a lovely playground is used by many children after their science voyage. But the playground is isolated at times when children are not to be outside; in other words, the park is one that serves one purpose only.

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I believe there are 2 types of parks:

Destination Parks that include Stanley Park, the Seawall, LSCR, Deer Lake, and Provincial Parks are as the name says: the Destination, or the attractive parks that make tourists come to Vancouver. They must be bigger than a certain size for them to function properly, and must have an abundance of amenities for a person to be able to be entertained day-long. These may consist of numerous “daughter parks” combined (or the park must be divided into sections) each section serving its own purposes for the “mother park”.

Neighbourhood Parks are a much different animal though. These parks have a maximum, but no minimum size.

These parks must function to be the desired interacting place in the community for mothers, children, seniors. Neighbourhood parks built too big for their purpose will be deserted resulting from insecurity caused by the feeling of emptiness. Classic Examples of these failures of being too big for a neighbourhood park, but way too small to be a destination park include George Wainborn, Devonian Harbour, and Andy Livingstone Park.

As J. Jacobs depicted in her chapter on Neighbourhood parks, for a park to serve a neighbourhood, they must be used by many peoples of different schedules and origins, all day, everyday. Successful parks include Pigeon Park and Emery Barnes Park, the latter one will eventually become the center of its neighborhood because of its easy access, great deal of amenities, and diversity of people.

A problem of our thinking of parks is “If you build it they will come”; but parks are different. Situated along the seawall, George Wainborn Park has an excess of green carpet, for which the only uses of the grass is to sleep and eat. The lack of uses are caused by the park’s uneven topography, size and isolation. This results in a community, instead of being bonded, separated into 2 by the piece of land.

George Wainborn Park: Divides the community in half

Which is exactly the problem I envision with the proposed Viaduct Park. As in the rendering above, the only uses for the large green carpet would be to sleep or eat, resulting in a complete and utter failure.

Before and After Renderings of the Viaduct Plan

Trying to convert this park into a neighbourhood park will be a waste of effort and money, meaning the only solution is to make it a destination park.

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Guide to make a destination park: Add amenities or anchor attractions like swimming pools, schools, ice rinks and community centres that will attract users from around the area.

Some great magnets that I have seen around Asia and Richmond but not in Vancouver are parks for Seniors. These include a Senior Workout zone, table tennis plaza, and public outdoor theatres.

But still, no sane person would walk across a large section of grass. The grass is just too large, too empty, too open for a park to function correctly. A park is for people to interact, not for grass to grow. If the plan above is initiated, don’t be surprised if the park and “pedestrian greenway”, instead of acting as a community bonding tool, divides the community East/West.

Once I saw the plan, I immediately asked “Where’s the Density?” Where’s the shops? Where do the people come from? I propose mid-rise along the new boulevard.

A message to Planners: a green coloured park does not mean a green happy city, even if it replaces concrete. I understand that these plans are far from finalized, but it seems like the city has already decided that nothing will replace the viaducts but grass.

4 thoughts on “My Comments on “Envisioning the Viaducts”: Too much Park Space

  1. You make a good point about the size of the park and it’s likely use (or lack thereof). While I’m not one for conspiracy theories, this could far too easily turn into yet another giveaway to developers, either by hacking back the proposed green space at any point during the designing or implementation of this plan.

    Or an easy sale a couple of years after this plan is implemented if this particular park fails to live up to expectations. Fire sale of already cleared and cleaned land to whomever’s the favourite at City Hall this week.

    I’ve been skeptical of this entire process since it’s proceeded at the very beginning that the removal of the viaducts is ipso facto a good thing, using comparisons to freeway removal in radically different scenarios. The process has never even tried to work around the existing structures or even considered what had been proposed in the past (such as using the site for a Streetcar OMC and preserving some light industrial use) and seems determined to launch Yaletown 2.0. Boring and tiresome.

    The recent discussions around the Granville Bridge have shown that some imagination can work around structures like this and add some desperately needed creativity to our downtown developments. Re-purposing can also be a better use than tearing down, especially for something that’s not near the end of it’s useful lifespan.

    • I think that the viaducts will have to come down sooner or later. The land it’s sitting on is probably worth a few hundred million, and it acts like a barrier to the waterfront. There’s alredy industrial land along Terminal, so I don’t think it would be the best for that use. I think a mini town of mixed use midrises should be built with a park of smaller scale. By the time the final decision has been made, Vision will probably be out, or at least the whole council would have changed. Anyhow, this land should not become another Yaletown or West End. This is a prime location in the city and a major thoroughfare, and maybe something better can be coordinated with the nearby Science World, Chinatown, Stadiums and Skytrain.

      • You may very well be right, I just object to the fact the process we’ve been going through has been largely rigged to produce outcomes that I don’t think either of us find desirable.

        I think it’s also sucking a lot of the oxygen out of the room that could and should be devoted to more pressing issues, especially given the jurisdictional issues involved in the viaducts removal, such as getting Translink’s approval

  2. You have written a really thoughtful piece here, Kyle, and I especially like your before and after rendering of the park plan – it is very clear.

    I disagree with your conclusion, however, that here is no density, and it is just a big green space. It would eventually be a destination park.

    The plan is that there would be cosiderable new density to the east and the west of the new park. If you followed the entire viaducts debate and design competition, there was a tremendous amount of support for a new park space, and for removing the viaducts, but there also has to be an economic impetus.

    That impetus is obviously to create a new, consolidated development area for Concord Pacific. They (and the City and Aquilini and the other development company – cosmopolitan, I think) own the land, and it needs to work financially. It is simply a land trade. Planners and developers use the method all the time.

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