Under the viaduct: is a Vision donor driving talk of demolition?
The Vancouver Courier's very good writer Sandra Thomas ably fills the paper's opinion page, and in today's paper she pulls no punches. Her op/ed titled Demolishing the viaducts benefits who exactly? explores the topic of tearing down the Georgia Viaducts, which has been promoted by Mayor "Geoff" Meggs. Thomas says the discussion has triggered the cynic within her, and she wonders aloud if the developer who stands to gain the most from the structure's removal, Concord Pacific, might be influencing the proceedings.
...if the proposal to permanently close the viaducts gets the go ahead, it will make Meggs' longtime goal of developing the land underneath one step closer. When that happens some developer (read Concord Pacific) is going to make a pile of money. Concord Pacific, which already owns much of the property near the Georgia Viaduct, and its subsidiary Pacific Place Developments Corp., donated $119,750 to Vision's 2005 and 2008 campaigns. That number doesn't include the money Concord gave Vision as a lead sponsor of the party's February 2009 fundraiser.
There is no suggestion that Concord Pacific does anything but good work in Vancouver's downtown core by Thomas. What she appears to take issue with is the anecdotal arguments being made for the thoroughfare's destruction. She says that Meggs' case was made by the lack of disruption caused by their closure to the public during the Olympic Games.
Meggs insists the high number of people finding other ways to get in and out of the city during the Olympics is proof the viaducts can be removed with little or no problem for commuters. And the city will likely hire someone in April to study just that.
More accurately, the Viaducts were used during the Games, but just not by you and me. The Olympic fleet of buses had many of their units parked there during February, and whenever the Prime Minister or members of the Olympic Family entered or exited GM Place, their limos drove along the viaducts.
No one has really bothered to analyze the gridlock experienced along Keefer and Pender streets in Chinatown, which we've heard was considerable as commuters who still wanted to get downtown chose this route.
Can we re-think northeast False Creek and the Concord properties without the viaducts? Sure, we can. But, Thomas argues, don't count them as expendable.
Urbanists and city staff I've spoken with are also to a person dismissive of Meggs' proposal. Skytrain's route under and beside the roads also make this a very complicated initiative. What about building under, over and around the structures? Can we not adapt to the existing urban geography? And what about the impact on Chinatown and the Strathcona neighbourhood? To date they have not been a part of Mayor Meggs' brainstorm.
What irks the most about Meggs' proposal is that it smacks of the easy, populist politics that mark Vision Vancouver's term in office. Any urban planner will tell you that it's easy to develop a brownfield site like the land beneath the viaducts. Real leadership, and real planning for Vancouver's future involves making tough decisions such as increasing the zoning on a little 3-storey walk-up to several times the density. That requires real vision, and the ability to negotiate with the public to understand what their needs are for the long term.
Vision Vancouver are, in a word, wimps. The viaduct idea is symbolic of this. They haven't got the courage to make a truly controversial decision without hiding under a blanket. If any of our readers can prove to me otherwise, I'm all ears.
Kudos to Sandra Thomas for asking questions about this topic for her readers to consider. Importantly, it opens up the debate about whether we want our city government to be building a city for the future, or just tearing old stuff down.