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The hard bargaining the city needs to do so all residents benefit from the viaducts

November 27th, 2015 · 6 Comments

There’s a lot of suspicion about whether Vancouver will really benefit from the viaducts or whether removing them will result in another new neighbourhood that seems to exist mostly for the benefit of investors and visitors (Coal Harbour anyone?).

Two people who were intimately involved in extracting public benefits for the city when the first part of the Expo lands were built — Larry Beasley and Ralph Segal — weighed in for my story on this question. They were part of a team that got a seawall, a school, a childcare centre, a substantial amount of social housing, several parks, and more in the early days of negotiations with Concord Pacific.

The city has promised to set up a stewardship group in order to get community input as the planning for the area goes forward. Beasley suggests something much bigger should happen: a giant public series of events to get the whole city talking about what should go into this new neighbourhood. That should be going on while the city negotiates with developer Concord Pacific and the province, so the power of the public conversation helps shape the deal. And Segal said city teams need to be empowered to bargain hard — something that hasn’t been the guiding principle of recent, according to him.

A side story to the main question I looked at was exploring what is under that dirt around the viaducts, the last of the old industrial land of early 20th-century downtown Vancouver.

I got to spend some fun hours looking at pictures from the Vancouver Archives that were a reminder of what used to be. Boats used to chug along under the old viaducts, when False Creek extended up to Prior Street. There were squatters huts on the shoreline. And there was a lot of junk that got used for fill as False Creek slowly got transformed in that area from swamp to land. Plus a lot of lovely chemicals that soaked in.

The archaeological report the city had done to check on the history underground has some cool maps showing the shifting shoreline, along with the locations of old industrial operations. Plus some historical pictures.

It was all a reminder that what happens next is far from a done deal. The conversation is just starting.

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