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Why I’ll miss the viaducts if they go

October 25th, 2015 · 53 Comments

I’ve been accused before of judging the city on the basis of looks, rather than function. This is another example.

But how the city looks sometimes does have a bearing on how it functions. How it looks is the physical representation of us, the people who live here, and what we value, who we are now and what we have been since we’ve inhabited this land where the city now exists.

And so, you might think, with that opening, I would be writing about how I can hardly wait for the viaducts to come down, for the beautiful park to appear and the new festival wharf, the artistic new seawall, the new, beautifully landscaped streets that don’t go past chain link fences and rusting hulks of something and parking lots, as Expo and Pacific boulevards do now.

I’m sure it will all be spectacular. I’ll come to appreciate it. The Olympic Village, across the way, with its bridges, parks, and little island, is now one of my favourite parts of the city. I understand the logic behind the recommendations and also the opportunities.

But I will miss the viaducts.

I’ll miss them because they’re grubby and unattractive and originally built to go over the rail tracks that ran through False Creek. I’ll miss them because they give Vancouver the feel of a working city, one that’s not all about being shiny and perfect so that the tourists will visit and more people will want to buy condos here.

Former city planner Larry Beasley called them Vancouver’s “little piece of Los Angeles” when he was at city hall. And he didn’t mean Santa Monica or Silver Lake.

But I like that little piece of Los Angeles, with its stubborn refusal to fit in at all with the lovely, bland real-estate-ad-renders (towers, park, seawall, blue skies, mountains) we are currently seeing as the viaducts proposal is discussed.

It’s not that I want no change or don’t like shiny new things. I sure do. But, like many longtime Vancouverites (here since ’63), the constant replacement of the old, shabby, quirky town with generic new neighbourhoods is sometimes just a little too much cough medicine to swallow at once.

And, selfishly, I’ll miss that little aerial view from the viaducts, that sense of flying over the city and seeing it a different way, just for a couple of minutes before you return to ground level and are swallowed up.

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