In the Money
A few lessons from the compost that is our history:
Development is driven by the capital available.
Where omission and obfuscation are not possible, planning processes and politics can legitimize the exercise.
Community needs are irrelevant or must be squeezed into the pre-established framework.
These realities are not immutable.
From the mid-1950s through to the early ‘70s the money was in highways –or, more accurately, highways were in the money.
The federal government, with its jurisdiction over port lands, stood ready to back the construction of a third bridge over Burrard Inlet.
The CPR was prepared to hand over its Coal Harbour right-of-way for a new waterfront highway feeding bridge traffic to its Project 200, a dense shoreline forest of office highrises.
The National Housing Act made available resources for roads (that is, a freeway) to compliment the urban renewal (that is, destruction) of Strathcona.
Connecting all this, as well as a freeway along Main Street, would be an eight-lane highway, barricaded by 30 ft walls, running through the middle of Chinatown (Carrall Street, to be precise).
“ … it was never a sound bridge. Streetcar tracks were laid but never used. Every second lamppost was removed to save weight. Much blacktop was used to fill mysterious sags and hollows in the deck. People passing below were injured by falling concrete, and concrete spans were propped with timber.” 1
It had to go. In 1965 Vancouverites were asked to vote on a $10 million by-law authorizing city council to replace the crumbling viaduct. While no mention was made of the new viaduct’s role as part of an extensive freeway system, council –led by reactionary mayor and real estate shill Tom “Terrific” Campbell- effectively had its green light.
“Yet none of the ‘components’ were officially adopted by city council, except for the waterfront freeway which had been approved in principle … council was committing $10 million of the taxpayers money to a project which was expected to fix Vancouver’s transportation system permanently in the direction of this freeway system without any public discussion.” 2
The shit hit the fan with the presentation to council of the Vancouver Transportation Study on June 1, 1967: “City council’s intention to accept the recommendations of the VTS sparked the strongest public protest Vancouver had ever experienced.” 3
The campaign to save Chinatown was led by local business, architects, and benevolent societies.
The Strathcona protests led to creation of the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association. (It also led, not incidentally, to the creation of CFRO Co-op Radio.)
The Citizens Committee for Public Transit and the North Shore Transportation Committee opposed the Third Crossing long enough and effectively enough to cause a rift among local Liberal MPs. The project was shelved and the Seabus was established instead.
Ultimately, the viaducts were built, but the freeway system was dead. “The people had won. It was an exhilarating experience of popular empowerment …. Today, Vancouver notably remains one of the only major North American cities with virtually no freeways within its municipal boundaries….” 4
Gordon Price: “The story of how Chinatown and Strathcona were saved is now part of the mythology of this city – still insufficiently documented.”
That’s all too true. In the meantime, there’s the oral history.
A long, long time planner with the city told me once that the protests ushered in a community consultation process for development proposals that was largely respected by mayors Art Phillips, Jack Volrich, Mike Harcourt, Gordon Campbell (yes), Phillip Owen, and Larry Campbell.
He also told me that consultation system was effectively dismantled by Mayor Sam Sullivan –or, rather, it was taken apart by the then defacto mayor, City Manager Judy Rogers. Like all bureaucratic lifers, the democratic process was just too restrictive for her.
Enter Gregor Robertson and Vacuum Vancouver.
By the by, you can still glimpse the earlier Georgia Viaduct. Remains of the on/off ramp can be seen facing east from Georgia, just west of Main. It’s in that little unused space right next to the Murrin Substation.
And a condo development.
1 Chuck Davis (ed), The Great Vancouver Book. “Bridges of Greater Vancouver”, Robert Harris; page 214.
2 Donald Gutstein, Vancouver Ltd.; page 154
3 Vancouver Ltd.; page 155
4 Lance Berelowitz, Dream City; page 82