The Vancouver Heritage Foundation does it again. I simply love them and their tours. A couple of Wednesday nights ago, I had the extreme pleasure of joining a small platoon of social media contest winners along with John Atkins and Gordon Price on a walking tour about the Georgia Viaduct.
First off, there were the ruins of the first Georgia Viaduct. I didn’t even know there was another Georgia Viaduct. This Georgia Viaduct started at Main and Georgia in Chinatown and ran to Georgia Street downtown. However, because of shoddy construction, this viaduct quickly started sinking into the soft soil on which it was built upon. So they had to take it down.
I learned that the alley behind the current Chinatown Parkade used to be Shore Street. As the name suggests, this street ran along the shore of False Creek. It was also home to a tiny red light district. Ever the more incentive to ram a “progressive” viaduct over the street.
We looped around towards Union and Main Streets and stopped right by the Jimi Hendrix Shrine. The shrine made for great photos, but was not officially part of the tour. John Atkins showed as a map of the planned highway that was supposed to meet up with these viaducts. A giant interchange would have sat atop Carrall Street and the current viaducts to connect the planned freeway to another freeway bound for the North Shore. It would have destroyed much of historic Chinatown and Gastown. It was thanks to the many protests of the locals in Chinatown, Gastown, and neighbouring Strathcona that brought the freeway juggernaut to a halt. According to Gordon Price, we were very close to having a downtown freeway.
There was a small debate between good old Maurice and Gordon Price about the need for the viaducts. That debate is still going. Should we leave the viaducts as they are? Do we need the viaducts if traffic into downtown has been tallied and shown to be declining? Should we leave a part of the viaducts as a memory of what was here? Is there any aesthetic to the viaducts themselves?
So what will become of this land if the viaducts go? John Atkins pointed out that there is an opportunity to transform this area of giant empty parking lots and concrete into something more beautiful. Could we connect downtown differently to the shoreline? Is there an opportunity to have a new civic plaza near Science World and end of a potential new Georgia Street that descends down from the downtown ridge?
One little thing I learned to end the post. The city for the past 20 years has pretty much planned for the demise of these viaducts. An engineering decision many years ago decided that it was in the financial interests of the city to maintain and upgrade the viaducts. One will note that there has been no call for seismic upgrades to these structures. Why? Well, because the general thought at city hall has always been to take the viaducts down eventually. It’s not the current city hall politicians that conceived of this idea. The removal of the viaducts has been on the pages at city hall for a long time.