Climate Change
May 12, 2021

Vancouver’s Last Natural Salmon Creek & First Sustainable Street


Did you know that there is still one natural salmon bearing stream left in the City of Vancouver? That is on Crown Street south of Southwest Marine Drive, and you can see it as it goes through Musqueam Park. Fish that have used this creek are Chum, Coho and Cutthroat trout.

This stream and its location is also important, as it is next to the Musqueam First Nation, and Crown Street is also a major entrance to the Nation.

Even two decades ago the City of Vancouver had a surprising percolating font of innovation in the most unexpected place, the Engineering Department. There visionaries like Doug Smith of Greenways (who now heads up the Sustainability Department) and David Desrochers who was manager of Sewer Design stewarded new approaches to managing streets and stormwater. They believed that work could be done in a different, more ecologically sensitive way, and looked for opportunities to test new materials and work in their projects. One grumpy conservative engineer at the city  said that both of these individuals should lose their engineering accreditations for their innovative approaches. But that most certainly  did not happen, instead both Mr. Smith and Mr. Desrochers created work that garnered international attention and awards. And no one talks about the grumpy engineer.

David Desrochers along with  Wally Konowalchuk and Jonathan Helmus had been looking for a place to experiment with a more ecologically responsible way to innovate on  the standard street curb and gutter.  Crown Street with its proximity to this important  salmon stream  and  to the  gateway of the  Musqueam First Nations lands was chosen.

The work on Crown Street between Southwest Marine Drive and 48th Avenue was approved in 2002 . In 2004 funding of 1.18 million was approved with $545,000 being the city share of the cost. Other funding came from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities,($593,350) with the remainder from the Musqueam First Nation and through a Local Improvement Program initiative cost shared with residents.

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The Federal Government through Indigenous Services has just closed a request for written comments regarding environmental impacts of the proposed Senakw development which is located on the traditional territory of the Squamish First Nation near the south foot of the Burrard Bridge. The deadline for comments closed at the end of April, but you can read more about the process here.

These comments are being submitted to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, and are part of the planning phase where the public and First Nations provide information to the assessment. You can take a look at the overall  federal process here.

The Senakw development proposes twelve mixed residential and commercial buildings to be built on site near the south foot of the Burrard Bridge in four phases, resulting in the addition of 6,000 units, mainly rental. You can take a look at the website for Senakw here, and also view an introductory video by Khelsilem and Deanna Lewis, Councillors of the Squamish Nation.

The video gives a background of the history of the Squamish Nation lands and references the past and importance of this 10.5 acre  site. There are also  some flyover graphics showing how the proposed towers will nestle beside the Burrard Bridge.

There has been some confusion about lack of notification of the start of this process, but one group which has responded is the Kits Point Residents’ Association who posted their submission on their website.  This group  represents 1,100 households, sixty percent who rent in the area. You can read their full submission here.

The Kits Point Residents Association wants to know more about the environmental assessment process that the Federal government is undertaking, as well as the services, access and egress for the new development on this “irregularly shaped lot which is not fully buildable by virtue of being bisected by the Burrard Street Bridge.”  

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This is a version of a presentation that planner, urban designer and writer Lance Berelowitz made during SFU’s Lunch ‘n Learn online public event on Vancouver’s Downtown Waterfront held on 29 April, 2021.


What do we mean when we refer to Vancouver’s Downtown Waterfront or Central Waterfront? It’s worth reminding ourselves of the significant geographic extent of the site that we’re discussing.

As you can see on this aerial photo, Vancouver’s Downtown Waterfront extends all the way from Burrard Street and Canada Place in the west to Portside Park and Main Street in the east, and from Cordova and Water Streets in the south out into Burrard Inlet in the north.

There is also a significant grade difference of at least 30 feet from Cordova Street down to the Burrard Inlet shoreline.

Multiple uses occupy the area, including Canada Place and the cruise ship terminal, the SeaBus ferry terminal, the Heliport, a multi-modal public transit hub that includes SkyTrain, Canada Line and WestCoast Express stations as well as buses, the railway companies, the Port, a community park, the fishing industry, a coach parking lot, and several private properties. To the immediate south is Gastown, our city’s historic founding place and now a federally designated heritage district. Further east is Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

This is a large, complex site – to say the least – with several public and private land owners. There are multiple key stakeholders and user groups, including the Vancouver Port Authority, TransLink, PAVCO, the railroad companies, the federal, provincial and local governments, the Heliport operators, coach companies, private land owners and, of course, the citizens of Vancouver.

You’ll note that in the middle of the area lies the existing rail yard just north of historic Gastown. This rail yard currently serves Port operations, which is a critical piece of national infrastructure. But it also effectively separates the Downtown/Gastown urban fabric from the waterfront, and constrains redevelopment of the area.

Which brings me to my second image, and my first key point – what if the rail yard could be relocated?

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And it was only April 1:

From the New York Times:

The research, published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that in cities where bike infrastructure was added, cycling had increased up to 48 percent more than in cities that did not add bike lanes. …

But in public transit research, the effect of adding bike lanes is a matter of debate.

“It’s like a chicken and egg problem,” said Mr. Kraus, a doctoral candidate in economics at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin. “There can be this reverse causality that, actually, if you have a lot of cyclists, they will demand better infrastructure, and it’s not really the infrastructure that creates more cycling.” …

Bicycles, unlike cars, do not emit greenhouse gases. Matthew Raifman, a doctoral student in environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health, found in a separate study that investments in infrastructure for cycling and walking more than paid for themselves once the health benefits were taken into account. …

“There’s indications from mobility behavior research that as soon as you find another way of getting around, then you might actually stick to it,” Mr. Kraus said. “So I’m confident that if you keep the infrastructure, that people will continue cycling.”

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The Daily Hive has posted renderings of the proposed SkyTrain stations along the Broadway line.  What a disappointment for such highly public infrastructure that will be with us for generations – especially compared to its predecessors along the Millennium Line (right), whether exterior or interior.

Budgets?  Surely if there’s a place to spend money on bold design, it’s for such public places.  Especially when compared to other cities of similar size like Stockholm that aspire to high urban quality.

The stations on the whole aspire to nothing more than the mediocrity of the Canada Line – another disappointment that was rationalized by budgetary limitations and an urgent deadline.


Seriously?  This looks more like a rendering to illustrate the volume into which the actual building must fit.*

The Urinal School of Interior Design.  (At least there will be public restrooms in the stations.)

Not sure what the red boxes are for – but that is literally the only colour in any of the renderings other than the signage.

This is surely the greatest disappointment: the station that will serve one of the pre-eminent art and design schools in Canada.

We can only hope the students will rebel against the blandness and use the spaces for some guerilla artistic urbanism:

Yes, there is art to come in all the stations – but that is no excuse to treat the architecture itself as a blank palette.


*Update: Andy Coupland in the Comments below notes that, indeed, that is pretty much just a volume rendering, representing the building that will rise above.  The station, however, seems fittingly mediocre.

Update: A friend noted that this is not just about aesthetics.

Are all the stations going to be the same design with an identical colour/material palette? Not only will that be banal but it will also make for an orientation challenge with six identical-looking stations in sequence, and possibly 10 to 12 when it gets to UBC.

A commenter mentioned Toronto’s original stations as a negative example but at least they varied the tile colours to assist in station recognition and orientation. Are we going to start off not having even learned the importance of that? Canada Line is repetitive but at least it has a variety of side, centre and stacked-platform stations, so that helps orientation, even subconsciously, despite the bland materials and poor signage.


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It’s been a while since the Massey Tunnel replacement debate surfaced again and kudos to Sandor Gyarmati with the Delta Optimist for keeping up on this slowly evolving story.

During the pandemic there’s been changes in commuting patterns. A survey done by pollster Mario Canseco suggests that up to 73 percent of people expect to do some work from home even after the pandemic is over.

A recent survey undertaken by McKinsey in the United Kingdom reported in The Economist estimates that 20 to 25 percent  of workers in full time traditional  “at the office” positions will work three to five days a week at home. This will impact commuting traffic patterns, for transit and for single occupant vehicles.

With the existing tunnel there are short term congestion remediation measures that could be undertaken, like keeping trucks out of the tunnel during peak commuting times, advertising and implementing rapid bus service during those peak times, and offering incentives to people who commute by transit.

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I have the pleasure of moderating what is, for me, an unusual panel.  It focuses on the fast-growing suburban municipalities in Metro Vancouver who will shape our future more than, perhaps, the City of Vancouver, and it also includes planners from Seattle – our southern neighbour with whom we rarely talk over our border fence.

Join an expert panel consisting of planning experts from Surrey, Delta, Maple Ridge and Seattle to get the inside scoop on how land-use plans, development and growth will occur around transit nodes in local municipalities and abroad.

No one knows what the future of the post-pandemic city will be like but we do know where we’re headed.  Transit decisions have been made to help inform land-use, municipalities and investment interests have their plans, and there’s enough consensus to proceed. Come to learn where the growth will take place and how things will unfold.

Featured Panel:

May 6, 2021

12:00 PM – 1:15 PM PDT

Register Now

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What is the top insurance claim for property in Canada? Surprisingly it is water damage. And as the climate shifts to one that is hotter, wetter, and more extreme, we can expect more water flooding events.

As Bruce Taylor with Enviro-Stewards says ““With climate change, you won’t get the same amount of precipitation but you get it in a shorter duration in bigger, shorter storms. If you get water faster than you designed for, then it fills up and it starts backing up and you get flooding. And flooding is very expensive wherever that occurs.”

Remember it was less than two decades ago that having green vegetative  roofs to mitigate heat was seen as controversial and not workable. It’s not surprising that Canada’s First Lady of Landscape, pre-eminent Landscape Architect Cornelia Oberlander championed green roofs, and was way ahead in advocating for them as a sustainable necessity.

The CBC’s Vicky Qiao reports on a new innovation, blue roofs that collect stormwater, store it, then trickle drains it. This might be the green roof hack of this century.

In large industrial/commercial  zoned areas that have flat expanses of roof and parking areas, hard surfaces make water drainage difficult, increasing flooding risk and storm sewer overload. These areas also are perfect for the installation of blue roofs, to mitigate and control stormwater.

Where is a good example of a  new blue roof being implemented? No surprise it is in The Netherlands where water management has been pivotal to the success of the country. 

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Daily Scot took me to the 1400-block Laburnum Street on Kits Point to see if I noticed anything odd.

I did not.  Until he pointed out that there’s a big hump in the street for no apparent reason, and that the hydro poles are curiously spaced on either side.  (Scot loves this kind of thing.)

The reason: Possibly the least known streetcar line in Vancouver – the Kits spur:

You can see on the Dial Map of Vancouver that one streetcar line, the 12, departs from Granville, crosses the False Creek swing-span bridge (removed in the 1985) and cuts right through the Point mid-block.  The right-of way is still evident in the hump where the tracks used to be and in this aerial from 1945:

Kits Beach (previously known as Greer’s) was kind of a summer resort for the early settlers of the city, and the streetcar provided the access.  There was even camping:

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Spring is finally here and everyone wants to get outside. The next wave of the pandemic means that restaurants can no longer serve inside, which of course also shows one of the shortages that existed before the pandemic: there’s no public washrooms.

How do you get around the city, get outside by yourself or in your “people bubble” and spend any amount of time patronizing local businesses if there are no public washrooms?

In Vancouver public washrooms availability has fallen to large stores, coffee shops and restaurants to maintain and take care of as part of their private businesses. Providing  true publicly accessible washrooms in Metro Vancouver’s business areas and along the transit routes are pretty well non existent.

There are two ways that public washrooms are provided in the public realm: they can be publicly accessible and paid for by taxpayers, or they can be privately owned but available to customers. We do the latter, and that impacts families, homeless, disabled, seniors and pretty much everyone that needs to go.

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