The Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts will be no more in just a few short years. This has the potential to very positively reshape Northeast False Creek and Vancouver’s first neighbourhood — Strathcona.
One of the biggest issues city planners and Vancouver city council will have to wrestle with when the viaducts go down is what to do with all the displaced traffic. That includes traffic on Prior Street, once a quiet, local street that now sees 20,000+ vehicles a day.
When I was on city council, more often than not, the best ideas and solutions to thorny issues came not from city planners or other councillors, but from the community itself. The viaduct situation is a perfect example.
A broad-based, community panel led by the Minnesota-based Jefferson Centre — a non-profit organization recognized for its leadership in civic engagement and designing democratic solutions — has come up with an interesting resolution to the displaced traffic dilemma. The final pick was by far the most preferred option, supported by an amazing “super majority” of nearly 68%! It was also an option that was barely on the table at the start of the process.
The NatCha route, as locals call it, uses National and Charles streets. What’s really interesting is that it was not one of the options the City of Vancouver initially proposed, but it was one proposed by the Strathcona Residents Association. It’s the most expensive option, but it’s also the one that best solves several problems.
NatCha returns Prior Street to the more local use and much better air quality it once enjoyed; keeps well-loved Strathcona Park and its community gardens intact; and nicely serves the businesses and warehouses in Produce Row along Malkin Avenue without removing any industrial land — something in very short supply in Vancouver.
The whole thing also proves that broad-based community panels could and should be used to address many of the city’s other pressing problems, like what form of transit should be used to move people from the Commercial and Broadway SkyTrain station, along Broadway, and up to UBC? How best can Vancouver address the crisis of homelessness? These are just two that pop to mind when I think of how best to come up with solutions to challenging urban issues.
We’ll have to wait and see what the final decision is after the community panel presents its conclusions to city council and the parks board later this month. But there’s no doubt the process was a winner — one I hope gets used again and again.