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7th and St. george
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The St. George Rainway is a community led initiative aiming to recreate the historic creek that used to flow along the path of St George Street in Vancouver. The Rainway will bring the neighbourhood together, celebrate the rain, a demonstrate an ecologically-diverse way of managing rainwater in the city. The Rainway concept has now been incorporated into the official community plan for the Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood.

Press

2015

101 ways to improve Vancouver - Rebecca Blissett, June 9 2015, Vancouver Courier 

Ringing cowbells and cheering on strangers who were out for their morning exercise sounded like good fun so that’s what Robyn Chan and a handful of her friends did Saturday morning along the Stanley Park seawall.

It was one of Chan’s big ideas for her contribution to the Vancouver portion of the 100in1Day festival, which was held for the second time in this city as part of a national community-building movement based around random merriment.

Chan, who is also the project lead for 100in1Day in Canada and works for the local branch of Evergreen, a not-for-profit environmental group specializing in livable cities, is pleased with the way Vancouver has taken to holding individual projects (or, as the group likes to call them, “interventions”) as a way of taking one small action to improve the city.

“It’s really great. The ideas are anything and everything — it’s anything that brings about positive change,” she said. “It’s really a social experiment.”

Residents in Vancouver and in other areas of the Lower Mainland participated by leading their own events that, Chan said, help transform the way people interact with the city. Some had stronger messages than others. Stacey Forrester and

Sarah Foot set up the Admiration Station at the Mount Pleasant Library where the idea was to compliment a stranger in a respectful manner. Others, such as the Silent Disco at Grandview Park where anybody could show up, sync playlists on their phones or MP3 players, throw on some headphones and dance, was about community connection.

Others, still, were historically and environmentally motivated such as the informative walk on St. George Street where a historic stream, one of many paved over as Vancouver grew, still flows underneath. The walk was lead by women who are part of Lost Rivers Vancouver, St. George Rainway Project and the False Creek Watershed Society.

“We want to use rainwater to bring life back to cities,” said landscape architect Sarah Primeau before walking down the street with the group that held long stretches of blue fabric between them to represent a stream.

100in1Day started three years ago in Bogotá, Columbia, when some students were asked to come up with six ways to promote civic engagement. While brainstorming ideas over beer, the students decided to tackle 100 instead, which, miraculously, ended up being 250. The idea spread to other cities around the globe and Metro Vancouver jumped on board with 83 events in different neighbourhoods last year. That figure grew to 105 this year.

It wasn’t just individual participants, either. One of the stations that worked up an all-day buzz was the Kensington branch of the Vancouver Public Library where the mechanical clacking of typewriter keys springing onto paper was enough to stop passersby. Much fuss has been made of the innovation lab and other technological advances at the central library of late, but there’s a tactile appeal to old-fashioned typing which falls somewhere between pen and parchment and letters electronically imprinted on dot-matrix paper.

“We’re promoting high-tech stuff but that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for this,” said Sarah Green, the VPL employee responsible for rounding up the three typewriters outside the library in a temporary living room featuring her own furniture from home.

“People have been expressing all day that they love how the typewriter sounds. It’s using a lot of senses and it sounds comforting.”

Photo from Vancouver Courier

Photo from Vancouver Courier

Vancouverites weigh in on False Creek Flats plans. Naoibh O’Connor, May 28, 2015, Vancouver Courier

Water drew Shahira Sakiyama to a City of Vancouver open house Wednesday afternoon, an event which launched the planning process for False Creek Flats. And not the water you get from a tap or a bottle. 

“This is the historic site of the old False Creek, so I just wanted to see as this development takes place how they’re incorporating, honouring the historical site of the creek into the development that will be taking place, be it in green infrastructure or historical markers,” she said. “You know, there’s reference here to climate change and so in aiming to be the greenest city, how are they embracing how we’re going to be the bluest city?”

Sakiyama was one of dozens of people who flowed into the three-hour long open house as soon as it opened at 4:30 p.m. Visitors wanted to find out about the city’s plans and pitch their own ideas about what they’d like to see happen in an area that encompasses more than 450 acres.


About 8,000 people work in approximately 600 businesses in the flats, which are bounded by Main Street to the west, Prior and Venables streets to the north, Clark Drive to the east, and Great Northern Way to the south.

Rita Wong, who’s been working with Sakiyama on the St. George Rainway project, is equally interested in the future of the land. Wong noted there are about 50 different buried streams in Vancouver and St. George is one that flowed down into the False Creek Flats area.

“I would love to see reconstructed wetlands, daylighted creeks — you know to be working with water. Shahira talked about climate change and if we’re going to think ahead, we need to have resilient design that works with nature and not against it and is prepared for lots of water, as well as little water. This is a real opportunity. I hope it is a good process,” she said.

Rob Veerman stopped by to check out plans for things like the future hospital, greenways and bicycle routes, as well as how the area will be connected.

Veerman said many Vancouverites don’t know much about the flats because the area is not very accessible.

“Right now, the way I see it, the neighbourhood is really separated by the train tracks and if you, say, want to get from the Great Northern Way campus, the Emily Carr campus, to Strathcona Park, it’s very hard to get there,” he said. “You have to go all the way around Main Street or to Clark Drive just to get around the entire neighbourhood. There’s no way to cross the rail lines right now. So I’m interested in how the city is going to make the neighbourhood into more of a neighbourhood — make it more accessible to people: bikers, walkers, even cars.”

Sarb Mund, who owns Commissary Connect, a commercial kitchen located in the flats, said he’d like to see a central food hub with recycling alternatives.

Other open house visitors posted their thoughts on an 'I wish my flats had' board. Remarks included:
- famers market with commercial processing and eateries
- had a 'special innovation One' where regular zoning and bylaws did not apply — test new venture models/industry
- overpass from SkyTrain
- were more business friendly acknowledged
- revived indigenous cultures and practices

Brian Jackson, the city’s head planner, said there’s a lot of interest in the business community about False Creek Flats.

“They want to see it maintained for jobs. They’re interested in the kinds of jobs we’re trying to attract here, the type of density that we’re going to try to build into the new plan,” he said. “This is 450 acres of prime job space for the City of Vancouver for people who don’t want to be downtown but want to be close to downtown, and who like funky spaces and places that are still in the heart of downtown.”

Jackson said the city doesn’t want to put a strict timeframe on the plan, but it would like to move it forward in about a year. At this point, he said staff are listening to people, trying to understand what the issues with redevelopment are, and what the transportation requirements for the area are.

“We want to connect this area to the rest of the city,” he said.

The biggest challenge, according to Jackson, is keeping people focused on the fact this is a non-residential opportunity to provide job space.

“This is not about more condominiums. This is about the type of jobs that aren’t located in a downtown and looking at green jobs and high-tech jobs, and how we can bring more of those to the city,” he said.

Workshops on various aspects of the plan for False Creek Flats are scheduled for June. See vancouver.ca/falsecreekflats for for dates and more information.
Photo from Vancouver Courier

Photo from Vancouver Courier

Max Adrien stands at the corner of St. George and Sixth in Vancouver, looking down the hill towards shipping cranes that peek out of the bay. “This should be declared a Vancouver heritage site,” he says.

He’s standing on pavement that covers up one of Vancouver’s lost creeks. It used to carry spawning salmon from False Creek up to its headwaters at present-day Robson Park. Now, those headwaters are covered over by a playground, but the park still has wet, boggy patches. The forgotten stream bubbles up from time, reminding residents of a landscape that’s long since been eclipsed by urban development.

”You could argue that the creek remembers. Or, we remember,” says Rita Wong, who lives by the lost creek.

You can still hear water in the storm drains, and little yellow salmon are spray-painted on the nearby curb. There’s a mural near the intersection that shows the seven life stages of the salmon. Someone’s written a swirling line of poetry in the sidewalk concrete: listen; the buried stream gurgles its longing to return to daylight & moonlight to nourish ducks, bracken, ferns, salmonberry & you.

This is the St. George Rainway. Adrien and Wong are both part of a neighbourhood group that’s trying to bring the old creek back to life — or at least create a new creek on top of where it used to run. Wong helped start the project when she came across a digitized map of Vancouver’s 50-odd lost salmon streams, and realized she lived right next to one.

”That map is very telling,” she says. “It reminds you of what was here, and it also, I think, poses a challenge in terms of what could be here again.”

Wong doesn’t think she’ll ever see salmon on St. George Street, since the old creek is buried under concrete. But she thinks a rainway, which would collect winter rains to create a seasonal creek, would be a good alternative.

Other once-lost streams have already seen returns. In Spanish Banks, coho and chum salmon have returned to the creek that runs along the west side of the beach and up into Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Salmon have returned, or soon will, to Still Creek, Hastings Creek and Musqueam Creek.

The city plans to one day restore Tatlow Creek along Point Grey Road. There’s even long-term talk of restoring China Creek through East Vancouver all the way from Trout Lake to False Creek through a combination of closed pipes and restored streams in city parks.

One by one, the lines on the map of Vancouver’s lost salmon streams are coming back to life.
Coho fry ready to try their luck in Vancouver's restored Spanish Banks Creek. Photo by Pauline Holdsworth for the Tyee.

Coho fry ready to try their luck in Vancouver's restored Spanish Banks Creek. Photo by Pauline Holdsworth for the Tyee.

A community group wants a historic waterway in Mount Pleasant to flow again along St. George Street.

The St. George group and the Vancouver Society of Storytelling are holding a Creek Forum Nov. 5 with students from Mount Pleasant elementary and money from the Vancouver Foundation.

Their hope is to recreate the creek with rainwater runoff along St. George from Kingsway to East Fifth Avenue.

“How are we capturing [rain water] and dealing with it properly in a way that not only enhances our urban environment with green and blue spaces, increases biodiversity and actively contributes to Vancouver becoming one of the greenest cities in the world by 2020,” said Shahira Sakiyama, community liaison for the St. George Rainway Project group.

She notes permeable surfaces, rain gardens or bioswales, such as grass channels akin to those in the former Olympic Village, could collect and filter rain water and take stress off aging sewer lines and the Iona Wastewater Treatment Plant. A biofiltration plant could be established on the False Creek Flats to clean storm water before it enters False Creek. Mount Pleasant’s steep slopes could provide potential for micro hydropower.

The St. George Rainway group, an offshoot of the False Creek Watershed Society, and the storytelling society are collecting survey responses about possible designs for different blocks of St. George that they’ll share Nov. 5. One concept is a woonerf, or a space shared by cars, cyclists and pedestrians, with no one dominant mode — something more common in Europe — with a rainway featuring a wooded boardwalk surrounded by greenery along the field at Mount Pleasant elementary, between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

St. George between Kingsway and 13th Avenue near Robson Park will be closed for the Nov. 5 event. That’s the location of a sinkhole the city repeatedly paves over. That’s where the St. George Rainway Project group wants the headwaters of the creek marked.

Sakiyama said architectural designer Bryn Davidson’s thesis project from 2004 about St. George Creek was a finalist in a city design competition in 2004. Educator and poet Rita Wong discovered his project in 2009 and the pair organized an event with historian Bruce Macdonald in 2010 that spurred efforts to recreate the creek.

Elementary students mainly from Mount Pleasant have learned about streams, created related art projects and a community parade. The St. George Rainway project is meant to be a community-building project as much as it is an engineering project.

Sakiyama said the Nov. 5 event is being held on a weekday at Robson Park from 10:30 to 2 p.m. to make sure it’s a child-inclusive and celebrates the work students have achieved. “Maybe when some of these [Mount Pleasant] students are going to say Emily Carr University of Art and Design at the new campus down there, they could be walking around these ideas that they helped bring to life when they were in fourth and fifth grade asking people in their housing places to sign this petition,” she said.

So far, Sakiyama says, concerns have come from residents who face St. George between Sixth and Seventh avenues and are protective of their parking. She notes planning for a potential recreation of a creek needs to be done now before more hard surfaces are laid down in the redevelopment of Destination Auto near Robson Park, the Great Northern Way Campus and nearby residences and potential rapid transit to the UBC. For the more information about the Nov. 5 events or the surveys, see vancouverstorytelling.org.


A creek once ran from Kingsway to Great Northern Way. It has long since been covered over with asphalt. But that didn’t stop a group of ten Mount Pleasant Elementary students from Grades 5 to 7 from exploring the creek in their lessons about watersheds.

Inspired, the students teamed up with storyteller Naomi Steinberg, the Executive Director of the Vancouver Storytelling Society. Steinberg worked with Mount Pleasant students to present a series of school-wide performances telling the story of the creek. Then the students headed downtown for a nerve-wracking (but very successful) presentation to the Vancouver Foundation.

Despite all this activity, the stewards aren’t done yet. Steinberg says the children are currently working on the development of a series of community engagement charrettes, guided walking tours and the production of a catalogue of writing, statistics and illustrations that they can use at an upcoming Creek Forum. The forum is planned for November 5 on St. George Street between Broadway and 12 Avenue, and will highlight and contextualize the creek’s potential for green design.

The upcoming event is aimed at answering the practical question of how one could design a city block into the headwaters of the St. George Rainway.