A failed grand plan in Vancouver, B.C., now gives the city a fresh opportunity at a new focus, one that uses infrastructure to connect people, communities and beauty. As the city explores ripping out two viaducts—The Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts—on the eastern edge of downtown, potential use for the space has residents salivating at the future possibilities.

Last year the city announced plans to find a new use for the viaducts, plans that largely centered around tearing them out and reconfiguring the neighborhood streets. But in the spirit of entertaining all thoughts on the space, it opened up an ideas competition—re:CONNECT—eliciting plans from the public on what the over 20 acres of space both on the viaduct and below should look like. The city took those ideas and formed a new master plan—which can be seen via a slideshow here—for the viaduct area and will present that plan to the public this week at three different open houses, starting on Tuesday and also running on Thursday and Saturday.

The overhead concrete roadways, built about 40 years ago, were the first steps in a grand strategy to create a freeway system throughout downtown Vancouver. Public opposition killed the project, but the neighboring viaducts were already built by the time the freeway plan died. That was all well and good for a while, but the space beneath the viaducts has essentially wasted away and the cost, up to 10 times more than at-grade roadways, to maintain the elevated streets will require $10 million in the next 15 years just to keep the viaducts viable, city staff says.

The new city plan, developed using engineers, transportation experts and city planners, calls for tearing out the viaducts—the only popular plan for leaving them in suggests turning the space into elevated parks, similar to New York’s Highline, although the maintenance costs would prove challenging—replacing them with surface streets and then turning all the currently unused land into a grand downtown park that also connects nearby communities to the waterfront.

The city plan claims that the available park space can increase 13 percent and the new configuration and will actually turn the currently unused space into a park, complete with pedestrian and bicycling “spines” that provide new opportunities for residents. Plus, building new streets and a new park gives rise to previously unavailable development opportunities.

As the city pushes its revised plan and other groups latch on to the concept of elevated parks—it is hard to deny how cool they are, even if they could prove costly on the old concrete structures—the Vancouver City Council will take up the issue in late July, starting to set the plan in motion for the future of Vancouver’s downtown infrastructure.

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