Way Ahead of its Time: Vancouver’s First Truly 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.

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.

Crown Street became a traffic calmed street with many of the elements of Seattle’s SEA streets, with minimal impermeable surfaces, and a natural storm water management system. Ditches and infiltration bulges are filled with appropriate plants. Those plants naturally filtrate storm water contaminants before reaching the streams, which enhances fish habitat. Granite curb sets, pavers and markers, many recycled, were used to delineate the street instead of cement and concrete.

Fifteen years later Crown Street with its narrowed road surfaces and gravelled separated sidewalks has been a success. This street shows how to move away from the standard curb and gutter treatment and maximize green space, squelch heat-island impacts of larger asphalt surfaces, and infiltrate and clean storm water in verges and ditches.

There are two other fish bearing streams in Vancouver: one in Stanley Park that is a fish habitat  exhibit, and a restored creek at Spanish Banks, where Coho and Chum salmon return. But none of those are natural.

This map produced by the Vancouver Park Board shows a walk around Musqueam Park and points of interest.

Published by Sandy James Planner

Vancouverite! City planner, writer, former master gardener, perpetual public space champion. I'm interested in pace, space and place. Micromobility and accessibility, best environments for free range kids. She/her. Dogs. I really walk a lot. Editor~ Viewpoint Vancouver Urbanism/Insight/Evolution www.viewpointvancouver.ca Managing Director of Walk Metro Vancouver, www.walkmetrovan. Twitter: @sandyjamesplan My current writing: sandyjamesplanner.wordpress.com www.walkmetrovan.ca

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