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April 10, 2014 at 4:22 PM

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Big Ideas for the Fraser River: Vancouver’s southern waterfront

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Excerpt from the Marpole Community Plan (2014)

Excerpt from the Marpole Community Plan (2014)

The Fraser River is the historical root of settlement for our corner of British Columbia, but for many decades, Vancouver has turned its back on this valuable natural asset. While other places such as Coal Harbour and False Creek have seen restoration efforts transform these waterways into much-loved public space treasures, park and trail development along the Fraser has been spotty at best. Today only a handful of small and disconnected parks stretch between Marpole and the East Fraserlands allow for public access to the river. Recognizing that the lands south of Marine Drive will continue to be home to a significant number of jobs for the city, improving access to the Fraser River should become a priority of City Council and the Park Board. Much of the Fraser is still very much a ‘working river’, but a better balance between industry and recreation can be achieved.

The opening of the Canada Line in 2009 with its Fraser River crossing introduced a new pedestrian/cycling connection across the river. This popular new link between Vancouver and Richmond has helped to foster an increased interest in providing recreation opportunities next to – and along – the river.

The Canada Line Image by grumpygrimble

The Canada Line; image by grumpygrimble


A recent ‘good news’ update on this front appeared when Council approved the Marpole Community Plan on April 2, which VPSN has reviewed and commented on. Included in the list of 10-year policies in the Public Benefits Strategy is the creation of a new waterfront park of up to 10 acres at the foot of Cambie Street. This represents a tremendous opportunity for a brand new, significant greenspace to be built in a neighbourhood that has less park space than most other areas of the city. And with construction cranes popping up next to Marine Drive Station, this new waterfront park will also help to serve the future residents of this emerging transit-oriented community.

While this new park will be a welcome Fraser River greenspace addition, the momentum needs to continue beyond just this one piece of the puzzle. The Marpole Plan also spells out direction for future extensions of the existing Fraser River Trail. In recent years the Park Board has made some small additions to the Marpole portion of the trail, along with some beautification efforts. However, the trail is still fragmented, and significant gaps around busy industrial areas highlight the need for a more comprehensive, long-term vision of a continuous link of waterfront trails and parks beyond just Marpole. We’re aware that Metro Vancouver is taking the first step in this direction with their collaborative vision to Experience the Fraser:

“Experience the Fraser is a unique vision to connect communities, parks, natural features, historic and cultural sites and experiences along the Lower Fraser River. The Canyon to Coast Trail and Recreational Blueway are the backbone of the project, connecting Hope to the Salish Sea by means of over 550 kilometres of trail (43% of which is already in place) and via the river itself.”

Strategies that add or improve pathways and wayfinding are welcome, as in some places it can be a challenge to navigate the pedestrian and cycling routes between the river and neighbouring residential areas.

[Oblique view of Vancouver and Fraser River looking north] Credit: City of Vancouver Archives; Reference code: AM54-S4-: LP 153.2; Date: June 5, 1948

[Oblique view of Vancouver and Fraser River looking north] Credit: City of Vancouver Archives; Reference code: AM54-S4-: LP 153.2; Date: June 5, 1948

The VPSN recommends that the City and Park Board prioritize these long-term strategies that provide increased public access to the Fraser River, by improving riverfront linkages via an extended and continuous Fraser River Trail to better connect the existing parks, and by acquiring additional properties for developing a string of new greenspaces. Doing so would also be an ideal opportunity to act on Metro Vancouver’s Experience the Fraser implementation plan, and to connect Vancouver’s riverfront public spaces to existing Canyon to Coast Trails and the Recreational Blueway.

By putting special focus on the Fraser River, Vancouver’s southern waterfront, we can improve access and help encourage a greater awareness and appreciation of the river’s cultural, agricultural, industrial, and environmental heritage, and provide much-needed opportunities for recreation and public space gathering.

The Big Ideas are 12 Priority Areas we see as an early release of the VPSN Manifesto on public space policy. We’ve made online access to the Routemap 2012-2014 and the original Manifesto 2008-2011.To learn more about this initiative and to get involved, please write us an email.

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