Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces

By VPSN Blog

March 25, 2017 at 9:50 AM

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Improving our urban watershed: Tatlow and Volunteer Park stream restoration

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Tatlow Creek restoration area. Image: Paul Sangha Landscape Architecture

Tatlow Creek restoration area. Image: Paul Sangha Landscape Architecture

By Michelle Pollard, VPSN vice-chair and volunteer coordinator

On March 8, 2017, I braved the rain to attend a City of Vancouver open house at Volunteer Park that sought public input on plans to restore historic Tatlow Creek. I’m particularly excited about this project given my awareness of the many positive impacts of creek daylighting.

As I’ve described in a previous VPSN blog post, daylighting is a strategy that restores creeks and streams to a more natural state. As its name suggests, the practice involves uncovering buried, culverted creeks and bringing them back to the surface. While accomplishing this goal in a built-up area can present difficulties such as up-front costs and working around existing structures and property ownership, the long-term benefits include:

  • storage and absorption of stormwater runoff over vegetated and riparian surfaces to improve water quality and prevent stormwater surges;
  • cooling the air to reduce the heat island effect;
  • providing public places of respite, recreation and access to nature;
  • improved aesthetics and neighbourhood beautification;
  • increased wildlife habitat and biodiversity;
  • opportunities for education about local history and ecology; and
  • opportunities for stewardship, a sense of pride, community spirit and connection.

With such a range of benefits, several cities around the world have adopted the practice of daylighting. Seoul’s Cheong Gye Cheon Project is a stand-out example. Initiated in 2003 and lauded as a success, this project involved removing a downtown freeway to restore the creek beneath. The most noteworthy benefits have been the increased natural habitats for various fish, bird and insect species and a significant cooling effect, with temperatures along the stream as much as 5.9° C lower than in nearby areas.

Several locations in Vancouver have also seen successful creek restoration, including Spanish Banks, Musqueam, Hastings and Still Creek, with salmon returning to spawn in Spanish Banks, Musqueam and Still.

Tatlow Creek, past to present

Formerly known as First Creek, Tatlow Creek was once fed by the area’s groundwater and flowed through both Tatlow Park and Volunteer Park before entering English Bay. As explained by the City’s presentation at the open house, urban development caused the original Tatlow Creek to be diverted and buried. The natural watershed was replaced by underground pipes, resulting in a deeper water table and altered hydrological processes. The existing stream currently begins in Tatlow Park, enters a culvert under Point Grey Road and discharges into English Bay through underground pipes.

Tatlow Park, Vancouver

Tatlow Park today

The project aims to uncover and restore further the stream that once flowed through what is now Volunteer Park. Fed by stormwater runoff, the restored stream will be filtered naturally through a series of pools alongside the stream before entering English Bay. This creek daylighting project also includes restoring the shoreline at the foot of Volunteer Park, currently overrun with invasive species, to a more natural state. Improved waterfront access for pedestrians and native plantings alongside the stream will create a riparian habitat for birds and pollinator species. 

Seeing benefits

The project aligns with the Vancouver Park Board’s Biodiversity Strategy as well as the Access to Nature goal that the City of Vancouver has articulated as a component of its Greenest City Action Plan. It has also been identified as a “potential new water focus project” as part of the City’s Integrated Rainwater Management Plan. According to the City, the project will:

  • create an ecologically diverse stream corridor in Tatlow and Volunteer parks;
  • improve access to the shoreline through new paths;
  • restore and enhance riparian and shoreline habitat for birds and other wildlife; and
  • improve rainwater management.

Have your say

Design Concept A: Nature Park. Image: City of Vancouver

Design concept A: Nature park. Image: City of Vancouver

During the open house, two design concepts were presented. One (“Nature park,” above) had the overarching goal of maximizing habitat creation and biodiversity. The other (“Gathering and play space,” below) focused on increased amenities for humans such as a larger number of pathways and play areas, formal stream crossings and picnic tables. The design concepts can be viewed in comprehensive form on the City’s website.

Design Concept B: Gathering and Play Space. Image: City of Vancouver

Design concept B: Gathering and play space. Image: City of Vancouver

The City is in the late phases of concept development and will use the feedback obtained from the public to create a final concept for board approval this summer. Detailed designs will be carried out through fall and winter 2017, with construction beginning in summer 2018. The project is slated for completion in summer 2019.

Want to provide feedback to the City on this project? The preliminary design concepts and a questionnaire are currently online and available until April 3, 2017.

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