About the Parks and Waterfront at Southeast False Creek
Located on a previously industrialized 32-hectare (79-acre) waterfront site in Vancouver, the Parks and Waterfront at Southeast False Creek articulate the public realm for Vancouver’s premier sustainable neighborhood. Through the introduction of restored natural environments into a highly urban community, the project exemplifies a new green infrastructure–based approach to creation of the public realm. The open spaces—composed of Hinge Park, Habitat Island, a 650-meter-long (2,132 feet) continuous waterfront park, and neighborhood streets—provide multiple and varied recreational opportunities while acting as kidneys for the neighborhood, cleansing stormwater runoff before it reaches the ocean.
Often, the most storied districts in seaside towns are their waterfronts. During its former industrial life, the Vancouver waterfront teemed with thousands of workers, as well as ship and rail traffic converging to exchange goods. In the 1950s, 5 percent of Vancouver’s workforce, about 7,400 people, worked in industries on False Creek. The transition from abandoned industrial site to vibrant sustainable community relied heavily on the successful re-envisioning of the waterfront.
The site rescues, repurposes, and reimagines elements of this industrial past to compose a new identity. In situ artifacts throughout the waterfront evoke the experience of work and present the activities that took place there in a new light. Margot Long, principal at PWL Partnership Landscape Architects, explains that the city asked for innovation, as well as a more animated development where people could get to the water wherever and whenever they wanted. As a result, the waterfront park became the defining element to engage a thriving community proud of its history.
The space is structured as one continuous park rather than a place punctuated by parks. Instead of having several parks developed individually, then turned over to the city, Vancouver took a different approach, directly overseeing development of the parks in accordance with a vision for environmental restoration and civic place making. The city’s plan for the waterfront required that a portion of shoreline be filled without reducing the amount of shoreline or associated habitat area. The need to create habitat for wildlife led to the proposal to build a small island off the Southeast False Creek shore.
This innovative solution allowed the city to proceed with its plan, replaced lost shoreline area, and resulted in a net increase in the amount of space devoted to intertidal fish habitat and park area. Proof of success appeared in fall 2008, when herring returned to spawn—for the first time in many years—on a one-kilometer (0.6 mile) stretch of the once-toxic shoreline of Southeast False Creek. The island now includes vertical snags, native vegetation, and a natural shoreline, which continue to attract bald eagles, herons, and a variety of waterfowl.
The waterfront itself anchors the residential neighborhood of Southeast False Creek. Upon selection of Vancouver as host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the development was turned over to serve as the Olympic Village; it was returned to the city after the event. The Olympic Games facilitated a short timeline for development of the park without requiring significant alterations to the original design or to the long-term vision for it as a pivotal community catalyst.
Stormwater treatment is integrated into the development. On the east side of the Olympic Village, East Park mixes an outdoor space for residents with bioswales—wide, shallow ditches, planted with greenery, that remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. This landscape feature is fully visible and serves as a main feature in some of the children’s play areas.
The waterfront, which is continuously used by cyclists and joggers, features separated bike and pedestrian routes that connect people to the water’s edge. Hinge Park has a wetland where great blue herons and ducks can be seen, while children and families gather throughout the park’s many open-ended playgrounds; Habitat Island is a great spot for birdwatching or a picnic; and the streets place pedestrians and cyclists on the top of the vehicular food chain.
People and environmental restoration are at the forefront of this foreshore development, which has demonstrated that innovative green infrastructure and dense population can work together to build and strengthen community ties and a sense of place.