I want to liberate a stream.
I am a junior planner in a small (80,000) mountain community in the heart of BC. There is a small creek running through the downtown of my city that few people know anything about. The creek starts a few kilometres away, tumbling merrily down from the mountains through a sharp ravine, passing underneath the Trans-Canada Highway, then slowly wandering behind the grounds of the hospital. Bit by bit the stream is channelized as it moves around the government buildings until it runs along a2 3-meter wide ditch dividing two parking lots from one another. Finally, it passes from the hospital lands into the downtown area proper, disappearing into a concrete-lined culvert and vanishing from view. It then takes a diagonal turn and cuts across the city, surfacing periodically here and there in backyards and alleys in a 2-meter wide concrete ditch, vanishing again into concrete culverts only to reappear again for a 1 or 2 metre stretch. Finally, the creek burbles out a few metres short of the main river and fans out in a delta at the riverside park, free at last. The creek is covered for 85% of its journey through downtown, with hotels, houses and 1-storey strip malls perched overtop, along with roads, alleys and parking lots. It starts its journey at the top of 6th street and finishes its journey at the foot of 8th street, traversing at a near diagonal across the city grid.
My idea is this.
The gradient from the hospital grounds to the river is low, less than 1 degree at any one time. I cannot dig out the stream and give it a proper channel without destroying numerous businesses and homes (the diagonal angle through the city as related to the street grid). However, 8th street is a two-lane affair with extremely generous parking lanes on either side. In total, the street ROW is 20m. Fortuitously for my machinations, very few houses or businesses front on 8th street, and traffic is very light. Therefore, I propose to dig up the entirety of 8th street to a depth of 5 meters or more, from sidewalk to sidewalk, redirect the stream up 8th street, swing around in a dog-leg at the top of 8th, and reconnect with the original bed behind the hospital. I’ve checked the grades and hill profile, and think it can be done. My vision is this – a natural green corridor running from the riverbank through the heart of downtown, connecting the riverfront with the regional parks up in the hills – with a bike and ped walkway running alongside, providing a gently graded connection from the river path system to the rest of the city. Short, well-designed bridges would connect the perpendicular roads across the creek, and the pedestrian walkway would cross the streets at-grade. There would be places along the pathway to sit and watch the creek, some parts would be allowed to form small ponds and wetlands, all would be designed as a destination for local residents, and as a link to the greater community.
This all exists in my head right now. I discussed my idea with the group of engineers I work with – they all did the same thing – stared at me incredulously, said “Good god, you can’t do that. How much would it cost?” and retreated nervously mumbling about restricting traffic flow and causing vehicle mobility mayhem. “Besides, who would go there?” one asked in parting. Young and idealistic I may be, but the first question, I think, might be a good one.
I am slowly fleshing this beast out into a proposal and want to start wandering around the city getting community groups, neighbourhood organizations, business associations and the like on side. For reasons that make no sense to me (well, they do – but I fundamentally disagree with the reasoning), I am going to face a hell of an uphill battle – with the city engineers, with businesses, with residents, with car drivers. So I need ammunition! I need to get more of an idea of what might be involved, how it could look, who should I talk to, how to fund the construction and long-term maintenance, what it might mean long-term for development potential and so on, which means getting together examples of similar projects and ideas from the minds of my intelligent and able colleagues.
If you have any thoughts, advice or recommendations, I’d love to hear it.
Planner - Transportation & Land Development