There has been some discussion at Vancouver city council about an extension of the seawall. A motion is coming to the parks board on the feasibility of extending the seawall from Kitsilano Beach to Jericho Beach. This is on the heels of an anonymous donation pledge to help defray some of the costs.
I think the city and the parks board are putting the cart before the horse on this one. And I have to ask: just because we can do something, should we?
I asked this questions several years ago when the proposal to prop up the dead stump in Stanley Park, known as the Hollow Tree, came before the board. Vision Vancouver said yes and the tax payers are now on the hook for maintaining it in perpetuity.
I asked the question again a year later about keeping whales in captivity in Vancouver parks. Vision Vancouver said the citizens didn’t have a right to answer for themselves and my motion for a plebiscite was rejected. Now it is an extension of the seawall.
The seawall is a tremendous amenity, surely one of the most used public features in the city. Tourists and residents alike take great delight in the grand vistas of the cityscape seen from it, whether on foot, rollerblades or bicycle. It is a place for serious fitness and casual pleasure. Yes, it would be nice to have a continual path around the city, but is it necessary?
The seawall cost millions of dollars to build and further millions to maintain. It is a never-ending job keeping it safe and secure. Time, storms and natural erosion take their toll on the structure.
With limited budgets for maintenance, we have to ask ourselves if an extension of the seawall is a good use of tax dollars. Look around Vancouver this summer. It seems we don’t have enough money to maintain the parks and amenities we already have. So why are we looking at an expansion we can’t afford?
A seawall extension would also dump tons of fill and concrete onto one of the last sections of natural foreshore on English Bay. Is this what we want? Do we really want a cement, fortress-like structure surrounding our city? What about leaving some space for natural waterfront?
There is another foreshore walkway along the Fraser River. This path is a mixture of soft walkways and shored up breakwater support. This is part of the flood-control system and serves a purpose as well as providing a lovely amenity. There are no concrete retaining walls. But what do concrete slabs hugging the last rugged shorelines of English Bay serve? Other than once again spending countless millions to show that yes we can do this, not much.
I would suggest a better use for the millions of dollars required to build and maintain a seawall extension would be to maintain the parks and community centres we already have. Vancouver used to be a city with flower baskets and beautiful gardens maintained by parks employees who were proud of their work. Today, our parks and public gardens are neglected and ragged. Boulevards are unkempt and public litter bins are overflowing. Many of our community centres are aging and need replacing. Outdoor pools have been closed. There are only so many tax dollars to go around. Let’s use them wisely.
Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Let’s have a discussion about whether a seawall extension is a good use of our money, time and the environment.
Let’s have the discussion about whether we should before we have the discussion about whether we can.
Stuart Mackinnon is a former Vancouver parks board commissioner. He blogs at: betterparks.org
Source URL: http://blogs.theprovince.com/2012/07/12/stuart-mackinnon-just-because-we-can-build-a-seawall-extension-doesnt-mean-we-should/