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Vancouver’s viaduct removal means skateboarders will lose their cultural hub

The Downtown Skateboard Plaza has attracted local and international skateboarders for over a decade

By Cathy Miyagi and Sophie Gray , in City , on March 29, 2017

Skateboarders are pushing to ensure that the internationally renowned skatepark they’ve created isn’t lost with the removal of Vancouver’s 50-year-old viaducts next year.

They say the new skatepark that is supposed to be part of a completely redeveloped Northeast False Creek should retain the unique features of the Downtown Skateboard Plaza, which is North America’s first purposely built plaza style skatepark.

Located underneath the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts – at the intersection connecting Quebec and Union streets and Expo Boulevard – the Downtown Skateboard Plaza has attracted local and international skateboarders for over a decade.

The viaducts above the skatepark are due to come down in 2018. They connect east Vancouver to the downtown core, but were deemed under-utilized and seismically unsafe by the city. Their removal will make way for a new community of approximately 4,000 new residents and a large new park. It’s not clear whether the new skateboarding space will be inside that park.

Spencer Hamilton, a local professional skateboarder, believes the current skatepark is so successful because it mimics the “different obstacles you’d actually see in the downtown core” of cities like Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

He wants to see the Plaza’s street-style design, which skateboarders worked with the park board to design, replicated in a replacement park.

“This place is actually a true representation of what street skateboarders want which is space, granite ledges, stairs, [and] rails,” says Hamilton.

Granite ledges are very rare in skateparks and are reflective of European city squares that are idyllic for street-style skaters. Because of their hard surface and durability, these ledges are at the top of the list of demands for the new skatepark, along with more open space and potentially even a roof.

“We don’t really want to get the same type of skatepark designs we’ve typically seen here in Vancouver,” says Hamilton, who sits on the Northeast False Creek park design advisory board and represents the skateboard community in the area’s redevelopment process.

Fostering a sense of community

Sasha von Stavel is a skatehost at the Plaza and works for the city on the design project.

(Piktochart)

He believes that the physical features of the park are important, but space for people to gather and create a social hub is just as integral to the new skatepark’s success.

“[The Plaza] fosters this sense of community,” says von Stavel. “People come from all over the world to this skatepark because of not only the design, but the people who skate it.”

Hamilton agrees the Plaza has a welcoming feel.

“There’s a 65-year-old teacher and one of my homies who’s skating is in his class, or some new kid [who’s] mom is talking to everybody and now she’s part of the scene,” he says.

Both Hamilton and von Stavel say that the location and design of the replacement park are integral to making sure this translates into the rebuild.

Frustration from lack of consultation

Skateboarders were frustrated about being left out of the Northeast False Creek redesign consultation process. They demanded that they have a say just like every other stakeholder group involved, which included residents, youth, and seniors.

The city commissioned a survey to determine just how important the Downtown Skate Plaza is to the community. More than 2,200 skateboarders responded from 25 different countries and the results forced the city to listen, says von Stavel, author of the survey.

Skateboarders said they would return to skating the streets if the new skatepark is not built to their standards.

Skateboarders are anxious as park plans remain unclear

The city of Vancouver and the parks board have committed to replacing the skatepark, but details on its location, size, and features remain up in the air.

Parks and open space in Northeast False Creek, due to be redesigned with the removal of the viaducts. Source: City of Vancouver.

Von Stavel says that although the commitment to a replacement is positive, “there hasn’t been any talk about where that … is going to be, what facilities it’ll include, what size it’ll be, so there’s been a lot of worries within the skateboard community.”

Michael Wiebe is the Vancouver park board chairman. The park board is working on the design for the expanded park area that will include the new skatepark.

“We’re still in the consultation stages but obviously we’re continuing to move forward on it,” he says.

Wiebe is adamant that the skate community is being consulted in this design process. “I think the skateboarders have been heard very loudly and the city will make sure they will be involved in the process all the way through.”

Skateboarder rides through the Plaza.

Hamilton is content with the way the city is listening to the skateboard community currently, but is cautious about the relationship moving forward.

“I’m taking it with a grain of salt just because it’s easy for the [city] to go back. So far in concrete, we’re getting a skatepark. Everything else is open to a lot of change.”

Hamilton is happy that skateboarders won’t be displaced, but he is still concerned about details like the architect and exact location of the new park.

“I’m sure people would tape themselves to the Plaza before [the City] would bulldoze it without having it 100-per-cent concrete on paper that we’re going to get a skatepark.”