The fabric linking much of our community's cultural heritage with commerce was severed in 1955 with the carving of the I-5 freeway separating downtown Vancouver from the adjacent National Historic Reserve.
Now the region may have the opportunity to restore some of those lost pedestrian linkages in a park-like setting with the proposed Community Connector project.
Last October, a collaborative concept for the new I-5 cap, submitted by the firms of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol and Allied Works Architecture Team was selected as the winning design. The proposal envisions not just a highway bridge, but an organic "lid" over the I-5 stretching from Evergreen Boulevard to 7th Street, providing linkages via a series of pathways between downtown Vancouver's urban core and the amenities of the Reserve.
The connection is a vital next step in the viability and livability of downtown, providing economic benefits for current and future development in the surrounding area.
An example of a proactive development project that has long awaited the advantages of an eventual crossing is Prestige Development's Lewis and Clark Plaza, which opened in late 2004. Anticipating an eventual pedestrian crossing link, the building at 621 Broadway includes an interpretive center and Lewis and Clark-themed art gallery to celebrate our rich local history and local artists.
Prestige Development president Elie Kassab says that the Connector project is a vital amenity that will allow existing and future development projects to be more fully integrated with the 366-acre Fort Vancouver National Site – the only national park site in the Vancouver-Portland metro area.
Steve Burdick, director of development at Killian Pacific, notes that elements such as continuous walking trails included in the Community Crossing vision are key in attracting more residents downtown. And studies show that walking trails are commonly the number one attraction cited by people moving into an area.
Part of that future is Killian Pacific's main library project for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, located at the northwest terminus of the planned Community Connector. Karin Ford, FVRL Vancouver Community Librarian, said the Connector will provide the best of both worlds for the Library and the community.
The Community Connector is not only a link between urban and park areas – it will also be an inviting, pedestrian friendly space.
In short, this project is a worthy investment of time and money given its potential to heal a decades-old wound and to get downtown Vancouver development rolling once more.
Timothy Buckley is principal at Vancouver-based Greenstone Architecture PLLC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.