The Flat Earth

I just read through/viewed this wonderfully animated piece by VEC/Centre for Digital Media students about the False Creek Flats, and it got me rummaging around. Of late I’ve also been examining the standard planning propaganda* (I use that term here in its modern, non-pejorative sense**) about the future of the Flats in Vancouver.

Looking at the public record, there appears to be great uncertainty yet about where the Flats are headed, from a city planning perspective. Despite the seemingly good intentions of many of the companies and institutions that have relocated (and property developers that have installed condominiums) in this neighbourhood with much fanfare, there is considerable administrative inertia on the fate of the flats, due to legal entanglements, multiple (regional and civic) planning agendas***, transportation planning (which depends on Provincial approval, and a referendum on a subway line, among other transit priorities), and the position of the overall redevelopment of the flats within the panoply of hot button issues that haunt Vancouver’s overall political climate.

The Flats

I live (almost) and work (sometimes) in the Flats. I recently created a photo essay of my walk to work, in which I observed (among other things – please read the comments under each image for the full autobiographical story) that many of the new businesses along Terminal Avenue within the past two years are automobile dealerships. This seems broadly and deeply inconsistent with the themes of sustainability and environmental consciousness that inhabit most of the planning literature and discourse in Vancouver. I’m not being cynical; I’m simply pointing out an obvious contradiction. Companies that promote automobile and fossil fuel consumption are fundamentally at odds with community or state planned initiatives to reduce the effects of global warming. If our planning is to be sustainable in the Metro Vancouver region, why is the intensified promotion of luxury (and other) cars included as part of the way forward?

Speaking of climate, False Creek Flats might be under water in a short while if administrative and political inertia permit the status quo patterns of development to continue on for too much longer. An interesting – though perhaps trivial in the grand scheme of things – aside is that Emily Carr University is relocating from one flood zone (originally a sandbar) to another.

Not my image. CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic (
Not my image. CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic (

The Flats themselves are a product of regional transportation planning history. Originally a swampy body of water, maps that show the history of Vancouver’s inner shoreline like the one above (source: City of Vancouver Community Services)  hint at the dramatic transformation of this area which began in 1917, as Canadian railway companies were granted permission to fill in the area with regional commercial transportation infrastructure (mainly servicing commercial cargo traffic to the Port). Did you know that the Port of Vancouver is on its way to becoming the largest coal exporting site in North America?

I want Vancouver to be the Greenest City in the world. Strike that: I want every city in the world to be the greenest city in the world. However, I am puzzled as to why the action on this contradicts the talk.

Moreover, you can learn a thing or two about political realities (as opposed to fictions) by simply walking around, taking pictures with a smartphone.


*Noting that civic plans for the False Creek Flats have been institutionally made into an integral part of other, more controversial civic planning initiatives such as the removal of the Georgia/Dunsmuir viaducts.

**Meaning, in my own words, government publications that promote the  activities of government or a particular kind of action, belief [often ideological in nature] – reserving judgement on whether or not said materials are designed to misinform.

***Including the ambitious envisioning of the area as, in the words of one Metro Vancouver planning overseer, the “refrigerator, storeroom, and repair room of the downtown”.

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