Walk Leader: Sean Ruthen
Text by: Sean Ruthen
Photographs by: Sean Ruthen and Carol Topalian
As a pedestrian who calls the Central Business District home, I felt it apt to give a walk in an area which Jane Jacobs would’ve agreed is vital to any city: its financial district. I took the group past the bank towers, as well as the Marine, Guinness, and Bentall towers, and pointed out the strange urban pairing of the Christ Church Cathedral and the gargantuan Park Place, with its curious address of 666 Burrard Street.
At Waterfront Station, I regaled the group with the history of how the Canadian Pacific Railway’s arrival in what was then a small sawmill town had transformed Vancouver overnight. I then led them up a few flights of stairs to Granville Square. Unbeknownst to most folks who stand here, looking out over the Burrard Inlet to the north shore mountains, this was the deck level of what would have been a 50-metre wide elevated freeway that was to run along the waterfront. Proposed in the 1960s, it was known as the Gastown 200 Project.
The tower at Granville Square represents the type of building that planners envisioned marching along the water’s edge, replacing the then-rundown warehouses along Water Street in what we now call Gastown. But at precisely that moment in Vancouver’s history, Jane’s folks rose up, much as they had in Toronto and New York when those cities had tried to build freeways through equally loved neighbourhoods. The result is that instead of a noisy eyesore of a freeway on the waterfront, as both Toronto and Seattle have, Vancouver has Gastown and one of the most walkable downtowns in all of North America—for which we all have Jane Jacobs to thank.