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Vancouver park board breaks ground on new Yaletown park

An overhead walkway, two hammocks and a $14 million price tag included
This artist rendering shows what the new park at Smithe and Richards streets will resemble when finished early next year.

Five years and $14 million later, Yaletown’s newest park is a go.

Park board commissioners and staff convened on the intersection of Smithe and Richards streets Friday morning to break ground on the as-yet-unnamed greenspace, which will be the first new park built in the southern portion of downtown since Emery Barnes Park’s completion in 2012.

Slated to open early next year, the park is intended to serve the ever-growing mass of humanity in Yaletown and the southern downtown area – an estimated 30,000 people live within a five-minute walk of the park, though that number swells to 100,000 people within a 10-minute walk.

“We expect this distinctive, multi-layered park will become a haven for nearby workers at lunchtime and an oasis of green for residents living nearby,” said Shauna Wilton, the park board’s deputy general manager.

The park’s price tag comes in at $13.8 million, funds that will be covered entirely by community amenity contributions via Westbank and other development cost levies.

Planning for the park began in 2015 and the five-year gap in those intervening years has pushed construction costs up, according to a city staff report.

That delay didn’t sit well with at least one nearby resident, who rained profanities down on the press conference from across the street in his Richards Street highrise.

“Come on, you lazy bureaucrats,” was by far the tamest comment from the resident.

The park will be divided across three terraces and is slated to include a myriad of features seldom seen in other Vancouver parks, including “overhead sky frames” — translation: elevated walkways — that will provide some relief from the elements, along with two suspended hammocks (!).

Other elements include:

  •  a public plaza with a water feature that will reuse potable water for irrigation and toilets
  •  a community table, seating terraces
  •  a rainwater infiltration channel
  •  paintings and trees to provide buffer and shade from nearby buildings and traffic
  •  a playground area and fully accessible trails
  •  overhead lighting and art installations or banners
  •  public toilets

A small café will be built to serve as the park’s anchor near Smithe and Richards Streets, which, according to a park board press release, will serve to “activate the public space and provide passive oversight.”

Rarely a week goes by without the Courier receiving reader complaints about the condition of Emery Barnes Park, Yaletown Park, or other open spaces in Yaletown and downtown. Those emails speak exclusively to needles being left where children play, an abundance of garbage and open drug use.

The Courier asked Dave Hutch, the park board’s acting director of planning and park development, how, if at all, those issues can be mitigated in the new park.

It’s Hutch’s hope that the café’s presence and role as park’s anchor, along with the expected crowds, will dissuade some of that activity. The park’s washrooms, as is the case with all park board facilities, will have containers for syringes. A $500,000 annual maintenance budget has been earmarked.

“It’s not like we’re trying to push anybody out, but by and large, the large percentage of the use of the park we will be very positive, social, fun and interactive,” he said.