The Exchange has selected the City of Vancouver as the 3rd place winner in our recently launched GSI Trailblazers Campaign, for their case study submission showcasing their trailblazing 63rd and Yukon GI Plaza project. The case study follows below. Read more about the 1st and 2nd place winners of the campaign here.
CASE STUDY: 63rd and Yukon GI Plaza: Using GI as a Bridge to Indigenous Reconciliation
In collaboration with: Museum of Vancouver
File upload: Reconciled futures fact sheet
Government Champion: Green Infrastructure Implementation
Project Status: Completed 2018
Funding: Development Impact Fees
Challenges addressed: Stormwater management, water quality, citizen engagement
Motivation: Equitable city, resilient city, sustainable city
Project Type: Project
At a Glance: Summarize the project in 315 characters or less
This green infrastructure public space plaza provides amenities and rainwater management in a lower income Vancouver neighborhood. With support from Museum of Vancouver, 9 indigenous youth designed public art sculptures for the plaza that support reconciliation and bring awareness to indigenous culture.
Ensuring that people have access to clean and safe drinking water provision, wastewater treatment services, rainwater management services and flood protection, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, call for a paradigm shift to plan for and manage our water resources more wisely and equitably. Inequities more specifically related to urban rainwater management can relate to disproportionate impacts from structural vulnerabilities associated with environmental degradation, food harvesting potential, access to culturally significant elements of water and natural systems and climate change impacts.
The community of Marpole, located in South Vancouver, is a predominantly residential community comprised of 24,000 people and a major commuter corridor. In 2014, the City of Vancouver approved the Marpole Community Plan, which aims to ensure quality of life for residents continues to flourish while addressing ongoing challenges around housing affordability, aging community facilities, changing climate, transportation infrastructure, and water utility infrastructure.
There are 82 km of sewer mains in Marpole, and 37 of those kilometers are combined sewer pipes. Although current sewer capacity is adequate to handle existing growth, any significant growth in the area will require upgrades to the capacity. Climate change is also increasing the frequency and duration of intense storms, putting increased stress on stormwater systems. The Marpole community has a higher number of residents that will be vulnerable to health-related climate change impacts. The neighborhood has a lower median income and a large amount of seniors, all of whom are more susceptible to health effects brought on by climate change, including heat stress and associated illness.
Vancouver has made a commitment to be a City of Reconciliation and to connect with the values and interests of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations and urban Indigenous Peoples. Meaningful reconciliation, however, is an ongoing process that requires cultivating relationships and a shared understanding of histories, cultures and shared values. Urban water management represents a unique opportunity to explore Indigenous reconciliation in the urban context through water.
Green infrastructure can help address climate change adaptation and densification by capturing, cleaning, cooling and infiltrating rainwater using natural storage capacities of soils and the transpiration capabilities of trees and plants. Green infrastructure plays a vital role in reducing the risks related to flooding while also providing water quality benefits and recharging groundwater resources. In addition, the “green” elements of green infrastructure, including trees and plants, provide valuable ecosystem services such as urban cooling, enhanced habitat quality, benefits to biodiversity, improved air quality, and carbon capture.
The plaza contains two bioretention features that capture runoff from 1,170m2 of adjacent sidewalks and roadways and collects 2,200m3 of rainwater runoff per year, filter it, and allow it to infiltrate into the subsoils. The gardens bring many well-established benefits of green space as well, including enhancements to biodiversity, pollinator habitat, and human and environmental health. Removing this water from the drainage system helps prevent combined sewer overflows, and protects the health of the Fraser River.
The plaza also provides seating, drinking fountains, bicycle amenities, and space for softscapes that express the local identity. It is a new and unique public space for community members to use as meeting space, interact with nature, or for reprieve from the crowded and concrete urban environment. City staff from many departments, including landscape architects, planners, and engineers from Engineering Services, Street Operations and the Park Board worked on the project design. Each element of the plaza provides multiple functions to meet the goals of providing quality public space and using nature-based solutions to solve drainage and water quality problems.
To address the goal of using water management as an avenue to explore reconciliation with indigenous peoples, the Museum of Vancouver and the City of Vancouver’s Green Infrastructure Implementation Branch partnered on Reconciled Futures. This reconciliation initiative offered a Spring Break opportunity for a one-week art mentorship camp for Indigenous youth. Core objectives of the program were capacity building and exploring art and culture. As part of the camp activities, the youth worked together to produce designs for a public art installation to accompany the green rainwater infrastructure (GRI) asset at 63rd Ave. and Yukon St. Nine youth, age 12-17, participated in the camp. Two Musqueam and two Squamish youth participated, while the Tsleil-Waututh Nation waived their spots due to other commitments within their community. This allowed for Tsawwassen youth to participate in their place. The camp also hosted youth with Haida and Nlaka’pamux ancestry. Host Nation artists Aaron Nelson Moody, Ocean Hyland, Kelsey Sparrow, and Atheana Picha delivered workshops on copper arrowhead pendants, Coast Salish formline painting on wooden pendants, and cedar bark basketry. Haida artist Marcel Russ also spent a day supporting the students as they created their public art designs. Youth met with City of Vancouver staff to learn about the function and design of GRI and careers related to GRI. The group also visited MOV Collections Storage twice during the week providing a unique opportunity to see and learn about the extensive collection of Coast Salish art and cultural artifacts at the museum. They also took the Care and Handling Workshop in the Conservation Lab; went on a tour of the Haida Now exhibition with Haida educator, Lia Hart; and had a presentation from the YVR Art Foundation about upcoming opportunities for youth. Each student in the program received an honorarium for the use of their design in the public art piece. They were also all provided with art supplies, transit day passes and lunches.
Five art pieces were designed by the youth: A raven; a hummingbird; two sets of salmon; and a heron. In 2020, the public art sculptures were installed at 63rd and Yukon, dispersed throughout the 2 bioretention elements. Signage will be installed in 2021 to help educate community members on the project, as well as the symbolism behind the sculptures. This knowledge sharing will impart, and in turn help preserve, indigenous cultural knowledge to the local community.
- The neighborhood around 63rd and Yukon in Vancouver has increased its climate resiliency though the addition of trees, plants, and green infrastructure that manages rainfall.
- 2,200m3 of rainwater runoff is captured, cleaned and infiltrated and/or evapotranspirated each year
- 5 sculptures designed by indigenous youth installed at the 63rd and Yukon GI plaza
Partnerships are a great way to incorporate value added components that benefit the community. The fruitful partnership with the Museum of Vancouver allowed us to explore reconciliation with indigenous peoples through public art and water management.
Some of the youth found the process of creating a piece of public artwork in under a week to be stressful. Older students or more support for the youth could have created more ease amongst the participants.
The Landscape design of the GRI Plaza was informed by the history of the site. Prior to colonization, Vancouver was home to over 50 salmon barring streams and creeks. These streams and creeks naturally managed their rainfall within the watershed. Vancouver’s streams have long been buried and managed through major pipe infrastructure and culverts. Today, the memory of these lost streams inspire engineers and landscape architects to learn from and work with natural systems to provide community members with infrastructure that not only meets a high level of service, but also provides the benefits and beauty of the natural environment. The design of the green infrastructure plaza at 63rd Ave and Yukon St is inspired by a lost stream that used to flow through the area, buried during the development of the city. The paved seating areas jut out into the gardens like fallen logs across the lost stream. The blue flowers of native camas planted along the beds of the swales evoke the path of the water, creating a visual connection to the function of the project. Even the water fountain offers a dual service, as its supply line provides water for establishment irrigation.
Who should consider
Municipalities of any size who are looking to incorporate equity and reconciliation into their green infrastructure planning and design.