Vancouver Province Column: This park tower would let Vancouver visitors see the forest from the trees

The Province
Monday, June 4, 2007

The nimbies and naysayers now are coming out of the Vancouver woodwork to give a proposed viewing tower at the top of the once-popular Queen Elizabeth Park the predictable thumbs-down.

Their laundry list of grievances is a long one: Over-the-top architecture, private funding and the spectre of unwashed tourist hordes ascending to the top of Little Mountain.

Here’s why they’re wrong: With the right touch, this would be an eye-pleasing addition to a park that needs a visitor boost — serving up a 360-degree view of the North Shore mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

A bonus: The trees now blocking the view get to stay. And the last thing anyone wants to see is some nature-hating renegade taking a chainsaw to a maple in the middle of the night, for the sake of better perspective.

To give the skyline-seekers a lift above the foliage, Vancouver architect Richard Henriquez has put forward a plan to build a 50-metre observation tower at a cost of $10 million.

The tab will be picked up by a private financier who plans to recoup the investment by charging visitors $10 a head to go to the top.

Last week, Vancouver parks board members wisely voted 6-1 to move ahead and hear the public’s thoughts on the tower’s construction.

But according to parks board commissioner Spencer Herbert, who voted against the tower’s progress, the feedback from the community will not be pleasant.

Local resident Ned Jacobs, for example, maintains that the view tower will change the ambience of the area.

Jacobs, the son of the late Jane Jacobs, the world-renowned urban theorist, also argues against the tower on the grounds that it is being backed by private dollars.

Here’s why both Herbert and Jacobs should reconsider their stands.

Outings to Queen Elizabeth Park are well down over the past five years. Visitors to the park’s Bloedel Conservatory, for example, have decreased from 119,000 in 2001 to 65,000 in 2006, a drop of nearly 50 per cent.

This makes it difficult for the City of Vancouver to allocate the same level of taxpayer dollars to the site.

And let’s be clear about one thing: This is not the second-coming of a CN or Eiffel

Tower. And it shouldn’t be.

However, it is a good opportunity to bring some eye-catching architecture to a part of the city where it’s sorely missing.

Also, the timing is right. The Canada Line will travel along the park’s western perimeter, allowing for greater access to the site. And there are potential tie-ins with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

So it will be a shame if city council eventually chases this vision away, just to keep the peace with a vocal few.

We live in a region where good ideas often meet their demise at the hands of special-interest groups.

But let’s hope Henriquez and his pals stick around long enough to help park-goers once again see the forest — and the breathtaking vistas beyond — from the trees.

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