Thinking in 3D: Downtown Vancouver’s first park in a decade opens to public

Vancouver’s downtown has its first new park in more than a decade. The yet-to-be-named space at the corner of Smithe and Richards streets opened Friday, after facing more than a year of delays.

Dubbed a ‘multi-dimensional park of the future’ by the Vancouver Park Board, the 0.8-acre lot features a playground, splash pad, rope hammocks, bridge walkways, a plaza, seating areas, and space for art installations.

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Thinking in three dimensions ways key to making use of the small space, according to park project manager Alexandre Man-Bourdon.

“So how do you build a big playground and a small park? You build up and that’s kind of the same principle we applied to the other large features,” Man-Bourdon told CityNews Friday. “It’s all about trying to build the park up from the ground — to build this three-dimensional space, so you can inhabit the park at the ground level, but also on another level above that.”

This included the addition of so-called skyframes; 60 foot tall, white steel frames with hanging catenary lights and the ability to hang large art installations.

“They really help to kind of push back against the cities,” Man-Bourdon said. “You’ve got a lot of buildings that are starting to kind of lean in on you, and it’s our way of trying to push back and create a bit of a ceiling to the park.”

Man-Bourdon encourages both kids and adults to enjoy the playground and other fun amenities.

“We tried to extend the play outside of the playground a little bit,” he said. “So that’s the hammocks. There’s one of the larger hammocks that hangs over the playground, another hammock over the street. And really that’s just to kind of showcase that parks are for fun, ultimately and socializing and relaxing, and that it’s not just for kids.”

Sustainability was also top of mind in the design. A third of the park is dedicated to more than 6,000 shrubs, perennials, climbers, and mature trees. Rain and water from the plaza’s splash pad is either collected, filtered, and used to water the plants and run the public toilets, or cleaned by aquatic plants before being released into the city’s storm sewers.

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The city is also working with Vancouver’s host nations — the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh — to highlight Indigenous history and stories through art installations and cultural programming in the park. An official ceremony in June will announce the name gifted by the host Nations.

Meanwhile, local coffee roasters Kafka’s will open a cafe in the park in May, with space for indoor and outdoor seating, and a green roof.

The Park Board estimates more than 60,000 people will pass through the park annually, and hope the cafe, along with the park’s lighting and open design will provide security for residents concerned about upkeep and safety.

To prevent the park’s lighting from disturbing local residents, Man-Bourdon says most of the lights are under the bridge and directed downwards.

Vancouver park at Smithe and Richards

Vancouver park at Smithe and Richards streets lit at night. (Courtesy City of Vancouver)

The idea for the park began seven years ago, but it wasn’t until 2020 that the project broke ground. Then the pandemic hit, and labour shortages, along with supply chain issues became two of several factors which delayed the project by more than a year.

“We also had a few surprises on-site. We were digging and found things that we didn’t expect underground like oil tanks, which obviously would take time to do the appropriate environmental remediation,” Man-Bourdon said.

The project was originally budgeted at $13.8 million, but the final construction cost came out to $15.2 million.

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