In 1967 a group of citizens waged a fractious and clever fight against a massive freeway system that would have flattened much of Vancouver’s downtown core and surrounding heritage districts. The fight was led by Vancouver citizens Shirley and Mary Chan, Mike Harcourt (later mayor and then premier of the province) and many other volunteers. Their progress was monitored closely by Jane Jacobs (watching from Toronto) and other urbanists, urban planners, community organizers and interested parties across the continent. To this day Vancouver is one of very few North American cities not criss-crossed by freeways, and we are perpetually grateful for this. Manhattan is another of a handful of urban regions that escaped freeway blight. If you can name other good examples, please comment.
Walter Hardwick was a member of the group opposing the freeway. During one fractious freeway hearing, he was threatened with ejection from Council Chambers (see clip above), despite being a bow-tied professor of urban geography at the university. Hardwick was one of the most respected figures in the history of Vancouver planning, and like certain other committed, feisty citizens he is owed some credit for Vancouver’s current “most livable city” status. I am foregrounding Walter here only to show that all kinds of citizens have stood up and yelled at the bureaucracy and it’s not just “long-haired radicals” who find themselves at war with big money and the bad civic policy that supports it.
Walter Hardwick at his 1997 Order of BC induction
The freeway fight was Vancouver’s Ur-fight
The freeway fight has been the inspiration for most subsequent citizen-led fights in Vancouver, including our fight against a mega-casino planned for some provincially owned land smack in the middle of downtown. As one of this fight’s organizers I have thought about the 1967 freeway fight often; in fact it crosses the mind of anyone fighting iffy major developments in Vancouver.
Haven’t we been here before?
In an annoying Groundhog Day way, we always seem to be fighting casinos here. In 1994, citizens fought and defeated a different Vegas-Vancouver mega-casino plan. It was promoted by Vegas gambling mogul Steve Wynn along with some of the same culprits we’re fighting this time, including Vancouver mega-developer David Podmore. It was slated for Vancouver’s waterfront and was roundly defeated. How many times will we have to repeat this?
“It’s a ‘done deal’ ”
The 1967 freeway group, the 1994 casino group, and our current coalition were all told the same thing: “you’re fighting a done deal.” It’s what they always say, but it’s never the truth. It’s always wishful thinking on their part. They patronize you and tell you to go home. But done deals can always be undone. It remains to be seen if we will win this casino fight, but the plan is so bonkers, so ill-conceived, and so fraught with dark questions that we are pretty optimistic. [Update: we won.]
If someone tells you an idiotic idea is a done deal, organize.
For images of the planned complex see my earlier post here. To read the text of the newspaper article above, read on.
PUBLIC MEETING BECOMES SHOUTING MATCH
Freeway Foes Heap Scorn on Campbell
Vancouver Sun 24 November 1967
A public meeting on freeways was turned into a shouting, arm-waving melee and was adjourned by Mayor Tom Campbell Thursday night when he felt it had reached ? proportions.
Campbell, who looked calm through it all, left the meeting after three hours and said another would be held in the net two weeks at a location yet to be announced.
A crowd of 500 jamming the council chamber and overflowing into the two adjacent committee rooms heaped scorn on members of council and hurled abuse at city officials.
Seasoned observers at city hall said it was the most disorderly meeting they could recall.
Campbell later summed it up as a “near riot.”
At one point it became unclear who was running the meeting — Campbell, or the critics of the city’s planned freeway network.
Campbell was called a coward by someone in the crowed when he called for a coffee break adjournment and Aldermen Ernie Broome and Peter Graham were booed off the floor.
Some individuals called for the firing of city traffic engineer Kenneth Vaughan-Birch and Ald. Broome called for the ejection of principal freeway critic and University of B.C. professor Walter Hardwick.
Minutes after the meeting started Campbell announced there was a sell-out crowd.
“It was a sell-out before it started,” someone shouted back.
Campbell urged speakers to come to the microphones so those in the committee rooms could hear.
Someone mentioned the closest one was behind Campbell’s desk and he suggested the person come up and use it.
“I can’t get in there until after the election,” the person shot back.