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Daylighting an Urban Stream: The Still Creek Enhancement...

Daylighting an Urban Stream: The Still Creek Enhancement Project in Vancouver, Canada

Often nicknamed the “City of Glass” for its towering downtown condominiums, it is hard to imagine that Vancouver, British Columbia used to be a dense cedar and hemlock forest hosting one of the most active above-ground water drainage areas in the Northwest. More than 100 years after the first European settlers arrived on Canada’s West

"Daylighted" portion of Still CreekOften nicknamed the “City of Glass” for its towering downtown condominiums, it is hard to imagine that Vancouver, British Columbia used to be a dense cedar and hemlock forest hosting one of the most active above-ground water drainage areas in the Northwest. More than 100 years after the first European settlers arrived on Canada’s West Coast, all but two of the city’s streams have disappeared. Engineers, city planners, and landscape architects are now working to salvage Still Creek in east Vancouver and to return natural flora and fauna to the area.

Beginning in 2002, the City of Vancouver mobilized experts and community groups with the goal of increasing green space and recreational opportunities in the area, all while improving the quality of water in the hopes of returning natural life to the stream. Barriers to the project have been numerous, particularly due to 70% of the original Still Creek having been placed into underground storm sewer pipes during the rapid expansion of the city in the mid-twentieth century. In response, the City has targeted specific sections of the creek for a process called “daylighting,” in which the creek is returned to its aboveground state and supported by lush natural flora.

Historic creeks in the Greater Vancouver AreaThe Still Creek Enhancement Project is a hefty undertaking, but the city’s efforts are already harvesting success. For the first time in 80 years, freshwater salmon returned to Still Creek this fall, bringing with them incredible opportunity for environmental diversity in the waterway. Experts herald the salmon’s return as a sure sign of water quality improvement, a huge accomplishment for a city that aims to be the greenest in the world by 2020.

Although urban streams may seem insignificant in size, they contribute substantially to the sustainability of a community. Streams do not merely provide green spaces and opportunities for interpretive centers, but also support vegetation that improves air quality, and manage stormwater runoff that frequently causes flooding and property damage in densely populated areas.

Video Link: Salmon return to Still Creek

Does your city support projects to enhance urban waterways? If so, what are some of the indicators used to measure success?

Credits: Images, documents, and video linked to sources.

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Courtney McLaughlin holds an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. An avid traveler, her interests are public space modification in Canadian cities and sustainable urban ...

  • Elliot Cudmore

    Very interesting! I’m surprised there are only two streams in Vancouver.

    In Calgary, AB, there are two major rivers which define the landscape of the city (in fact, the founding Fort Calgary which started the city rests at the intersection of the two). Most of the City of Calgary’s water management information I could track down concerns road-runoff from the fluctuating Chinook-prone temperatures of a wintry city. The result is a wildly variable flow rate of storm run off, and with it, salts from de-icing.

    One project which I think draws parallel to the Still Creek Enhancement project is the Pine Creek study and management plan. The crux of the watershed management plan is that low-impact development is permitted, conditional that 90% of rainwater is absorbed on site. You can read about it at the link below:


    Thanks for this interesting spotlight on Daylighting :)

  • http://www.theglobalgrid.org Courtney McLaughlin

    Hello Elliot,

    Thank you for your very articulate and well-researched response. It is interesting to compare the two projects and the two cities, which despite both being Western Canadian have drastically different climate systems.

    In particular, I think the City of Calgary must be commended for implementing policy standards that prohibit runoff in excess of 10% from development sites within the Pine Creek watershed. This type of policy is something that the City of Vancouver has struggled to implement due to Still Creek’s location in a very densely populated area of metro Vancouver, including the suburb cities of Burnaby and New Westminister. However, despite this challenge the City has responded effectively towards improving the water quality – the daylighting process (as mentioned above) has primarily been effective in enabling the committee to re-create wetlands that attract native fauna in the hopes of increasing the level of biodiversity in the area.

    Very interesting to see how other cities are working with their environmental conditions/limitations to improve water quality and place value on urban streams. Thank you for your comments!


  • http://www.daylighting.org.uk @losturbanrivers

    A nice article.

    Daylighting watercourses is becoming a very important area for research. There are many claimed benefits from fish passage to public health, yet most projects don’t record the objectives or outcomes.

    http://www.daylighting.org.uk is a research project at the University of Sheffield, U.K., where daylighting case studies are being collected all over the world to address this lack of information, and to be used to improve daylighting programs and inspire communities and policy-makers to encourage this.

    It would be great if anyone reaching this page and taking an interest in the article would take a look at the research website, or follow on Facebook (@DaylightingUrbanRivers) or Twitter (@losturbanrivers).

  • http://www.theglobalgrid.org Courtney McLaughlin

    @losturbanrivers – Thank you for posting this research project. What an interesting idea. It’s great to see the web and social media applications being used to spread the lack of information on environmental projects such as stream daylighting. Our urban waterway systems are so frequently taken for granted and it is fantastic that the University of Sheffield has taken such a proactive approach to shedding light on this issue.

    Thank you again for the links and I’ll be sure to share these with my networks.


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