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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 ...

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