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The West Waterfront Road tunnel is a remarkably under-utilised space. Somehow, in the midst of some of the world’s most expensive real estate and the footfalls of thousands of tourists, there is an immense urban canyon, open to the ocean – and currently populated by a scarce handful of seagulls and Instagram photographers, if anyone at all. The deep hum of the city’s underbelly is punctuated only occasionally by a delivery truck or a courtesy car of the Fairmont aboveground, or the mournful echoing rattle of a Skytrain pulling into Waterfront station.
In a strictly practical sense, the unmet potential of this space is boggling. This tunnel has the unique potential to connect the Seawall to Vancouver’s growing East Side, via Crab Park, which could with minimal effort create a new landmark pedestrian artery and rain-resilient public space. You can’t see mountains from the High Line. The tunnel also sits beneath Vancouver’s most important transportation node, Waterfront Station – bus, train, seabus, and seaplane all merging in one spot. Following Robson Square’s lead, our proposal imagines gradually closing the space to vehicle traffic – and then turning it into a large covered public market. The market would usher a return to Vancouver’s neon sign culture, a place where fried noodles sizzle adjacent to local craftspeople, where one could get lost and find a speakeasy behind a fragrant flower stall, or listen to a sitar busker while eating local oysters and watching elders playing Go at the next table.