November 16, 2012 by John Douglas Belshaw


Photo courtesy of Geoff Meggs’ blog.

In our household, the word ‘viaduct’ is always treated as a question, regardless of the context, and it immediately triggers a response.  And the answer – always delivered with a faux middle-European accent – is invariably the same, “Viaduct? I don’t know viaduct. Vy not a chicken?”

Vy indeed.  In Vancouver, where I live, the Georgia Viaducts are quickly reaching the end of their life expectancy.  Built in the early 1970s, the paired overpasses between the East End and downtown are pretty much all that’s left, all that ever came to pass of the city’s freeway plan. 

There’s an analogy here between citizenship, transportation, and education. When automobilism was at its height in the 20th century, the car exemplified individual power and rights. It displaced tramlines and streetcars, pushed buses to the side and played merry hell with bicyclists.  To have a car, to travel in an independent space – almost exclusively one person per car – was viewed as a personal right, a necessity, the best way of doing things, inevitable, and unlikely to change.

I won’t provide here the abundant evidence to the contrary, except to say: Skytrain, bike lanes, and global warming.  The Viaducts are going to be dismantled in part because they’re old, in part because subsidizing Lexus drivers is losing its appeal, in part because there are other options in which Vancouverites have come to believe more strongly. Turns out that values once associated with progress, modernity, and quality were as thin as the emperor’s new clothes.

There were other must-haves of that era that pointed to modernity. Expanded post-secondary capacity was definitely one of those. In the 1960s and ‘70s – in the age of the viaduct – Canada laid down the infrastructure for a particular kind of university.  The campus university. 

The question has to be asked: is this any more sustainable than the Viaducts? Vy a campus indeed….


2 thoughts on “Viaducts

  1. Ashok says:

    Though viaducts, and indeed, the coercive histories of urban architecture interest me too, am more intrigued with where you’re going with your speculation on post sec campuses. Is there an obvious alternative to that campus structure? I’m thinking of the shift to virtual pedagogies and practices — wd this still constitute a campus or is such a new animal? Curious on your thoughts.

    • Virtual pedagogies are definitely part of the coming blogs. I’m also concerned with the ways in which a suburbanized landscape impacts the ‘university experience,’ and with the burden of the baby boom generation’s expectations of what a university (and/or college) looks like.

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