‘Pretty crazy neighbourhood’: Vancouverite living on swamp laments crooked homes, sidewalks

Click to play video: 'Bumpy roads and sidewalks trouble part of Mount Pleasant'
Bumpy roads and sidewalks trouble part of Mount Pleasant
WATCH: Across a few square blocks of Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood roads are bumpy, sidewalks can be treacherous, and even the houses can be off-kilter. As Cassidy Mosconi reports, the area is built on top of a bog, and residents say more needs to be done to make the neighbourhood safe. – Sep 15, 2023

It may add charm and character, but after tripping on crooked sidewalks and spending eight years in a crooked house, Nick Devine says it may be time for a little maintenance in his Vancouver neighbourhood.

Riley Park, just south of Mount Pleasant, was built many decades ago on a filled-in swamp. Today, that instability has created cracks in the roadways and tilted some of the infrastructure, including fences and houses.

Devine’s front door won’t close now that the foundation of his home, built around 1910, leans forward. There’s just one perk, he said with a smile. When he loses something, he knows which side of the house it’s rolled off to.

“Basically this neighbourhood moves, almost like it’s on water,” Devine told Global News on Friday. “The roads, the sidewalks, people’s front garden fences basically just float and move and rupture … It’s a pretty crazy neighbourhood.”

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According to local historian and writer Christine Hagemoen, the swamp stemmed from Brewery Creek, which once flowed down into False Creek east of Main Street. As Mount Pleasant, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, grew bigger and bigger, she said the city turned its eyes toward the swamp land.

“So eventually this area, which was used for various purposes like market gardens and other things, began to be built upon and that’s when they started noticing that things got a little funky,” she explained.

Sewer lines with structural reinforcement were built under many streets in Riley Park, but the areas around them remain susceptible to the forces of the swamp, creating all the “dips” observable today, she added.

“We see the water that we can’t see anymore. We see the effects of that in these humpy streets and the wonky fences.”

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The bulk of the tilted houses were built before the 1960s, Hagemoen added.

“These days when people build, they dig quite down through metres and metres and metres of peat to get to solid ground in order to support structures on top of this land,” she explained.

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As a motorist, Devine said it’s important to know where the bumps are on the street, lest you drive over one too quickly and “take out your undercarriage.” His street, 19th Street, is particularly bad, he said.

“When you’re parallel parking you’re not sure whether you’ve hit the curb or a bump in the road. It’s constantly cracking in the middle and lifting up,” he explained.

“The city — you see them every so often when it’s gotten so bad and something has to be done about it … This happens all over the place and to be honest, it’s not maintained as regularly as it should be.”

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Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung said mayor and council allocated extra funding for repairing potholes in their last budget, but will be taking a look at road conditions next to ensure “the city feels loved and looked after,” recognizing that infrastructure in some neighbourhoods has started to degrade.

In an emailed statement, the City of Vancouver said it decides which roads to maintain or rehabilitate based on the severity of their condition, the number of impacted users and the number of service requests, as well as in co-ordination with other ongoing projects in the same area.

“In the case of 19th Avenue, the road sits on top of an area with softer soil. Over time, the ground soil can shift or settle and creating uneven road surfaces,” it wrote. “We have an active service request for this street. Engineering staff are preparing to complete repairs on the road within the coming months and will evaluate future repairs as needed.”

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The municipality manages more than 1,400 kilometres of roads and 770 km of lanes. It encouraged anyone who spots a road in need of repair to call 311, with the city budget allowing for the full repaving of up to 20 km of road per year.

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