How Bing Thom charted the way to replace the Viaducts

Bing Thom

Bing Thom

One of BIng Thom’s distinctive characteristics was his searching intellect, which constantly drove him to reimagine the city, test his ideas and challenge the public. Despite his sudden death Tuesday in Hong Kong, he continues to shape our city’s future.

An example is the replacement of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts, one of the concepts he tested more than 20 years ago. This vision becoming a reality, as a report to today’s city council meeting will make plain.

Although countless people have helped bring this vision forward, Thom took time to determine how it might work.

Thom was a veteran of the great freeway debates of the 1970s, which threatened the destruction of Chinatown and Strathcona. (You can see his picture on the wall of the Chinese Cultural Centre among the founders of that institution.)

More than 20 years ago, he gathered a group of experts — planners, traffic engineers, architects — at his office, at his expense, for a day-long study on the possibilities of removing and replacing the Viaducts. The verdict: it was feasible and traffic would move freely.

Thom told me about that work when I asked his advice about the idea in 2009. He didn’t just have an idea, he knew it would work. That confidence convinced me to push the idea forward with Thom’s quiet support.

For each project Bing Thom realized, there was one, two or three he did not, but the concepts and renderings he threw into the public debate forced us all to question our assumptions and ask why our city could not do better.

The Viaducts replacement, which will transform the heart of the city and open up new possibilities for the neighbourhoods around the new park, is very much one of Bing Thom’s legacies.