Space invaders – a B.C. issue

Lately, people keep telling me that the Garden City lands issue is important for the whole province of B.C.

I say yes, it is, and the anti-ALR segment of the development community has been aware of that for a long time. Their view was best expressed in a BCBusiness magazine column by developers’ association president Philip Hochstein, a brilliant communicator. After you look at Mr. Hochstein’s column, you may wish to read my response, published in a later issue of BCBusiness. Here it is.

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Many thanks to Philip Hochstein for “Big Ideas: Space Invaders” (July 2007), his spin on BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve, the ALR. What a wake-up call!

            To begin the end of the ALR, Hochstein would remove all Greater Vancouver farmland that is not being farmed. He describes it as “trapped” and “locked up within the ALR.”  A Sir Galahad for our times, he would liberate virgin farmlands. Once freed, they would bear “density-friendly” construction and “industrial use.”

            Hochstein bemoans that “getting land out of the ALR is next to impossible.” Sadly for BC, it’s very possible. The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) now excludes ALR land with a new criterion, “community need.” Cities simply sell or use up available land, write land-use wish lists, and claim “community need.” Presto, the ALC excludes farmland for it. That undermines the ALR Act, which was meant to preserve scarce farmland for future food production despite local pressures.

            Hochstein asks us to “consider the application for development of the Garden City lands in Richmond.” So let’s do so. He’s referring to a half-mile-square field, no longer needed by the Coast Guard, that is coveted for “density-friendly” construction and a trade and exhibition centre. An attempt to remove it from the ALR failed because, as the ALC stated, it is “prime agricultural land” well suited to farming. A second attempt, with a beefed-up “community need,” is in the works.

            In contrast, Richmondites want a green ALR future for the Garden City lands. One proposal with broad support is for a sustainable food centre. The practical plan includes allotment gardens, community farms, and leased acreage for farmers who can’t afford to farm because speculators have forced up the price of farmland while keeping it out of food production. Besides local organic food, the values would include tourism, education, and social support, especially for residents who are poor and/or cooped up in the nearby “density-friendly” city centre. The plan builds on ongoing successes such as the Terra Nova Schoolyard Project and the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project and sharing farms, which supply the Richmond Food Bank with local produce.

            Space invaders who prize rampant growth are overrunning fertile ALR land that should feed our children and children’s children. It’s up to us who value liveable, sustainable, caring communities to protect our verdant ALR as the birthright of all British Columbians.

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