The Pave Garden City vision

There’s a vision we’ve had to give up in order to make possible any of the green visions for the Garden City Lands described in this blog. To see it, let’s go back to what was trumpeted five years ago.

Instead of viewscapes including a view of the mountains from all around the lands, one would see dense high-rise development and a big trade and exhibition centre with so little business that it could not operate at a profit even on free land. Less than 48 acres out of the 136 acres might have been used for City amenities. That land would have been scattered throughout the property, supplying part of the green space that the development would need.

The development would have been urban sprawl, since the City Centre area plan has shown that the City Centre population goal of 120,000 residents can be met without using the lands. However, since developers find ways to build to the maximum allowed, the Garden City Lands population would eventually have been on top of the the planned goal amount. In the low-ball estimate in the ALR-exclusion application, the extra population would have been ten to twelve thousand.

Since no one had set aside any locations for schools, they would have ended up on the Department of National Defense Lands, the adjacent part of the Lulu Island Bog, if the suggestion from the Canada Lands Company project manager had been followed.

The peatland bog would have been torn up. Instead of continuing to act as a carbon sink, it would have released its considerable stores of methane, which is twenty times as bad as a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

The City would not have been able to buy any land until the area planning and rezoning had been completed, four years or more after the exclusion of the Garden City Lands from the ALR. In the meantime, the City would have had to do its part to the satisfaction of Canada Lands Company and the Musqueam Indian Band, with no certainty of actually being able to buy anything after all that.

Even if the City had obtained part of the Garden City Lands and used it for green space, it would not have been nearly enough to meet the City’s standards. For twelve thousand extra people (at 7.66 acres per thousand), the City’s green space requirement would have been 92 acres, which is 44 acres more than the City hoped to buy. Purchasing that green space elsewhere at the recent price for parkland, $2.5 million an acre, would have cost $110 million. Alternatively, city council could have watered down the parkland standard, reducing the livability of Richmond.

That is not a pretty picture, but it is an accurate one. Richmond council still has three members who held onto that Pave Garden City vision as long as they could and may still have not given up on it. That is what they stood for, not the skating rinks and swimming pools they’re suggesting now, which they didn’t even mention in the the applications to exclude the Garden City Lands from the ALR, including the massive second one, many hundreds of pages long.

From this description, it’s apparent why so many of us have believed that any green future for the Garden City Lands would be infinitely better than the  alternative, the Pave Garden City vision. Every once in a while, as we deal with ongoing challenges, it’s helpful to step back and shudder at what might have been.


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