Stewarding the viewscape legacy of the Lands

Richmond’s Garden City Lands are a park full of legacies—gifts from nature and our communal past. Our responsibility is to steward them.

One cherished legacy of the Garden City Lands is the world-class viewscapes. Back when the community came together to save the lands from dense construction, citizens liked the Agricultural Land Reserve values, but the charm of the setting won many hearts.

Research shows that green and scenic settings are positively related to mental health. With all-weather trails and tranquil gathering places, the Garden City Lands will combine that with physical and social health benefits for locals and tourists.

But a key viewscape is at risk. It is the northward panorama that stretches from the green open space to the woods and finally the North Shore Mountains. Most people want ponds, so the chosen photo has one.

You’ll notice that the natural scene is almost unbroken, since Alderbridge Way is partly hidden. Where else would you see natural views like that from an inland  downtown area, let alone from all around a central park?

Sadly, that northward viewscape has been marred in the Walmart area in recent years. The lost quality could soon be irreversible.

Think of the Walmart area as the west half of the woods as you look north from the Garden City Lands past the green ridge and Alderbridge Way. Ecologically, it used to be mixed urban forest. It was guarded by both the tree bylaw and an “environmentally sensitive area” (ESA) along Alderbridge, but they’ve sometimes been ignored.

Altough some of it is still good, you see a long heap of grey sand on one part now. The trees are sparse, and developments are showing through.

A natural remedy would be a wildlife corridor at least 20 metres wide on the north edge of Alderbridge. Adding diverse evergreens of medium height could restore the viewscape and some lost habitat. (I used to think at least 10 or 15 metres, but on further examination I see that the need is for at least 20 metres.)

Coun. Harold Steves briefly suggested that feature to staff at the council meeting of March 12.

Think of the east half of the Alderbridge woods as mostly West Cambie Natural Park. The viewscape is intact there, but the park may be cancelled for townhouses.

Part of that area will still be ESA along Alderbridge. Before rezoning, the City could implement the wildlife corridor from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road.

I spoke on this at the council meeting of September 24. City Centre activist Peter Mitchell reiterated the viewscape trees concept, and Michael Wolfe spoke in a similar vein.

Coun. Chak Au sought prompt staff action, and council showed some interest.

Mayor Brodie encouraged Peter Mitchell, Michael Wolfe and me to speak with staff. Soon afterward, Manager of Policy Planning Terry Crowe brought me together with Senior Planner June Christy and him, and we shared many win-win ideas. Good start!

Almost all on council are committed to stewarding the Garden City Lands in the ALR for agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness. That would include the legacy views. If you see fit to encourage them, thank you.

________

This article has also been published as a column,Stewarding the viewscape legacy of the Garden City Lands,” in the Green Edition of the Richmond Review, Oct. 13, 2012.

Update, March 9, 2013: In the months since this article was posted, the Walmart mall has become a much greater concern. We found that the Walmart mall would go right up to Alderbridge Way, as came out in a staff report. Afterwards, we discovered that a developers’ video that showed the Walmart mall right on the edge of Alderbridge Way had been online since April 2012. Here’s the video.

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