Getting back to the Garden City Lands park plan

Update, May 12, 2013: This Garden City News issue is another follow-up.

This article is a follow-up to “Off-course Garden City planning sets off alarm” (the article below it).

Whatever happened to “openness and transparency”? That was the stated “desired outcome” for Garden City Lands Phase 1, “Inventory and Analysis” (biophysical inventory)? Richmond staff member Yvonne Stich, who seemed to be the project leader, began with a refreshing approach. In September 2012, she was openly delighted to learn that the Garden City Conservation Society has long advocated for completing the biophysical inventory (finished five years ago on the rest of the Lulu Island Bog). She even proactively asked to go on a Garden City Lands eco-tour, although she didn’t actually act on follow-up invitations.

Whatever may have disrupted the good intentions of that staff member, we know eight months later that there has been no openness and transparency. It’s up to the City of Richmond, not me or the Friends of Garden City, to diagnose its own systemic problems. However, the Friends of Garden City (and all citizens) still have a role in ensuring that the incredible legacies of the Garden City Lands get conserved, not frittered away.

In any case, the city’s project team  proposed five kinds of community engagement as shown in the planning chart, and council endorsed the plan. At least the first three kinds of engagement should have occurred early on, well before this time. For instance, this is the third one:

Gather and review previous public input and proposals with the goal of acknowledging and understanding the community values and aspirations that have been expressed to date.

There is no evidence of that happening in even the most fundamental way. Here are some details.

The key question of whether the Garden City Lands should remain in the Agricultural Land Reserve was the subject of the most extensive consultation in the history of Richmond. The clear choice, which went forward from the public to the Agricultural Land Commission, was a resounding Yes to ALR status, and the commission agreed with the public. Twice, in fact: in 2006 and 2009, the commission turned down applications to remove the lands from the ALR.

The result of the massive consultation (Yes to ALR, No to non-ALR) was an unusually clear consultation outcome. If that is ignored, then any City of Richmond consultation is just an expensive way to go through the motions.

Acknowledging the community value (Yes to ALR) in the park planning would have meant making the ALR value the guiding principle for everything else. It is entirely possible for the park to also be a farm that embodies and celebrates ALR values. If the parks staff lack the needed knowledge, they could easily have consulted the citizens who saved the lands to learn about that kind of real value.

Also, one of the main public proposals was the Sustainable Food Systems Park one that the Poverty Response Committee presented to council in early 2007. That group hadn’t heard anything from the project team, so they eventually sent a diplomatically expressed letter to council and relevant staff members. I asked the chair about it at a recent Poverty Response meeting, and two months had passed with no response at all, not even a simple acknowledgment of her letter.

Another key example, starting with background:

Garden City Conservation Society logo, Richmond, BCThe Garden City Lands Coalition was the rallying name for the citizens who stood up for the legal status that had always protected the Garden City Lands in the land bank for community benefit. Through the participants, the coalition embodied the community values and aspirations that the Agricultural Land Commission validated again in 2006 and again in 2009. Those citizens gave of themselves to put the Richmond community interest over the self-interests of those who wanted to destroy the lands for profit (mainly from rezoning).

The coalition has now evolved into the Garden City Conservation Society.

It has not been consulted at all. For the eight months since the council committee received the project plan, the project team has ignored the community-serving citizens it should have consulted first. That pretty much says it all.

The question now is how the project can go back to where it went far off course and find its way to the intended course that Richmond council approved.


Update, May 19: The “Create Garden City Responsibility” article above this one is a later attempt to bring together the main concerns of this article and the one below it in a way that leads to a clear expression of who needs to do what in this matter.


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