Garden City project rolling in a good direction

The City of Richmond’s Garden City Lands project team is on a roll. Last Saturday, June 1, its Ideas Fair on the Garden City Lands was a clear success. Last night, June 6, the next step that was billed as a “stakeholders’ workshop” maintained the level of excellence—the level that is needed.

Of course, I’m critiquing all the time, and there are always shortcomings, but I’m more interested in the trend, which is unquestionably moving in a good direction. I need to take more time than I can spare now to integrate what’s been happening, and a careful analysis can wait for another day. For now, I’ll mention some telling details.

When I arrived early for the Ideas Fair on Saturday, I appreciated that project leader Yvonne Stich set me up with a table and chair, which may seem basic but was much better than the makeshift setup I’d brought with me for sharing ideas from a Garden City Conservation Society standpoint. That’s significant because the society’s Friends of Garden City are descended from the Garden City Lands Coalition. The coalition had to help defeat the City of Richmond’s attempts to get the lands out of the ALR. We did that in order to help the city to succeed in spite of itself.

We will continue to do what’s best for the community, as we were doing on Saturday, and it’s great when the city’s body language says that we share the same goal while feeling free to identify different best ways to get there.

Last night, I was especially pleased that parks manager Mike Redpath emphatically and repeatedly expressed a key point in these words and similar ones:

The key guiding principle is that this land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The team and “stakeholders” also kept expressing the importance of the long-term view, as the coalition and Friends of Garden City always have. The team talked about 20 years, 50 years and 100 years, implicitly challenging everyone to think that way.

Similarly, they echoed a key point I’ve previously seen on a display board that this ALR park is a space that is complementary to existing parkland spaces.  As obvious as that may seem to Friends of Garden City with their whole-community view, it is somehow not obvious to at least one single-interest group, so it’s good when the team points out the obvious that is in plain sight.

Various team members expressed their sense that the Garden City Lands are anything but the “blank canvas” that the marketing machine had selected as a supposedly helpful metaphor. For instance, Collette Parsons of City Spaces Consulting put it this way:

When you actually get out there, there are a lot of things going on.

Add in her tone and context, and that simple statement says a great deal.

We formed two discussion groups, which made progress. I was in one that noticed givens that were emerging in our input—areas of common ground. During the discussion, the givens that got jotted down were these aspects of the Garden City Lands park: practical, sustainable, all-ages, multicultural, multi-use, engaging, beautiful.  We ran the list past the group to review and validate them. We also agreed that water features and interpretive features belong on the lands.

At a break, one of the consultants and I got into a brief chat about the value arising from the appealing open-space park being so close to high-density parts of the City Centre that have little green space. He likened it to a similar situation in Italy where they think of the park as “an extension of the living room” and “an extended living room.” That captures a point that Richmond’s poverty response advocates have recognized for many years, with buy-in from the old coalition and current Friends of Garden City.

How could one not feel encouraged?

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