GCL at parks committee, July 18, 2013

Update: The July 18 meeting went well. The information in this post still has value, but we will add a follow-up post.

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On Thursday, July 18, 2013, the parks committee of Richmond council will discuss an update report from the project team for enhancing the Garden City Lands park. The meeting is at 4:00 p.m. in the Anderson Room (second floor). Citizens can anticipate the opportunity to speak for up to five minutes on the topic, since Coun. Harold Steves is the chair, and he is good about allowing that. It is also useful to attend the meeting for your own information and to show the council members and staff that the citizens are paying attention. Here’s my initial reaction to the update report.

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Acrobat-rotate-clockwiseNote: If you have downloaded the report and opened it with the Acrobat reader, realize that the orientation of the pages will change (from “portrait” to “landscape”) after the first twelve pages. In the View menu, choose Rotate and then Clockwise, as shown at right. (Click thumbnail for  larger version.)

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Last September, the parks committee of Richmond Council received a plan of action for enhancing the Garden City Lands park. It seemed fine. However, the project seems to have run into obstacles in the ten months since then. My best guess is that they’re at a City of Richmond level above the project team, which is doing what it can. If I express shortcomings, please do not take it as criticism of the project team, which has managed to do quite a lot well.

Garden City Lands park enhancement, Phase1 2012-09-13The first step in the plan, “Inventory and Analysis,” with a $150,000 budget, was designed to be fairly thorough. It was promising. It gave reason to expect summaries of technical reports and biodiversity and hydrology, followed by the full reports themselves on the project website. “At the end of the information gathering,” according to the project plan, there were to be open houses “to share what is known and identify what might not be known.” A kind of open house happened on June 1, but I don’t see any sign of any technical reports on the project website, and they’re no longer even promised. The plan was also to draw on existing knowledge, and the correct information in what’s been shared was typically available from informed sources like the Garden City Conservation Society last September and long before then. (Click the image for a larger version.)

In the project team’s report to the parks committee for its meeting of July 18, 2013, I also don’t see facts I was hoping for. For instance, one would expect the park to include all three Garden City Lands lots, which share the same zoning, not just 5555 No. 4 Road, the  largest (136.4-acre) lot. Part of the other two lots has become roadway, but the total area would still be over140 acres. That’s a matter for Step 1, Inventory and Analysis, which the report assumes to be finished. Since it isn’t, the project still needs a firm foundation before it goes to later steps.

Furthermore, the report to the parks committee provides almost no information about hydrology and infrastructure, which go together. Since the park is a single ALR unit, they would be serviced by farm roads, which would naturally serve as the main trails when the park is enhanced. They would have a dyking effect, so they would either help or hinder the hydrology (the scientific water management). Unless the bog hydrology is managed much better than in the Nature Park, that shortcoming will make it useless to dream about bog restoration, so there needs to be some practical hydrology/infrastructure planning in Step 2, Opportunities and Constraints—basics, not every detail. Success in sphagnum bog restoration will require the best expertise and extensive dyke road building, and it is inefficient to go into particular designs unless the city has bought into the methods and their significant cost. Half-doing the bog restoration has a 100% chance of failure.

In the current project report to council, I see almost nothing about principles like beauty, access, safety and long-term horizon:

  • Beauty: people want an aesthetically pleasing park—not necessarily art installations or performances.
  • Access: They want year-round access by foot, cycling and rolling.
  • Boardwalk-over-pondSafety: They want paths designed for safety from attack and accident. They don’t want to slip off a boardwalk into a pond, as could  happen in the report photo (PRCS-52).
  • Long-term: The obvious way to do usefully flexible thinking is to ensure that the park-use concepts can be adapted for the long-term possibilities.

I’ve been providing a few big examples of what has been missed. Under the circumstances, the project team has done a good job of catching a lot too, and I’m happy about that, but it’s still important to fill in the gaping holes before the project team tries to build on them.

As far as one can deduce, the circumstances are that some City of Richmond higher-up decided that the Garden City Lands are a blank square with no legacies, not much history beyond tidbits, and unlimited legal uses. In contrast, the efficient approach the project team would probably have followed (if they could) would be to recognize all realities, including the nature of the lands, the incredible legacies from the past, the results of the extensive consultation that already occurred, and the fact that the ALR values of the lands are strongly confirmed and legally protected. That would have enabled focused studies and consultation. As it is, we see well-meaning citizens coming up with plans that are non-uses, thinking that they’re being consulted.

Beyond being a waste of their time and everyone else’s, it has been counterproductive. The history of the Garden City Lands is landmarked with one mistake after another by the City of Richmond, but last September we began one more opportunity for a terrific result despite all that. I realize that the $150,000 budget has probably been drained by the expensive campaign that devalued the lands and confused the public; however, the project still needs a strong foundation, which consists of Step 1, Inventory and Analysis, and Step 2, Opportunities and Constraints.

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For further thoughts on this topic, see the next article.

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