Making the best of the GCL survey

Update: This article has been revised because the GCL survey has been changed for the better. That helps, even though the shortcomings are still immense.

You can do the questionnaire/survey for the Garden City Lands open house (Nov. 7) online at Let’s Talk Richmond. You can click there to read the survey, but you may need to sign in or register in order to answer the questions.

When you look over the survey, you may realize that it’s written in a way that simply can’t be valid: it is supposed to reveal community views in order to express them in a park configuration, but there’s no way it can achieve that intent well.

I’ll illustrate this article with my completed survey, which I’ll show in parts. Despite the shortcomings of the survey, you can make your survey answers more validly reflect your views by reading about my answers as a first step. (Here is my 2013 GCL Survey analysis in PDF form in case you wish to download it.)

If you then look at relevant content such as the open house display boards, you will have a sense of what to look for.

When you get to the survey, your answers may not be the same as mine, and that’s fine. My goal is to help readers to answer with informed choices. If our informed choices coincide, that’s great, but it’s just a bonus from my perspective.

After some introductory questions, here’s my first part of the survey, which refers to Concepts A, B and C (really three variants of one concept). I should just mention quickly here that I’ve previously linked to a tips sheet in English and in Chinese that explains reasons we can’t save the natural legacy of the Garden City Lands with any of those three similar concepts.


In the survey, Concepts A, B and C are numbered 1, 2 and 3. To add to the confusion, we’re asked to rank 1, 2 and 3. Actually, the online survey (unlike the print version) allows numbers 1 to 4, but the phrase “None of the above” excludes the others. I just gave 4 a rating of 1, especially because Concepts A–C all include non-ALR uses despite the misleading preamble, as explained in the tips sheet.

Update: If the survey were better written, “None of the above” would be “Other:” with a comment box next to it, but at least an “Additional comments” box has now been added under the answer choices.

In short, none of Concepts A/1, B/2 and C/3 are consistent with the ALR zoning or conservation of nature. A survey that misleads the responders and limits them to choosing from misleading concepts can’t possibly be valid. However, you can use the “Additional comments” box to briefly describe a concept that fully respects the ALR zoning.

To express my concept anyway, I added the following comment:



Let’s move on to the second part of the survey:


You will notice that I checked only two of the groups of “major elements.” In all the groups except those two, there was at least one element that is unlawful, very harmful to nature or too unclear to risk supporting. Examples:

  • Since the Garden City Lands is almost all wetland, I can’t imagine where “expanded wetland” would expand to.
  • While “ecological connections to Nature Park” sounds good, I think it refers to letting some of the sphagnum bog become bog forest, which means taking from what is scarce (restorable sphagnum bog) to add to what is plentiful (bog forest).
  • While (a) trails are essential and (b) informal play is self-evidently possible and (c) a boardwalk could be nice, they are grouped with the misleadingly named “Community field.” That has turned out to be a code word for non-ALR organized sports fields, an unlawful use on the Lands at the expense of the neighbourhoods wanting to restore some of the fifty fields that the organized sports powers abandoned when they got artificial turf elsewhere in 2008.
  • Whereas bog signage and other interpretive signs are a Richmond strength that would obviously be included, “creative and interactive displays” seem superfluous unless those are code words too. (The intent might be fine, but I’m not going to choose in the dark.)
  • In the final item, two good uses are grouped with “farmers markets.” In Richmond (and Metro Vancouver), the term “farmers markets” goes far beyond the farmgate market that is likely to be appropriate. They sound like another non-ALR use.

I would have liked to choose other ratings besides “Strongly support” (for the first and third “elements”), but choosing “Strongly don’t support” for a very bad use like “community field” would tar the rest of its group with the same brush.

Even for the most informed citizens doing the survey, it is hard to spot the major shortcomings in some of the so-called “major elements” and also hard to figure out how to overcome the shortcomings no matter how well one spots them. However, I did my best, and I hope you will keep trying too.


When I jumped into the third part, it seemed to be asking if I supported the project’s guiding principles.  Essentially I do, so it was just a matter of rating how strongly I supported them. But then I looked back and realized I was supposed to be indicating my support for how well the concept plans support the guiding principles. Confusing, at least for me.

In any case, I don’t see how average respondents can evaluate what they’re asked to evaluate. They would need to (a) understand what terms in the “concepts” like “community field” and “storm water retention” stand for and (b) have read, understood and remembered the explanation of each “guiding principle”—buried on pages 86 and 87 of one of the supporting documents—well enough to apply it to evaluation. Reading closely, for instance, we find that “community fields” don’t exist in the guiding principles. Knowledgeable people may also figure out that they’re not an ALR  (they’re a Trojan horse to bring in organized sports), but it’s almost impossible for the average respondent to discover that significant point.

In short, we can be pretty sure without doing research on it that the third part of the survey does not accurately gauge what the community thinks. To a greater extent, it gauges whether people have a feel-good reaction to the colourful graphics and some of the photos. (I say “some of” the photos because my observation at Garden City Lands open houses in 2008 and 2013 has been that visitors’ attention is caught by the photos of activities that appeal to them, such as a cricket batter hitting a cricket ball or some children on a hay wagon pulled by a tractor on a farm tour. They assume those activities will be included, even if there’s actually almost no chance of it.

While I might be able to do the task in the third part well, I  didn’t commit to spending an hour on it when I started doing the survey. However, since I essentially support the guiding principles and am concerned about the  shortcomings in the concepts, I realize what ratings I should give. They are as follows:


With regard to the additional comments, I’d like to add to a final happy note. It is the tips sheet comment about Concept Option E (E is for Excellence):

The suggested Option E is a perimeter trail for walking, rolling, cycling and running, plus service vehicle access and water management. Option E is one feature of the other options, but it can be done excellently NOW if the park team is allowed to draw on enough local advice from knowledgeable citizens. Done excellently, it is a key first step that can be started now. It puts an end now to years of lost time. It enables access around the Lands for everyone, and it also facilitates the planning of future steps.


Note: Options A/1, B/2 and C/3 are described in this PDF of the open house display boards.

Reminder: You can do the questionnaire/survey for the Garden City Lands open house (Nov. 7) online at Let’s Talk Richmond. You can click there to read the survey, but you may need to sign in or register in order to answer the questions.

If you know someone who wants to do the survey on paper, you can print it out in English or in Chinese and mail it to the address on the second page.

Also, the open house was a well attended event, and I enjoyed the whole ten hours of it. However, it was a marketing event, as I had predicted. It was not a valid way to gather community views. Instead, it was a way for Richmond staff and hired helpers to influence views in ways that are not sufficiently directed toward the excellence of our central park.


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