A new challenge in the Garden City Lands story

Note: This article refers to September 2015 communications on this topic from the Garden City Conservation Society to (a) the Agricultural Land Commission, (b) Richmond Council and (c) Friends of Garden CityTo read them, click on those links or on links to them later in this article.

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By nature, the Garden City Lands are a good-news story. The community makes sure of that. Now we need the City of Richmond to do better. That will involve the Northwest Corner, the raised area of clean clay soil along Alderbridge Way east of Garden City Road, as shown in the image.

Let’s go back in time now. The Garden City Lands have been the people’s lands for millennia. Their sphagnum bog ecosystem has provided nature’s services for food, medicine and comfort. Richmond’s settler families used to picnic there, and the green space with panoramic views has always raised the human spirit.

The lands have also served their country as a lightly-used rifle range and a site for Coast Guard communication towers. In World War II, as Harold Steves recalls, there were anti-aircraft guns there. He could see them from the interurban tram.

By good fortune, the lands have stayed natural for us, protected by the federal government and then the Agricultural Land Reserve. We’re grateful.

With their ALR status, agriculture is the preferred use of the lands, but ecological conservation and open-land park recreation are also ALR uses. Together they enable the lands to embody the essence of the Garden City as our central park.

The lands bring out the values of the people of Richmond. For years (2004–09), powerful parties—shamefully including the City of Richmond—ganged up to pave the lands with dense development. We said “No!”

Overwhelmingly, the citizens told the Agricultural Land Commission that the community needs the lands for ALR uses. Our values won. As taxpayers, we then bought the property for ALR parkland.

Now the city is undermining the lands’ ALR status again, particularly with contra-ALR action in the Northwest Corner. The good news is that the Garden City Lands Coalition, the movement that saved the lands, is still active in evolved form as the Garden City Conservation Society. We’ve taken these recent steps:

Northwest corner of the Garden City Lands, Richmond, BCThe most viable area of the lands for agriculture, especially at this time, is the Northwest Corner. Agricultural scientists—Sustainable Agriculture faculty of Kwantlen Polytechnic University—are clear about that. Those who have implied the opposite to the commission are now taking aggressive steps toward non-ALR use there.

With our action and the diligence of the commission, we hope it won’t be manipulated. In any case, the questionable approach is a problem in itself.

Besides harming the ALR legacy of the lands, it could harm Richmond’s credibility, blunting our response to Port Metro misuse of ALR farmland. Also, every misstep strengthens the Musqueam lawsuit against Richmond.

The city must stop its wasteful no-win weaseling. It’s up to the chief executive, the mayor, to assert and ensure the genuine ALR values the citizens have long upheld. Then, once again, the Garden City Lands will be a good-news story.

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In addition to the communications mentioned with hyperlinks (at the top of this article and in bold bulleted items), a telling communication was my comments to the parks committee of Richmond Council on March 26 of this year. The online minutes of that meeting include my speaking notes, and my actual comments included all of the speaking-notes content that is related to this article.

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