6. Rays of Hope

The truth about Richmond’s Garden City Lands is slowly emerging. Challenges remain, but rays of hope are shining through.

The Garden City Lands became an issue when a powerful group set out to remove that prime farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), mainly for mega-density development. A 55-hectare field east of Garden City Road, the farmland forms a natural transition between the city centre and the nature Lands stretching east from No. 4 Road to Jacombs.

The first ray of hope is a deadline that’s a lifeline. The development group, which consists of the City of Richmond and a venture partnership of Canada Lands Company and the Musqueam Indian Band, is bound by a purchase agreement. It is “null and void and of no further force or effect” if the field is not released from the ALR by a deadline that has been extended to Dec. 31, 2008.

As things stand, the venture partners can exert power over the city forever. Upon the city’s completion of purchase, which is scheduled for January 15, 2013, major “permitted encumbrances” in favour of the venture partners will be registered against the city’s title to its segments of the land. However, if the field is still in the ALR this coming January 1, the city should be free from the agreement. Happy New Year!

The second ray of hope has an unlikely source, the development group’s Richmond Community Survey. The aim of that phone survey, as implied in the survey press release, was to prove a “community need” to remove the Garden City Lands from the ALR. However, if the Agricultural Land Commission can be shown how the survey manipulated opinion, it may help disprove the “community need” claims.

To be fair, some actual Richmond opinions did emerge in the survey. The respondents were asked to state the single issue that concerned them “personally the most,” and the responses were revealing, though not shared in the survey press release. The major concern was traffic, followed by “too much development.” Also, four-fifths of the respondents expressed support for community gardens on the Garden City Lands, and “major open spaces” drew equally high support.

The third ray of hope is the Sustainable Food Systems Park proposal from the Richmond Poverty Response Committee. Have a look at the imaginative proposal, with a map that helps you visualize it, on the Garden City Lands blog.

If the Lands stay in the ALR, the Sustainable Food proposal will be a good starting point for considering responsible ways to benefit from the Lands. It is consistent with Richmond values, Richmond residents’ suggestions, and the Richmond Official Community Plan, 2.1 Agriculture.

Besides community farms and gardens, the proposal includes public trails, a community gathering place, a heritage orchard with apiary, a farmers’ market with organic produce and free-range eggs, and much more. The plan provides for tourism, urban-agriculture education, social support, and response to poverty, all with partner organizations. It builds on ongoing successes such as Richmond fruit tree sharing, Ian Lai’s Terra Nova Schoolyard Project, and the Richmond sharing farms, which supply the Richmond Food Bank with local produce.

The Sustainable Food plan is a vision of a livable, sustainable, caring Richmond, with vast potential as a hub of Richmond agritourism and ecotourism. In contrast, the development plan would lead to congested traffic and rampant growth relieved only by green areas on city land.

It’s encouraging that the Sustainable Food people are open to community input. They hosted the town hall meeting in May 2007 that drew an overflow crowd to the local Kwantlen conference centre to discuss the Garden City Lands, and it was respectful to all views. We, the people of Richmond, may find something better, but for now we can feel confident of an option that serves community needs.

Whatever form it may take, visionary practical use of the Garden City Lands will help keep Richmond on track to being the most appealing and livable community we can be.

1 Comment »

  1. […] “Rays of hope for Garden City lands” an article by Jim Wright published on the Garden City lands blog (also published in the Richmond […]

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