Archive for the ‘“Create” Garden City’ Category

Garden City Conservation Society and the ALR

October 17, 2017

Introduction: One facet of the Garden City Conservation Society is conservation of ALR land. This recent article recaps that story. Click on the graphic for a large version, which shows the Garden City Conservation Society at Richmond Harvest Fest 2017.

The Garden City Conservation Society embodies a Richmond movement to respect and conserve ALR land for ALR uses: agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness.

In the late 1980s, as the Save Richmond Farmland Society, the movement battled to save Terra Nova, farmland in the northwest corner of Lulu Island. The results include Terra Nova Natural Area and Rural Park, along with the Sharing Farm.

A decade ago, the movement evolved into the Garden City Lands Coalition. With great support from the people of Richmond and beyond, we helped save the Garden City Lands. (At the time, it was a huge federal field of ALR in the Richmond City Centre, with most of it slated for dense development.)

It was also a chosen battlefield for ALR opponents, and its fall would have been a major setback for the ALR in BC. Thanks to the highly effective citizen action, the ALR won, enabling the City to buy the Lands as ALR park.

Our ongoing action has included immense efforts in 2014 that helped limit the harm from the “bill to kill the ALR.”

In our recent return to the Garden City Lands for Richmond Harvest Fest, we carried on the tradition.

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If you are supportive, you’re a “Friend of Garden City,” and there’s a free newsletter, the Garden City e-News, via email about once a month. You can subscribe to the Garden City e-News here. (It is very simple to unsubscribe whenever you want, and your email address is never used for anything else.)

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This article is essentially an excerpt from a recent letter to Lana Popham, BC Minister of Agriculture, from the Garden City Conservation Society with regard to the epidemic of mansions that broke out on ALR land in Richmond this year.

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How “the developers” got their way in spite of Day

August 1, 2017

Ever wonder how “the developers”* get their way with Richmond? Is it that council members are developers at heart or beholden to developer money that gets them elected?

Maybe not. Maybe we simply have clever developers.

Let’s look at an example, the recent public hearing about a house-building bylaw update. A key intent was to ensure sufficient backyard space.

That could let living things thrive—even sturdy trees and birds that are happy with them. Also, it might let neighbours see more sky, not a towering wall that blocks the sunlight and feels like prison with no parole.

The good news is that city staff who deal with house building are adept at consultation. Staff had met with builders about the bylaw revision and also analyzed input from almost 800 citizens.

Despite the usual pressure from developers, staff had kept their balance and brought promising changes to council’s planning committee.

However, that committee has been stacked in the developers’ favour for months, ever since Mayor Malcolm Brodie deleted Coun. Carol Day from it and inserted Coun. Alexa Loo.

When the developers presented the committee with their preferred regulations to replace the staff advice, everyone except Councillors Harold Steves and Chak Au voted for the developer wish list.

But the decision had to face the full council in the next stage. After a hard-fought battle, the consultation-based staff proposals got restored. They were then brought to the public hearing, the final stage.

It slipped out at the hearing that the developers’ shrewd young leader had met with a core group of allies to plan how to get what they wanted.

They’d settled on phrases to keep repeating while aiming to reduce the depth for backyards on most lots to 20 percent of lot depth (from 25 percent, which is one-quarter more). The trick was to make the intrusion into the backyard just a single storey and to show it at low height at the public hearing.

They introduced it after most citizens had spoken, so the developers dominated near the end. Their key phrases, along with visuals, framed the change as a small design preference, enabling a modest “rental unit.”

But past performance is the best predictor of future performance. In that reality, the single storey would likely be 5 metres high (plus roof), as tall as older two-storey houses.

It’s a trophy-house design preference, not oriented to affordable housing or neighbours’ sunshine.

The astute Niti Sharma exposed some of that, but other citizens who could have debunked the developers had already spoken.

At the end, people were allowed to speak again—supposedly for three minutes with strictly new content. The developers’ leader got away with speaking last for ten minutes, hammering home the previous key phrases.

Final result: Only Councillor Day held her ground. Despite her vote, the developers largely got their way.
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*A footnote: “The developers” is the usual label, but some in the industry are admirably different.

Welcome to 2017 gathering—June 21st

June 7, 2017

Update after the event: Here’s a video of a few of the Annual Gathering participants doing Aztec dance.

Dear Friends of Garden City,

Join in our 2017 Annual Gathering on Wednesday, June 21, at the Richmond United Church hall. Our theme is celebration.

As our June 21st date coincides with the solstice, it’s a perfect chance to honour the earth—and to celebrate all who protect her.

And let’s dance together! A bit of dancer-friendly Aztec Dance will enable us to experience conservation in an ancient way.

Note: At left, Sharon MacGougan is dressed for Aztec dancing and holding a conch for it.

But taking part as a dancer is optional. In the circle, all will share in experience of the present that connects with past and future.

Along with celebrating past achievements, we will look ahead to future ones, celebrating the possibilities with a wishing tree.

Art teacher Suzanna Wright (left) will facilitate that with the help of her instant-art skills.

Suzanna will also be greeting you at the sign-in table, and you can pick up her Lulu Island Bog colouring sheets there. (Learn about them here.)

The event also serves briefly as the annual general meeting of the Garden City Conservation Society.

It’s free—no charge except the $10 annual fee for membership in the society. Looking forward to seeing you!

Let us know right away that you’re coming—or thinking about coming. Our Sign-Up Form allows for shades of maybe. Like us, it is unique and has worked well for years.

Let’s celebrate together!
Sharon MacGougan
President, Garden City Conservation Society, and Aztec Dancer

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DETAILS

Please respond:
Visit the Sign-Up Form now to express interest in the gathering and/or to enjoy the unique sign-up approach.

Timetable for Annual Gathering on Wednesday, June 21, 2017:
6:30 pm on: Sign-in, chat and snack (wraps, local strawberries, beverages, etc.
7:00 pm: Start on time.
8:30 pm: Celebration cake and time to chat.
8:45 pm: Clean-up.
9:00 pm: Bye!

Snack: Deliciously healthy finger-food and coffee/tea/juice from 6:30 pm. Delicious cake at 8:30. It can even serve as a light dinner if need be.

Membership in Garden City Conservation Society (to 2018 AGM):
Join/renew, $10 (cash or cheque), at the sign-in table or online (PayPal or credit card) if you support our purposes.* Donations welcome too.

Location:
Richmond United Church hall, 8711 Cambie, on the north side of Cambie Rd just west of Garden City Rd. Park in stalls marked B or C or unmarked. The hall entrance is near the northwest corner. Click the thumbnail at right for a larger image.

Aztec dancing: Click here to see Sharon MacGougan and her Aztec Dance team in action. In the 90-second video, they are dancing at a Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House cultural event earlier this year. Click the thumbnail at right for a larger image of the team.

* Purposes of the Garden City Conservation Society:

  • To help steward the natural legacy of Richmond’s Agricultural Land Reserve area called the Garden City Lands for agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness.
  • To research, educate and act to help steward other natural legacies of the “Garden City,” Richmond, in consultation with government and community.
  • To encourage respect for the legacy name “Garden City” as a community value.

Exellence in protecting Richmond farmland

May 10, 2017

Should Richmond council (A) kowtow to ALR speculators or (B) do their job? A or B?

If you chose B, please ask council to respect our farmland and the citizens they swore to serve. (Details at end.)

Your efforts will support Richmond staff. For years, some of them have tried to get council to stop misuse of our farmland, which is almost all in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

Remember: “We have to protect our farmland.” That’s a mantra of our entry-level farmers, and they’re right. If council heeds those words, all will be well.

What could matter more? Speculators who’ve trained council to jump for them?

Note: I’ll use the general word “speculators” to include money launderers, opportunists, farmland investors, etc.

Speculators hoard farmland as a commodity to store, build and flaunt their wealth. That can easily conflict with the ALR as a collective reserve that stores agricultural value for the long-term benefit of British Columbians.

The Richmond farming establishment, who inherited much of their land, do care about farming. It’s lucky for them when farmland prices shoot up, but it’s sad when they lobby for non-farm mansions on ALR land to keep those prices high.

Then there’s the scum that Douglas Todd described in Saturday’s Sun. The global “corrupt elite” buy expensive properties here with stolen wealth. I bet that’s had a part in the frenzy of mega-mansions planned for Richmond farmland: 25 that are over 12,000 square feet in the first quarter of 2017, almost equaling the previous seven years.

So how can we protect our farmland? By doing the obvious. There’s a proven solution, roughly what Delta does. A staff report explains the approach, but it seems that some council members missed it or didn’t grasp it.

The essence: Limit farmland house size enough to divert construction of non-farm residences from the ALR to residential areas. (And include a simple approval process so farmers can exceed the limit—for example, for a large extended family of farmers.)

Site Economics consultant Richard Wozny calculated the optimal farmhouse size limit for Richmond. Staff then expressed it as “Option 3”: a limit of 3,650 square feet (plus garage). Simply making that option a bylaw would greatly reduce the problem.

However, staff also calculated slightly differently and arrived at an “Option 2” with a limit of 3,261 square feet (plus garage). After taking a lot of factors into consideration, I’m convinced that Option 2 is the best one for protecting farmland.

Coun. Harold Steves and staff favoured an “Option 1” with a higher limit than Options 2 and 3, but that will not protect farmland nearly as well.

All three of those options can be said to meet the provincial guideline, but Option 2 (limit of 3,261 square feet of flaw area) is best for diverting non-farmer’s residences from ALR/Agriculture farmland to urban residential areas.

Shockingly, Mayor Malcolm Brodie jumped to a limit of almost 10,800 square feet (but half that for lots under 0.2 hectares). Only Coun. Steves and Coun. Carol Day voted against it.

Other than lopping a tier of mega-mansions, the mayor surrendered to the speculators, ignoring massive public input, staff expertise and Ministry of Agriculture guidelines.

Coun. Day urges us to attend the public hearing about this at City Hall on Monday, May 15, at 7 p.m. Come early to sign in to speak (10-minute limit). Remember, “We have to protect our farmland.”

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Notes:

Instead of putting in a lot more links, I’ve put many of them in the form of this helpful memo to council. Also, refer to the farmhouse bylaws: Bylaw 9712, the ALR house size bylaw, which I see as a disaster (along with the related Bylaw 9717) and Bylaw 9706, which allows exception for farmers (useful, in my view).

For tips about participating in the Public Hearing, scroll down or click on “Succeeding at the farm house public hearing.”

Succeeding at the farm house Public Hearing

May 10, 2017

These tips are related to “Exellence in protecting Richmond farmland.” They are tips for the Public Hearing of Monday, March 15, 2017 re farmland house size (floor area).

  1. On the Richmond.ca site, you can see the public hearing agenda. Notice that there are other hearings before the Agriculturally Zoned Land Bylaws at the end. Those preliminary ones will tend to move fast.
  2. It’s a good idea to get a seat early and sign up to speak early (if you wish to speak). The sign-up list will be at a table just outside the council chambers.
  3. The sign-up list will be open for signing from 6:30 p.m. on. Look for it and sign up promptly when you arrive—for yourself only.
  4. However, you could come half an hour or so late if you need to. You may have just standing room at first, but some seats will open up when earlier hearings on the agenda are completed. (It is even possible that staff will open up another room where you can hear what’s going on and come up to speak when it’s your time.)
  5. There’s also a section about public hearings that explains how to make a written submission or a spoken one. Council pays less attention to the written ones, but it’s still worthwhile to send a written one, whether or not you also speak as well.
  6. In written or spoken input to a Public Hearing, it is normal to begin by saying that you support a particular bylaw (perhaps Bylaw 9706) and/or oppose a particular bylaw (perhaps Bylaw 9712 and the related Bylaw 9717).
  7. You can send your written input by email to MayorandCouncillors@richmond.ca or use the online form. Be sure to send it before 4 p.m. on May 15. (That deadline is not an ironclad one, but follow it.)
  8. For speaking to the public hearing, it is useful to come with speaking notes and refer to them while speaking. Also practice a bit, and make sure your remarks will fit easily within ten minutes.
  9. However, most people can make their point quickly, beginning by stating their basic position. It is very effective to have lots of people like you stating their position and giving a concise reason for the position. That makes the point while respecting everyone’s time.
  10. If you have thorough speaking notes that are a rough script, the recording secretary would like to have a copy. You can give a copy to her/him before the meeting begins or right after you speak. (Be sure your name is on it.) This is a thoughtful thing to do, because it makes the recording secretary’s challenging role a bit simpler.
  11. While other people are speaking, make notes so that you can politely rebut their points or reinforce their points.
  12. Even if you did not sign up at the beginning, do this and perhaps speak at the end. The chair (almost always the mayor) will normally ask if there is anyone else who wishes to speak, and at that point you would raise your hand and make sure the chair sees you.
  13. We try to be respectful of the Public Hearing process while helping council to make an informed decision that is best for protecting Richmond’s threatened ALR/Agriculture farmland. We also respect opposing views and the people who state them.
  14. Council members can ask questions of any presenter (normally at the end of the presenter’s remarks), so be prepared for that. In this case they will probably not do that much because of time considerations.
  15. There is an opportunity to speak again for three minutes at the end if new content that will make a difference arises for you to share. (The mayor will ask for a show of hands of anyone who needs to speak again.) If you have made notes and have additional new information to add to a point or refute a point, this is the time to concisely state it.
  16. After all of that, council members will discuss the issue and eventually pass a motion for each bylaw on the topic. For example, there could be a motion to approve Bylaw 9712 or to refer it back to staff with particular instructions.
  17. There’s more on the “Speak at a Public Hearing” page.

The location is the first floor of Richmond City Hall on No. 3 Road at Granville Avenue. There is a fair amount of parking space, but come early to be sure of parking. If need be, park in the parkade to the west, on the other side of Minoru, or in Minoru Park.

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You can scroll up to go to “Excellence in protecting farmland” or simply click on that link.

My explanation to council is also a very useful if you wish to speak in an informed way and work for excellence.

Colouring the Lulu Island Bog

July 10, 2016

As my Digging Deep column in the July 13th Richmond News says, you can download Lulu Island Bog colouring sheets from this blog. Here they are, along with examples coloured by the artist:

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And here’s the column, “A timeless story of the Lulu Island Bog.”

The lively tableau below depicts native pollinators with native plants in the Lulu Island Bog.

The native birds and insects were here long before Europeans brought honeybees to North America. In recent years, a disorder that wiped out many honeybee colonies was a stark reminder of the need to conserve robust native diversity.

pollinators-large

At top left in the tableau, with the Pacific crabapple blossoms, there’s a rufous hummingbird. It weighs only a few grams, yet it migrates north from Mexico in spring and south again in the fall.

On the right, feeding from a fireweed flower, there’s an Anna’s hummingbird. It’s so hardy that it lives here all year round.

The bumblebee in the middle is gathering nectar from a bog laurel flower.

At bottom left, a painted lady is flying above the peat moss—sphagnum moss, the keystone species. This kind of butterfly likes rain, but it migrates to warmer climes when the weather gets cool.

Also at bottom, a blue orchard bee is almost hidden among the bog cranberries. Naturally, blue orchard bees are good at pollinating fruit flowers.

By the way, all the native plants in the tableau except the bog laurel have traditional uses for food, warmth, health care, etc. One never knows when a further value will emerge, but for now the bog laurel is pretty, and the bumblebee likes it.

The Lulu Island Bog extends from Westminster Highway north to Alderbridge Way and from Garden City Road east to Jacombs Road. It’s two square kilometres of remnants of peat bogs that once covered almost half of Lulu Island.

The Lulu Island Bog is also called the Central Wetlands. That’s fitting, since the peat bog keeps losing ground to “succession,” evolving to bog forest and fen, which is wetland without the peat moss, bog shrubs and acidic water of bogs.

The decline of the bog ecosystem makes the surviving peat bog more precious—worth restoring and enhancing. Besides conserving natural legacies, the Lulu Island Bog has an interpretive centre, the Nature House, in the Richmond Nature Park.

Each April, there’s a “Hummingbird Homecoming” event in the park. In summer, the fen in the southeast corner of the wetlands (beside Garden City Road) is abuzz with native bees.

People picked up hundreds of Lulu Island Bog colouring sheets like the pollinator one from the Garden City Conservation booth at the Salmon Festival. As well, you can download them from the top of this article.

Tableaus condense natural scenes, and this one uses cartoon style. Still, artist Suzanna Wright and ecology advisor Michael Wolfe, who are teachers, have kept it true to life.

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Note: This blog has a related article,Pollinating in the Lulu Island Bog,” from a year ago.

Garden City Lands as a model for the world

June 10, 2016

Update, June 12: I eventually submitted—to Let’s Talk Richmond—this chart of input about the Garden City Lands as one of the world’s great central parks.

This post is a slightly filled-out version of a recent Digging Deep column in the Richmond News. To further fill this out, you will find a number of related articles by scrolling down, as well as the above chart (added on June 12, 2016).

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BACKGROUND

Background for the Let’s Talk Richmond feedback form for the Garden City Lands project.

The City of Richmond project to enhance the Garden City Lands is gaining momentum, so it’s time for a shared challenge. Let’s bring the Lands, our central park, to the top echelon of the world’s parks.

The community has always wanted to help steward the Lands with ALR values for agriculture, ecological conservation and open-land park recreation for community wellness. The land has stayed ready too.

satellite image of Garden City Lands, with darkness showing wetnessIt hasn’t been altered yet. It’s now best not to build dike-road trails this year, and that’s lucky.

To illustrate, the satellite photo at right is old but looks current. If you’re new to this, the Lands are the large field bordered by Westminster Hwy (south edge), Garden City Rd (west), Alderbridge Way (north), and No. 4 Rd (east). Each stretch of arterial road is about half a mile long (800 metres).

ACTION

(re  Let’s Talk Richmond feedback form)

In this window of opportunity, what will it take to succeed?

  1. Focus on the goal of an ALR central park that celebrates the ALR.
  2. Ensure full benefit from the Garden City Conservation Society, with its insight and commitment. It exists to help like this. Consult them.
  3. Ensure accessibility. Design the infrastructure—such as dike-road trails—for wheelchairs, mobility walkers and strollers.
  4. Ensure ample capacity. That means, for example, wide-enough trails for the highest anticipated use, looking far ahead. It might also mean a long and narrow parking area on the Lands beside No. 4 Road.
  5. Be radically inclusive. Take the perspectives of people living with poverty, social anxiety, security concerns when near woods, need for nearby washrooms, etc. (Helpful action will tend to benefit all users.)
  6. hugelkulturEncourage all sorts of agriculture. For example, permaculturists might love to use hügelkultur to make a hard-to-irrigate part bounteous. Also, foresee how much land will be needed for community gardens in the future (10 ha, 25 acres?), and ensure that interim uses will improve the soil.
  7. Use dike-road trails around the restorable sphagnum bog on the east side to enable bog-specific steps. Save the southwest fen, a distinct and thriving ecosystem with native pollinators. Also consider a bird-oriented feature like the Terra Nova Natural Area.
  8. Act promptly toward a range of bog restoration methods, including those of Canadian peat moss associations and the Camosun Bog Restoration Group.
  9. On the north edge, re-establish a mixed urban forest by transplanting trees that would be lost with demolitions. Also honour the perseverance of the Lands’ pioneer trees—the truncated shore pines and crabapple trees.
  10. Protect the green viewscapes and salvage the lost ones. (A viewscape takes in everything from a viewing point all the way to distant features such as mountains.) As it is now, people get angry when they look north across Alderbridge at the destruction by construction.
  11. Make the Lands an exemplary hub in Richmond’s Ecological Network Management Strategy, an outstanding plan to put into action.
  12. Live up to our role as a model for the world. (IESCO, a UN affiliate, selected us as an International Eco-Safety Demonstrative City in 2010.)

Readers, this will be the heart of my feedback at Let’s Talk Richmond. Download the current Garden City Lands PDF there and see pages 4 and 11. Beat the feedback deadline, June 12.

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Scroll down (past the Welcome) for several more articles on this topic.

Restore the GCL peat bog excellently

June 3, 2016

GCL-peat-bog-conservation-areaNote: There is overlap between this article and earlier ones (lower on the web page). Although there is a bit of repetition, the emphasis is different  in each article.

A recent update by the team for the Garden City Lands park enhancement project left me wondering if they intend to restore the sphagnum peat bog at all.

Project maps show the bog as more than half the park, as shown at right.

For certain, we don’t need the ecosystem to evolve to bog forest. In the big picture of City of Richmond parks, the Richmond Nature Park already fills that role.

I believe that the sphagnum peat bog restoration is vital. It should begin first, even before the central dike-road trail. It could even have begun when the city got title six years ago. The need was clear in 2009 when the city offered to buy the Lands, and any buyer would look ahead.

The update identifies project phases, and there’s no bog restoration phase. It’s not even in the future phases, years down the road. So far the city just does an annual cutback on the Lands, which does have net value. (But I wish they’d stop lopping the stunted pines, which are red-listed in association with sphagnum.)

When I talked to project team members at the project’s open house, they at least seemed to have restoration in mind in a warm and fuzzy way. A start.

In any case, it’s crucial to restore the keystone species—the sphagnum peat mosses. And systematic effort is required. In contrast, it seems now that the legacy bog could actually be harmed by other phases unless the bog restoration becomes more credible soon.

rerouting central dike-road trailIt’s also crucial to restore an area that’s actually peat bog. The best available info is from local expert Michael Wolfe (2011) and project consultant Terry Taylor (2013). The diagram at right gives a sense of where the central trail would best be placed.

Since the project is also trying to create a fen (in the SW area, the diagram also shows how the perimeter trail could be jogged to conserve an existing fen with a distinct ecosystem the project would mostly destroy.

Note: Michael Wolfe recommends a modified area that retains the unique ecosystem but best suits the pollinators that have chosen to make their home in that southwest corner.

GCL in the top echelon of world parks?

June 3, 2016

This article is a filled-out version of a Digging Deep column in the Richmond News, and it includes some time-saving links. It is further filled out by several related articles you can reach on this blog. 

________

The City of Richmond project to enhance the Garden City Lands is gaining momentum, so it’s time for a shared challenge. Let’s bring the Lands, our central park, to the top echelon of the world’s parks.

The community has always wanted to help steward the Lands with ALR values for agriculture, ecological conservation and open-land park recreation for community wellness. The land has stayed ready too, although the central dike-trail that’s been started is well-positioned in the north half and poorly positioned in the south half.

In this window of opportunity, what will it take to salvage success?

  1. Focus on the goal of an ALR central park that celebrates the ALR.
  2. Ensure full benefit from the Garden City Conservation Society, with its insight and commitment. It exists to help like this.
  3. Ensure accessibility. Design the infrastructure—such as dike-road trails—for wheelchairs, mobility walkers and strollers.
  4. Ensure ample capacity. That means, for example, wide-enough trails for the highest anticipated use, looking far ahead. It might also mean a long and narrow parking area on the Lands beside No. 4 Road.
  5. Be radically inclusive. Take the perspectives of people living with poverty, social anxiety, security concerns when near woods, need for nearby washrooms, etc. (Helpful action will tend to benefit all users.)
  6. Encourage all sorts of agriculture. For example, permaculturists might love to use hügelkultur to make a hard-to-irrigate part bounteous. Also, foresee how much land will be needed for community gardens in the future (ten hectares?), and ensure that interim uses will improve the soil.
  7. Use dike-road trails around the restorable sphagnum bog on the east side to enable bog-specific steps. Save the southwest fen, a distinct and thriving ecosystem with native pollinators. Also consider a bird-oriented feature like the Terra Nova Natural Area.
  8. Act promptly toward a range of bog restoration methods, including those of Canadian peat moss associations and the Camosun Bog Restoration Group.
  9. On the north edge, re-establish a mixed urban forest by transplanting trees that would be lost with demolitions. Also honour the perseverance of the Lands’ pioneer trees—the truncated shore pines and crabapple trees.
  10. Protect the green viewscapes and salvage the lost ones. (A viewscape takes in everything from a viewing point all the way to distant features such as mountains.) As it is now, people get angry when they look north across Alderbridge at the destruction by construction.
  11. Make the Lands an exemplary hub in Richmond’s Ecological Network Management Strategy, an outstanding plan to put into action.
  12. Live up to our role as a model for the world. (IESCO, a UN affiliate, selected us as an International Eco-Safety Demonstrative City in 2010.)

Readers, this will be the heart of my feedback at Let’s Talk Richmond. Download the current Garden City Lands PDF there and see pages 4 and 11. Maybe google my “Natural resources versus waste” blog for insights. Beat the feedback deadline, June 12.

What must the Lands project do now to succeed?

May 31, 2016

Received a request: Tell us bluntly what the Garden City Lands project must do now to succeed.

Okay, but first a review. We’ll use the sky view of the Lands. It shows where water settles in rainy season. (Darker is wetter.)

Central dike road trail

The graphic also draws on findings about vegetation patterns by local expert Michael Wolfe (2011) and consultant Terry Taylor (2013), which were similar.

The green lines represent the main routes for dike-road trails. Notice the curving green line, the central dike-road trail.

As dikes, the trails retain rainwater in the sphagnum bog restoration area on the No. 4 Road side. That’s a natural legacy.

The bog ecosystem needs a high water table, so it’s good the bog area is wet. There’s a drier area near the centre, but it surrounds a wet saucer of sphagnum moss, the best patch of that keystone species.

The graphic was made for a column in early 2014, after citizens used a late-2013 survey to demand that dike-road trails be built without delay.

The Taylor study was the biophysical inventory, an essential, but the funding was skimpy, and it shows. The project needed to fill it out with an inventory of soil and vegetation at a practical level of detail. Act now, I urged.

Ha-ha. Parks staff enlightened me, “We always take years and years.” So true.

This brings us back to the dike-road trails. With better guidance, they could be placed just right and built with little harm to nature. The aim is to start building them soon, so Garden City Conservation gave council an urgent report last week.

GCL-peat-bog-conservation-area

The report’s focus was on the central dike-road trail. In the project plan, the southern half of it drifts far to the west, bringing in many hectares that are beyond restoring as sphagnum bog ecosystem.

I’ve added the “PEAT BOG” label to what the City of Richmond’s project is showing as peat bog, with a whole lot in the southern half that is far along in ecosystem succession that it will never  function as a peat bog ecosystem again. It could be used well for other conservation or for agriculture, but not in the peat bog area.

Including all those extra hectares could defeat the purpose of the enclosed bog restoration area. It was to raise the water table with precipitation and keep it raised, enabling year-round water for native bog vegetation.

The problem is that invasive plants use up a lot of water and harm the water quality. (They harm the desirable acidity and add undesirable nutrients, e.g., by dropping birch leaves). To support the legacy ecosystem, we have to get rid of invaders, not welcome them. Anyone planning the central dike-road trail route should know that.

rerouting central dike-road trailIn contrast to what I’ve described in the City’s map, the central dike-reoad trail route I’ve drawn in at right follows what the project’s Biophysical Inventory consultant and Michael Wolfe imply to be the natural boundary for the southern half. 

It’s essentially what I showed on the satellite map early in this article but a little closer to being precise.

It is knowledge-based to the extent that is possible at this time.Unfortunately, the project has seemed more whim-based than knowledge-based.

What’s more, if hired experts are given whims as a starting point, their answers to the wrong questions are just a waste of money.

On the bright side, a May 30th project update has made use of community input. Also, we’ve come a long way from the days of 2008 when thousands of us had to fight to save the Lands from development, making the park possible.

Now we need the City of Richmond to whole-heartedly do what’s right.

Once again, Garden City Conservation urges results-oriented consultation with the goal of celebrating the ALR quality of the Lands. That could still lead to one of the world’s great parks.

At less cost. In less time. With joy.

Appeal to council for better GCL action

May 27, 2016

satellite image of Garden City Lands, with darkness showing wetnessGarden City Conservation recently sent the follow message about the Garden City Lands to Richmond council, especially the parks committee. The responsive have so far ranged from supportive to undermining.

For now, you will find it informative to go beyond the email to the attached letter from the Garden City Conservation Society.

Note: In the satellite image, darkness indicates wetness.

Mayor and Councillors, especially Parks Committee,

It would be a mistake beyond remedy to proceed with the construction of the dike-road trail infrastructure on the Garden City Lands at this time. The project continues to be whim-based, not knowledge-based, despite the expertise of the consultants who build on the non-foundation to the limited possible extent.

The most visible issue is the central dike-road trail route. It is crucial in itself, and we have focused on it in the attached letter because it is time-sensitive and manifests the underlying issues. They include gaps in basic knowledge that was scheduled to be gathered and analyzed in the first year of the project.

There is still tremendous potential for all-ALR use of the Lands that showcases the ALR’s benefits—along with Richmond ALR agri-eco legacies—for our community and the world. That’s what the community showed it wanted when the issue was front and centre in 2008, and it’s an aspect of what’s at risk.

Garden City Conservation retains the community vision along with current expertise—in service to the citizens of the Garden City and, for them, to the City. Please read the attached letter for community insight.

I will write more about the results as they become clearer.

Highly accessible trails vital for Lands

May 5, 2016

rerouting central dike-road trailMay 5th tour info. Richmond News version. For related survey tips, scroll down.

Update: We have added an illustrated explanation of the value of rerouting the central dike-road trail from the route that is shown in the City of Richmond’s April 2016 plan. For a larger version, click on the thumbnail image at right.

Looking north from the main (west) entrance to the Garden City Lands, we see a seasonal pond, a grassy raised area (about 100 metres by 400), some vehicles that are moving along Alderbridge Way, the treed environmentally sensitive area (ESA, already compromised on the west side by Walmart site preparation), and the Coast Mountains. The treed ESA and the scene of woods and mountains are mentioned in the third and fifth points in this article.

Richmond’s central park, the Garden City Lands, is coming along. The planning focus now is on the arterial trails: the dike-road trail system of central and perimeter trails. Last week there were wonderful open houses—thanks to staff, consultants and citizens. A survey is online at Let’s Talk Richmond till the end of Mother’s Day, May 8.

Of course, the park itself is thanks to the community of Richmond. Twice (2005 and 2008), we had to ask the Agricultural Land Commission to keep the Lands in the ALR. We showed that ALR uses of the Lands offer more community benefit than the non-ALR uses the City of Richmond and its developer partners wanted.

Now, long after the Commission sided with us, we see glimmers of ALR respect in the City’s planning, with less weaseling around the ALR status. If the City adopts our desire to celebrate the ALR, the Lands can still become one of the world’s great parks for community wellness. You can use the survey to encourage that.

Oddly, only the first question is about the dike-road trail system. It offers two options about cycling. I favor the option with bikes on an adjacent path. That simply separates bikes from the wheelchairs, service vehicles, joggers, etc., on the main path. A safer choice, it helps everyone to enjoy open-land park recreation, an ALR activity.

Luckily, the survey has a “General Comments” box. I’ll use it to urge meaningful park access via free-flowing arteries for the lifeblood—us—in all seasons. I may add that opportunities to interact with agriculture, ecological conservation and related recreation around the Lands are as vital as clog-free paths.

As an example, my photo shows the Lands from the Garden City Road entrance in 2012, when a pond formed, like ponds in the plan. Now imagine you’re there in 2018. A sign tells your future self that the pond stores water for crops, and a dike-road trail keeps your feet dry as you commune with the ducks in the agri-eco-rec milieu.

For more now, come to the Garden City Lands eco-tour from the No. 4 Road entrance on Thursday, May 5 at 7 p.m. Besides tour guide Michael Wolfe, biologist Mike Coulthard of Diamond Head Consulting will take part. It’s priceless and free. Details at GardenCityLands.ca.

Since it’s spring, you may find it easy to get around, but you’ll also sense why a free-flowing all-season trail system matters. A crucial aspect is sufficient width for people to choose their pace—and pause to chat or find a nearby spot for tai chi. We need a main-path width of at least 5 metres, plus a metre-wide shoulder on each side.

The Let’s Talk Richmond survey is tricky, but my blog tips will help. (To reach them, scroll down.) I hope you’ll support year-round accessibility for Garden City Lands fans of all mobility modes, ages, security concerns, washroom needs—you name it. In any case, all informed input is good. See you Thursday!

2 ways to steward the Lands

April 29, 2016

legacy view of North Shore mountains from Garden City Lands, including the damaged area where the mall developers have killed trees and deposited sand

Advance a goal of Garden City Conservation: steward the Lands for best ALR uses for community wellness:

(1) Get up-to-date on the May 5 eco-tour.

(2) Do the Garden City Lands survey well.

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1 Get to know the Garden City Lands:

The Thursday, May 5, 2016 eco-tour starts at the East Entrance (No. 4 Rd) by 7:10 p.m. It’s guided by conservationist teacher Michael Wolfe, joined by key project member Mike Coulthard, Diamond Head Consulting. See details of May 5 and May 29 tours.

 

2 Then do the current Garden City Lands project survey well:

Online resources tip: The survey is on Let’s Talk Richmond and also here in PDF. Click on GFX links for relevant graphics. (Update: This referred to a survey that is now closed, but a simpler feedback opportunity is open until the end of Sunday, June 12, 2016.)

Success tips: Compose your answers in Word so it’s easy to refine them. Then paste them into the survey’s text boxes after refining. Notice that some text boxes limit the number of characters (to 256) and that the “General comments” box near the end has no limit.

Question 1 (GFX-1) limits the options for the perimeter trail to:

  • Option A, only an all-use path just 4 metres wide—for pedestrian/mobility, bike, service, and (in illustration) pet use
  • Option B, a pedestrian/mobility/service path just 2.5 metres wide, plus a separated bike path (on outer side in illustration)

Option B—the option of two separated paths—is more pleasant and safe for all uses. However, the stated pedestrian/all-use path widths are woefully constricting. (See “General Comments” near end.)

Questions 2 (GFX-2), 3 (GFX-3) and 4 (GFX-4) are phrased to prompt a “Yes” response (e.g., with “enhance the ecological performance”). Take care with question 4, as the “Rise” is the best part of the Lands for agriculture. (If we use the image of eggs in one basket, the “Rise” basket is loaded with rec eggs. Free-flowing trails should enable ALR rec needs to be met all around the Lands—eggs in many baskets.)

Question 5 (GFX-5): The least intrusive place for ample parking is on the wide strip of disturbed land down No. 4 Road. Between entry and exit, there could be fishbone parking with an aisle down the middle. Re surface, if there’s runoff, accessibility should trump permeability.

General comments (near end):
Assuming Option B, there’s:
(1) a basic network of perimeter and central dike-road trail plus
(2) a separated bike stream on the same routes. In that context:

  • The entire basic network should be wide enough for the community to enjoy the park together—on foot, in a stroller, or using a mobility aid such as a wheelchair or mobility walker.
  • The surface could be treated clay that’s more durable than asphalt, slightly convex for runoff, with white lines (broken centre line and solid margin lines), and with room to pause and enjoy or chat or use interpretive features.
  • For the basic network, a 7-metre total width could be just enough, even with only 5 metres for thoroughfare (2.5 m in each direction). That enables two metre-wide shoulders for safety and enjoyment. It also enables occasional service vehicles to carefully share the trail.
  • Eliminating the proposed kilometre of wooden viaducts over the bog (a headache for bog restoration) would save more than enough cost and space to let this basic infrastructure be done right.

Thank you for helping to steward the Garden City Lands!

Re-creating Richmond’s mixed urban forest

April 25, 2016

Garden City Lands legacy landscape

Have a look at the photo, taken from Richmond’s City Centre. It’s one-fifth of a panoramic scene. The rest of the panorama includes the Lions to the west (left) and Mount Baker to the southeast. It’s a viewscape—all one can see from near to far, from wetland to mountains and sky.

In between, you see part of Richmond’s last mixed urban forest, also known as the Alderbridge wildlife corridor. It’s on the north edge of noisy Alderbridge Way, but you could crouch there on a sunny day and feel bathed in the sounds of nature.

It’s special to sense nature’s life as you soak in natural viewscapes from the middle of a city. What unique good fortune! No wonder the City of Richmond put this legacy viewscape on the covers of its 2014 Legacy Landscape booklet.

The bad news: We’ve lost that legacy viewscape. Although the forest had layers of protection, the city brushed them aside, ignoring informed citizens. That doomed the mixed urban forest.

A band of developments has taken its place. As a legacy step, it’s like sticking duct tape on Leonardo’s Mona Lisa at eye level.

The good news: We can unlose what’s lost. In effect, we can shift the mixed urban forest south across Alderbridge. We can regenerate it on the Garden City Lands between the Alderbridge sidewalk and the dike-road trail. If the city acts on this, it will enrich a Legacy Landscape idea—perimeter woods.

Before the doomed forest was moonscaped, people looked north at it and wondered which side of Alderbridge it was on. From the photo, you may wonder too. In that aspect, the old and new forest will eventually look the same.

Efficient technology and potential funding exist to transplant mid-size trees from demolition sites for this purpose. Crucially, there’s a manager on staff who could lead it well.

Lately, in a Bridge Street development area with over 250 trees, only nine were kept. Although we want to retain more trees where they are, let’s re-home trees as need be. In that way (among others), the lost legacy of mixed urban forest can take shape again as an engaging ALR feature of our ALR central park.

As I see it, there will be most kinds of Richmond trees there, especially evergreens that grow to a happy-medium height, screening the developments but not the mountains.

Along Alderbridge in the northwest corner of the park, half the 50,000 cubic metres of clay in “the mound” could be moved to make way for forest soil and trees. (That clay would then be mixed with organic soil for agriculture.)

As before, the Alderbridge mixed urban forest would stretch from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road, but the ends of the strip would ideally curve south. From most angles, that would screen the intersections, making for greener viewscapes.

All going well, the ecosystem of the lost legacy will thrive again, with values for wellness, wildlife and more.

Let’s get this right.

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Update, April 25, 2016: Lots of people have asked what’s going on with the City of Richmond cutting down trees on the Alderbridge Way median between the last vestiges of the former mixed urban forest and the Garden City Lands (and also on Garden City Road). The removal enables the median to be cut back, for new intersections and turn lanes. On the reduced median, the removed trees are supposed to be replaced by several kinds of new coniferous evergreens. The plan is described in this staff memo.

The Alderbridge median trees that will supposedly be added seem fine except that some will grow taller than ideal from a viewscape standpoint. However, from the standpoints of mixed urban forest, wildlife corridor and natural screen (for City Centre northward viewscapes), that step is no replacement for the kind of mixed urban forest I have proposed as the optimal form of what the GCL park enhancement team has proposed for the north edge of the GCL.

A safety aspect too: Of those that would be too tall, what stands out (accidental play on words) is grand fir, which can grow to over 250 feet. The inclusion of grand fir also leads me, as a former member of “joint occupational health and safety committees” on postsecondary campuses, to be instinctively concerned. One kind of factor we were routinely conscious of (in scheduled inspections and in an ongoing way) was anything that might fall on people, especially in situations when it would complicate emergencies, which would include wind/rain storms and earthquakes.

The Garden City Lands are smiling

October 21, 2015

Note: This article has also been published as one of my Digging Deep columns in the Richmond News (Oct 23, 2015). The title is “Things on the up at the Lands,” and it includes additional photos and insight.

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Garden City Lands location and topographyThings are looking up for the enhancing of our central park, the Garden City Lands. That’s because the City of Richmond has recently become firmer about systematic planning and ALR values on the project.

Concerns I’ve expressed to the Agricultural Land Commission, council and you readers are being addressed. Both Dave Semple, as the city’s general manager with responsibility for parks, and Coun. Harold Steves, as chair of council’s parks committee, have assured me about that.

In agreement with the city, Sustainable Agriculture faculty of Kwantlen Polytechnic University are now developing a comprehensive agriculture management plan for the lands. I see they’re engaged in thorough soil sampling on a grid of the whole area. This scientific approach joins an existing hydrology study in a welcome trend.

Adequate inventories of the lands’ vegetation and wildlife are also needed for a conservation plan featuring sphagnum bog restoration. If someone with the abilities of a Michael Wolfe focuses on key species such as sphagnum moss and native shrubs, sufficient information can be added fairly quickly to meet initial needs.

With that foundation, it should be possible to rough in good locations for dike road trails around the perimeter and through the middle of the lands. Then the city’s engineers could model the construction requirements for that infrastructure and optimize its water-management effects, taking the hydrology study further.

I’ve been asked to prepare some analytic suggestions for the parks committee. With our directors, I will draw on extensive knowledge gathered by the Garden City Lands Coalition, the citizens’ movement that saved the lands from dense development. As it evolved into the Garden City Conservation Society, we kept on listening and learning.

There’s a long way to go, but there have never been better signs of city resolve to treat the Garden City Lands as what they’ve always been. They are taxpayer-owned green space in the heart of Richmond, ideal as our ALR central park for accessible agriculture, conservation and open-land recreation for community wellness.

The lands are legacies from our past to steward for the future. The late Mary Gazetas, one of our founding directors, had a motto worth recalling as the Garden City community looks ahead in this saga: “Keep at it. It’s worth it.”

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This article is in marked contrast to what “The Garden City Lands deserve a miracletold this blog’s readers only four weeks ago. To get a sense of the sea change, review that article.

The Garden City Lands deserve a miracle too

October 2, 2015

Preface: This article was a Digging Deep column in a recent Richmond News (Sep 30, 2015). Since it isn’t on the paper’s website, I’ll share it here. This article is closely related to the one below it, which provides the historical context for the topic. That article provides links to communications from the Garden City Conservation Society to (a) the Agricultural Land Commission, (b) Richmond Council and (c) Friends of Garden City, which are all relevant to this one too.

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One corner of the Garden City Lands will greatly affect the ALR future of the lands. It is the northwest corner, a raised area of clean clay soil along Alderbridge Way east of Garden City Road. The soil needs amending, but agricultural scientists have still concluded that the area is particularly viable for agriculture.

Northwest corner of the Garden City Lands, Richmond, BC

The scientists, who all have PhDs and practical skills, are Sustainable Agriculture faculty at the Richmond Campus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). They’ve tested the soil for minerals and stated how that corner can suit crop growing, orchards, farm animals, etc. That’s all knowledge they freely share.

Prospects for successful and leading-edge agriculture on the lands depend on bona fide farming of the northwest corner. For most purposes, it’s even the only area for sustainable growing and related research until dike roads allow flood control. (Like the West Dike beside the Sturgeon Banks, they’d also serve as wide trails.)

Not surprisingly, the KPU scientists have indicated for many years that they wish to farm the area, together with organic-soil land to the south. They would include research, education and outreach. That would lead to expert advice to community gardeners and new farmers, seasonal interpretive signs and much more.

As farmers of the lands, the KPU scientists and their Sustainable Agriculture students would serve as trailblazers. Through them, hard-earned lessons would be ready for passing on, enabling new growers to farm with amended soil and keep improving it.

But there’s a problem. It’s evident in a letter from the Agricultural Land Commission that the city has portrayed the northwest corner as not very suitable for agriculture, which is false. Adding to the concern, the city is taking steps to give other uses priority over bona fide farming there. Sustainable Agriculture would get a few acres, but elsewhere.

Garden City Conservation has sent a critique to alert the commission to ALR concerns about the lands. Happily, we’re experienced at that. When we emerged as a citizens’ movement long ago, we appealed to the commission to save the Garden City Lands from powerful developers, including the city.

Against all odds, we won. This time, though, we’re not sure how involved the commission will be.

We’ve shared our critique with Richmond council and urged action that gives agriculture priority. That’s in keeping with the lands’ ALR status, which the city acknowledges but undermines—with loss of integrity, legacy and community wellness.

The city’s Garden City Lands project leader has been asked to call me. However, the pervasive problem that the northwest corner illustrates seems to start higher up.

To read our letters to the commission and council and more, just google “Natural legacies versus waste.” You’ll reach my blog and see the links.

As the recent house-bylaw outcome shows, miracles can be earned. For the next miracle, we ask the city to respect the ALR status of the lands and celebrate it.

A new challenge in the Garden City Lands story

September 22, 2015

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.

Pollinating in the Lulu Island Bog

July 3, 2015

For the 2015 Steveston Salmon Festival on Canada Day, the Garden City Conservation Society created a visual story called “Pollinating in the Lulu Island Bog.” An aspect is that acting with respect for the various pollinators Nature has provided is a better idea than just depending on honey bees for pollinating. That is especially true in the sphagnum bog, with its native plants that collaborated with the native pollinators long before honey bees came to North America.

Here’s a coloured example of the artwork.

2015 Pollinating in the Lulu Island Bog

And here’s the sheet for colouring:

2015 Pollinating in the Lulu Island Bog, line art

Notes:
(a) To best enable educational value, we make the artwork as biologically correct as possible while still using cartoon style as part of the fun experience of these aids to learning.
(b) The above graphics are low-resolution images for on-screen viewing. At the bottom of this article you’ll find higher resolution files that you can download for printing out.

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luluislandboglife

The rest of the story:

This began a year earlier. The background is that the society and those who support its purposes—the Friends of Garden City—are friends of Nature. Our Lulu Island Bog eco-tours help people to get to know Nature there better. In 2014, to reach a wider audience, we decided to create an insightful illustration, “Friends in the Lulu Island Bog,” and the above images represent it being coloured at the 2014 Steveston Salmon Festival. Now that we’ve done this for two years, maybe it will become a tradition.

Thanks are due to the artist, Suzanna Wright, a Friend of Garden City who grew up in Richmond. Suzanna has a master’s degree in arts education, and she is a young teacher in the Surrey School District. Garden City Conservation director Michael Wolfe is a conservation biologist and Richmond teacher, and he provides input too. Together, Michael and Suzanna did a preview of the 2015 artwork at the June 2015 Annual Gathering of the society, with the two teachers providing comments and answers while the participants tried their hand at colouring.

You can download the 2014 “Friends of the Lulu Island Bog” sheet as line art  here (for colouring) and as a coloured example here.

You can download the 2015 “Pollinating in the Lulu Island Bog” as line art here 2015 (for colouring) and as a coloured example here.

We’re thinking of preparing a simple instructor’s guide for teachers, parents and others. For now, we encourage you to do a little background study on your own as need be.

Garden City Lands preliminary plan is a milestone

May 28, 2014

2014 preliminary plan for the Garden City Lands park

Yesterday, May 27, 2014, Richmond Council’s parks committee approved a preliminary plan for enhancing the Garden City Lands, Richmond’s central park.

I had provided some recommendations on behalf of the Garden City Conservation Society, and other ideas came from John ter Borg and De Whalen—and naturally from council members. In the context, the reasonable expectation is that the city team will heed all the advice while proceeding.

As a society, we don’t try to plan designs but do promote a conservation way of thinking that starts with appreciating what has come down from the past, the legacies of the lands. In keeping with our Garden City Lands Coalition roots, we also focus on good stewardship for a harmonious set of agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness. The preliminary plan is designed for that.

The city has owned the lands for 50 months, and parks staff have been addressing the project since a council meeting 20 months ago, so there’s been no problem with too much haste. The most obvious obstacle to efficient progress has been the influence of parties doggedly insisting on non-ALR uses. It is hard to be certain, but the main problem of covert inclusion of organized sports uses has finally been put aside as firmly as possible.

Also, staff were able to fend off the attempts by one or two councillors to prompt another large marketing event (in the guise of consulting the public). The marketing effect is largely fine, but it saps the city’s finances and energy. There would still be a marketing event in mid-2015, and that allows time for a lot of practical progress.

This is a milestone for the grassroots movement that took on impossible odds to save the Garden City Lands from development. That started almost ten years ago and became most intense with a lengthy public hearing six years ago. As that event approached, they came together as a coalition, and the Garden City Conservation is descended from it.

After an overwhelming number of the submissions to the Agricultural Land Commission opposed allowing the lands to be taken out of the Agricultural Land Reserve for the high density development. That include a thorough Garden City Lands Coalition submission to the ALC.

Kirby Dynamics - A ToastThe watershed event for saving the lands for community wellness came in February 2009 when the ALC decision ended the high-density development scheme.

Since then, it’s been slow, but progress is progress. Congratulations, citizens!

Trails as Garden City Lands infrastructure

April 4, 2014

Trails as Garden City Lands infrastructure

Tuesday was the parks meeting for Richmond council for March. The Garden City Lands inched ahead, a welcome turn of events.

For things to speed up, farm roads on the lands are key. They could be called something else, but “farm road” is apt, and our central park is an ALR farm. If it weren’t, it couldn’t have come to be a park. As you may recall, it was to be a construction zone until the people and the Agricultural Land Commission said “No!”

The main farm road for now is the perimeter trail. It will be a low dyke too. The roles of service road, public trail and water dyke are all key in their own ways.

People always want me to describe how things will be. This time I’ll answer, but it’s just an informed guess. (It’s up to city planners to plan.)

Look at the satellite view of the Garden City Lands, which are wet. The darker parts are the wetter ones, the lower ones. In the northwest corner at top left, there’s a wide berm. It’s the highest and driest part of the lands because the commission once let 50,000 cubic metres of clean clay fill be placed there.

The line drawn all around, near the edge of the image, gives a sense of the perimeter trail. It’s a farm road-dyke-trail that we can see as we look into the future. It consists of clean clay fill, like the northwest berm that in effect is part of it.

The durable surface is typically five metres wide. Some parts are wider to allow service vehicles to turn around and people to sit and chat and learn from interpretive signs.

We (in the future) use the trail to get around on foot or maybe by mobility scooter or bike. It’s pleasant to be a bit away from the arterial roads that surround the lands.

Outside the trail on the north edge, there’s a ribbon of woods. It can’t restore the senseless loss of natural viewscape across Alderbridge Way, but it lessens the scar.

On the east edge beyond the trail, there’s a gravel parking lot. It’s inside the No. 4 Road fence and above the water-system conduits. Better there than elsewhere.

As a dyke, the perimeter trail enables water management. That’s vital for every use of the park. The older ditch along Westminster Highway and stormwater drains along Garden City Road are outside the dyke to take the road runoff. They’re also useful when water is let out from the lands to drain a section.

The north-south line curving through the satellite image represents a similar farm road-dyke-trail. There will be others, but that one is crucial for another legacy, the sphagnum moss bog. Looking east from the new trail, we see an ecosystem that is abused and fragile but still restorable.

The trails around the sphagnum bog on the east side of the lands keep precipitation in, enabling a high water table, an essential for recovery. They also keep out water with unwelcome nutrients and the alkalinity that’s better for agriculture. Sphagnum likes acidic water, which it helps create in a natural way.

Sphagnum moss, a marvel of nature, is the keystone species of the bog ecosystem, which once took in a large area of Lulu Island. Progress has meant decline until there’s just the one bit left (except on off-limits federal land). The farm road-dyke-trails may save the legacy.

Long ago, sphagnum moss formed the land, and the native bog plants still depend on it. It deserves a better life and its own column. For now, it’s got its own cartoon.

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This article appeared on March 28, 2014 as a column in my Digging Deep series in the Richmond Review. It was titled “The multi-gift trails of our central park.”

Revised GCL concept still loses legacies

March 24, 2014

Since my last “Digging Deep” column, City of Richmond doublespeak about the Garden City Lands has redoubled. That could fool citizens and the Agricultural Land Commission about intents for our central park.

It’s a shame. While city resources get sapped, we’re losing the natural legacies of the lands, including unique legacies of agriculture, ecology and wellness. The only comfort is that things could have been far worse if the community had not saved the city from itself a few years ago.

The city had got caught in the quicksand of a bad deal to turn the federal Garden City Lands into dense development. The city got the booby prize, an iffy right to buy half the area. Much was to be “scattered throughout the property” at the seller’s whim. The rest was for an exhibition centre with a leaky business case, which sank.

Almost all the many groups and individuals who wrote to the Agricultural Land Commission advocated ALR uses for community benefit. The community won. That result was a thousand times better.

Five or six years later, the city’s concept for enhancing the lands is back at council. The new version still disguises contra-ALR uses, but they’re been dolled up. The “Community Fields” (five soccer fields) now look prettier and have new names (“The Commons” and “Event Field”) and more acres. They’re #22 and #24 in the pretty graphic below. They’re still contra-ALR and still belong in better places in Richmond.

City of Richmond concept for Garden City Lands, March 2014

I hoped the new version would finally show a basic sense of how to restore the sphagnum bog ecosystem. That knowledge, readily available from Garden City Conservation, was a skipped aim of the first phase of the six-phase project. Despite slight progress, it’s still missing in the final phase. Goodbye ecosystem. It’s another huge and senseless loss of natural legacy.

The project does continue to do some aspects very well. That has included the Garden City Lands ideas fair and open house, two marketing events. The stated goals and principles are mostly great too. I just don’t see them applied enough.

As a key example, I looked at the perimeter trail. It’s essential infrastructure and should be a top priority but isn’t. I looked for mention of its ALR use as a farm road (for service vehicles) and for water management, but that’s lacking too. The shallow ALR thinking, an aspect of the zealous drive for contra-ALR uses, is the fatal flaw.

The trails, especially the perimeter one, should be trails for everyone, but I see no mention of mobility scooters, walkers and wheelchairs in the lengthy report and no sign of them in about 35 trail illustrations. It’s an aspect of the same disregard for ordinary people that led to the senseless loss of viewscape legacy.

The problem is the stultifying expectations from above, not the staff who do the work.

Although the contra-ALR uses are bad for the community, they’re unjust enrichment in the context of the Musqueam lawsuit, raising Richmond’s risk.

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Important meeting: This matter is on the agenda (Item 2) for the meeting of Richmond’s parks committee, chaired by Coun. Harold Steves, on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, at 4:00 p.m. in the Anderson Room (east end of 2nd floor) at Richmond City Hall, SW corner of No. 3 Road and Granville Road, Richmond. Normally citizens get a chance to speak on the agenda item for up to 5 minutes. It is good to bring speaking notes, which one can provide to the recording secretary for inclusion in the minutes. The full agenda package is here. A smaller version, which also allows rotating of images when opened in Acrobat or Adobe Reader, is here.

Supporting the ALC and the GCL

March 20, 2014

This was published as “Commission invited to keep us wonderful” in the Richmond Review of March 14. Since it hasn’t appeared on the Review website, here’s its online version.

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Bullock-portraitUnless one wants them to be scythed at the knees, now is the time to support the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and the commission that stewards it. The debris from two cabinet ministers’ klutzy comments has already hampered the commission.

As the Richmond community, most of us would like to help, and it’s for our benefit too. To act, Garden City Conservation delivered this open letter to Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).

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Dear Richard Bullock:

In service to the community, the Garden City Conservation Society must blow the whistle on a stratagem to slip contra-ALR uses onto Richmond’s ALR central park, the Garden City Lands. This matter will impact the ALR future of the lands and the province.

Our perspective: We aim to help steward the natural legacies of the Garden City Lands with ALR uses for community wellness. Along with food security, the ALR uses would include ecological and open-land park ones. We are open to a spectrum of lawful uses.

ALC history: In 2006 and 2009, the commission refused to exclude the lands from the ALR, rejecting the owners and the City of Richmond. In 2010, thanks to those decisions, the city was able to obtain the property. The price reflected the ALR zoning, with a premium to escape a bad deal.

Citizens’ input to the ALC has embraced the ALR value of the lands, even when the city and its partners skewed the issue. Sadly, the skewing continues in a city project to enhance the ALR park: the city’s concept for the park is camouflaging contra-ALR features.

The stratagem: The worst contra-ALR use in the city’s concept is “Community Field.” It slipped out that “Community” is doublespeak for “Organized Soccer,” with five fields.

For good reason, the proponents have previously mocked the idea of grass fields on the lands, so grass would give way to synthetic turf, along with parking lots. Also, they have long coveted the lands for sports complexes such as arenas and aquatic centres.

The city is now neglecting the restorable sphagnum bog, a millennia-old ecological legacy with agricultural significance. With the city’s concept, it would deteriorate faster, paving the way for sports buildings if anyone would pay for them.

Faux consultation: The city has hosted two big events to market the Garden City Lands as a blank canvas waiting for a legacy to appear. The events fostered enthusiasm and learning despite the false premise and contra-ALR aspect. However, the climactic survey is not-at-all valid; in fact, its design wards off the chance of other views affecting the findings.

Better options: If more playing fields are now needed, the city could restore some of the fifty grass fields that were “released” when the city brought in artificial turf fields. In neighbourhoods that “opt in,” the old fields could be upgraded for teams and informal play.

Another location for fields was the large park just north of the Garden City Lands that the city has cancelled even though the ALC had, in effect, pointed it out for amenities in a 2006 staff report.

Community benefit: The true legacies of the Garden City Lands are hurting, but our ALR central park can be salvaged with a focus on celebrating the ALR, not outwitting the ALC. The park would celebrate the ALR legacy of the lands, the Garden City and the province.

Request: Help our central park be wonderful—not bad—for the ALR. Everyone wins.