Archive for the ‘Viewscape legacy’ Category

Thanks on behalf of the ducks

January 24, 2018

Ten years ago, “Save Garden City” spirit swept over Richmond, B.C.

The Garden City Lands, “the people’s lands,” a huge 55-hectare open field in Richmond City Centre that had always been publicly owned, seemed doomed to dense development. With immense effort, the people—loosely organized as the Garden City Lands Coalition—saved the Lands from development, enabling them to become a public park instead.

Citizen Sharon Doucelin recently sent this note about the Garden City Lands to Jim Wright and the Garden City Conservation Society after rainy weather had created a lake:

Thank you for all the wonderful hard work you have done to make this happen.  As I drove by the park today, I saw the ducks swimming in the lake.  It reminded me of how upset I was as a younger person when the city allowed apartments to be built on the southwest corner of what was then the Lansdowne track. 

I worried for a long time about the ducks and geese who lived in the pond/wetlands there and where they would go.  I’d like to think the ones I saw today are descendants who have come back.

We replied:

Thank you very much for sharing this, Sharon! 

It’s wonderful how this has brought you happiness, which would not have been possible if so many of us had not pulled together to save the Garden City Lands from dense development.

And Sharon wrote again:

When the Garden City Lands Coalition first started, I didn’t think there was much hope to save the lands from the almighty dollar.  But thanks to perseverance and faith, we can still see the mountains and provide a home for those wonderful birds.   Thank you again.


Massey transmission needs federal review

September 13, 2016

BC Hydro’s rendering of two future transmission towers, 75 and 120 metres tall, carrying high-voltage power lines over Deas Island Regional Park and then over the Fraser to another 120-metre tower (not shown) in Richmond. The view looks northeast toward a rendered Massey bridge.

“I am deeply concerned about the overhead transmission lines. What are the health risks? How would it affect the viewscape?” Those comments from Carol Day, a Richmond councillor, stemmed from a Richmond News article, “BC Hydro reveal plans to reroute power lines from a decommissioned Massey Tunnel.”

The context: In Hydro’s illustration, the two transmission towers fading behind a tree would be on the west side of Deas Island Regional Park, near the south and north shores. Transmission lines would hang between them.

From Deas Island in Delta, the lines would be suspended over the Fraser River to a third tower on the Richmond side. It is not depicted, perhaps so it won’t be noticed until it rises higher than a 37-storey building.

My response to the concerns: There was a long struggle in Tsawwassen about electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from high-voltage overhead lines, with possible links to problems like leukemia. If towers start dangling high-voltage lines over the park, there won’t be much left of viewscapes and viewers.

As a recent Metro Vancouver report puts it, “The proposed bridge and the associated BC Hydro transmission relocation project will . . . create permanent noise, debris and visual impacts.”

Sensibly, the City of Richmond has insisted that the towers are the worst option for a transmission route. Despite “consultation” with Richmond, Metro and a few citizens, Hydro has stuck to the decision it started with.

An engineer who took part in the consultation as a Delta resident tells me it’s safe and easy enough to lay transmission cable “within a box girder on, under or above the bridge deck.” For Hydro, though, it’s cheaper to quickly build separately—with no careful cooperating—before people catch on.

To Hydro: To save a thousand times as much, stop Site C. Or, to help enable a transmission cable under the riverbed, get Port Metro Vancouver to not dredge the ship channel two (or more) metres deeper.

The urgent need is for a federal environmental assessment, preferably by review panel, to address the overall impact of the Massey project, including Hydro and Port Metro aspects. It would have teeth, unlike the feeble B.C. assessment that ignores such aspects.

Our best chance is to support the powers who care. That would involve Metro Vancouver and at least one Member of Parliament with influence in Ottawa and a belief in action for the nature of the Fraser.


This article was also published in the Richmond News as a Digging Deep column, “Transmission lines plan needs review,” September 7, 2016.

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.


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.

Girding for the “Walmart City” public hearing

November 16, 2013

This article has also been published as a Digging Deep column in the Richmond Review today, Nov. 15, 2013.

Here, an artist has overlaid the developers’ simulated mall on the viewscape. Note: Reality will be better than the composite in some ways and worse in others.

Here, an artist has overlaid the developers’ simulated mall on the viewscape. Note: Reality will be better than the composite in some ways and worse in others.

In the timeless words of Twisted Sister, “We’re not gonna take it! No, we ain’t gonna take it! We’re not gonna take it . . . anymore!”

You gotta hear it in your mind, so google it on video if need be. Then hum it on your way to the Walmart mall public hearing. It’s at City Hall on Monday, November 18, after 7 pm.

Why “after” and not “at” 7 pm? Walmart City needed its own public hearing date, but instead it’s last on a seven-hearing agenda. Not good, even if the others get rubber-stamped.

Back when it was easy to require changes, council members excused their non-action on key aspects by shifting responsibility to the community: “I want to hear what the public have to say.” Bovine manure! A council that wants to listen doesn’t make the public wait.

The developers can read, and the public would want me to forewarn them: “Don’t impose a drawn-out presentation—as you, with four city staff, did to wear down an advisory committee. Like council, we have your 153-page report (via, so your group should need only ten minutes.”

For our part, let’s be thoughtful. We can take ten minutes each, but a concise minute can have impact. Unique insights are nice, but everyone’s view is important. Speaking notes are useful.

After you sit down, identify yourself by name and address. Then state whether you’re for or against the proposal to rezone from single-detached residential to mall use. Give reasons. (To see something similar, watch Shaw Cable 4 at 9:00 tomorrow morning, November 16.)

Unless you fully support it, say you’re opposed. You won’t wish to be counted under “Support” unless any changes you want get made.

At council, some citizens were asked to not criticize Walmart. Since the developers trumpet benefits, that’s like one standard for lords and another for serfs. Let’s be respectful equals.

Read “Speaking at a Public Hearing” at You’ll see ways to take part in writing or online—before the meeting. If you’re shy about speaking, submit your input first and then come to help show that people care. If you speak too, that’s fine.

For more on public hearings, see topics like “Procedure after a public hearing” in the Local Government Act.

For my part, I’m now opposed. Along with the killing of every tree in the mall area, I may focus on the viewscape aspect.


Before: A Michael Wolfe photo shows a natural viewscape from the Garden City Lands before the developers killed trees and piled sand on the Walmart mall site.

For mega-developer Polygon, with its Alexandra Court looking south over the mall, the mall developers will add a green parkade roof and living screens. But the Garden City Lands area on the other side just gets visual abuse. In place of natural viewscapes, it gets a mall-scape.

As well, Alexandra Court gets extra storeys. In the view from the lands, Polygon may block what Walmart spares.

Out citizens, especially City Centre ones, will be deprived of the wellness values of a wonderful legacy. Squandered.

On the bright side, Councillors Harold Steves and Chak Au have tried. Coun. Au even asked that the development permit for Alexandra Court be sent to the public hearing, as the Development Permit Guide allows. He was foiled.

But what inspired this column was the Mall*Wart sign that citizens put up at Alderbridge and Garden City Road. It was a sign of pent-up outrage—and from Asian-Canadians. Good!

Mall*Wart sign

With that kind of upbeat mindset, we can channel the public hearing into something better. “We’re not gonna take it. . . .

Public hearing re Alexandra Court blocked

October 30, 2013

A development on the north side of the proposed Walmart mall that would further block the viewscapes from the Garden City Lands is Polygon’s Alexandra Court. In several ways, the City of Richmond helped Polygon to have larger buildings than were previously allowed and to get alterations to the Walmart mall plans that are greatly to the benefit of Alexandra Court and Polygon. The final step was a further height concession to Polygon as part of the development permit application.

According to the City of Richmond’s Development Permit Guide, council has the ability—at the late stage when the permit comes to council—to refer the permit to a public hearing. Here is a relevant excerpt:

Excerpt from Richmond Development Permit Guide

The development permit application for Alexandra Court came to council at the end of the regular bi-monthly meeting of October 28, 2013. At the council meeting, Coun. Chak Au asked Mayor Malcolm Brodie if there was any opportunity for public input and received a dismissive response.

Richmond Councillor Chak Au, left, with Michael Wolfe and Carol Day, posing with an international award they had a part in bringing to Richmond — from IESCO, a UN affiliate.

Richmond Councillor Chak Au, left, with Michael Wolfe and Carol Day, with an international award they helped bring to Richmond — from IESCO, a UN affiliate.

Afterward I asked Coun. Au for details, and he told me that he had spoken to Mayor Brodie before the meeting to indicate his intentions, which were to request that the permit go to a public hearing  (presumably via a motion), and the mayor had turned it down at that time. It was a good thing he brought it up again at the actual council meeting, because we are all now aware that the stated  “Refer to a public hearing” option was  blocked.

Naturally, I have no way to know if the City of Richmond’s Development Permit Guide is in error. It’s simply clear that the mayor blocked any possibility of the public hearing that is a stated option.

From legacy to loss in the Walmart mall area

October 25, 2013

Note: This was published in the Richmond Review paper today.

SmartCentres’ image of Walmart mall from far south on the Garden City Lands, with Grouse Mountain in background. The red broken line above buildings is the height of condos (not shown), which would block the quasi-green view corridor (right of centre).

Re “Apartments to spring up around future Walmart,” Oct. 16.

Richmond’s director of development recently claimed that six-storey condo buildings behind the Walmart mall on Alexandra Road would block the City Centre viewscapes to a greater height than the mall. He used a SmartCentres graphic, a murky view from the south of the Garden City Lands, to support his point.

He may be right. But it begs a question: “How the #@?%!* did six-storey buildings get there?” We knew it was essentially four storeys there in the West Cambie Area Plan.

Thanks to Matthew Hoekstra’s article, we’ve learned that the zoning was quietly changed. That allowed mega-developer Polygon two more storeys to compound the ways the Walmart mall can muck up our views.

There’s been no development permit yet, but Polygon must see it as a done deal. They’re busy selling six storeys of condos in Alexandra Court.

Since the spring of 2012, many citizens have brought the City Centre’s threatened viewscapes to the attention of Richmond council and staff. While some of the problems escaped our notice, we kept revealing enough. Now we see that all of our warnings were brushed aside.

There’s plenty of research to show that beautiful views and wellness go together. All of us, especially the people of the City Centre, deserved our legacy viewscapes, not a Walmart mall scene with a tall Polygon backdrop and a Grouse topping.

It’s all so senseless. The problems didn’t exist until about 18 months ago. Since then, city staff got city council to change the rules again and again, even stripping away three kinds of habitat protection, in order to serve big developers.

Until the rules got changed, there could have been a right-sized Walmart mall and four-storey Alexandra Court in harmony with our viewscapes, Alderbridge wildlife corridor and wellness. All that was needed was respect for the area plan and the thoughtful insights that citizens shared.

Where we had a legacy, we’ll now be left with unforgettable loss.

viewscape-destroying Walmart mall back at council

September 16, 2013

Self-image of the proposed Walmart on the north edge of Alderbridge Way, Richmond, BC, from page 143 of agenda package for Richmond council’s General Purposes meeting of Sept. 17, 2013.

Update, Sept. 17: The intense and lengthy meeting went fairly well. The Walmart mall proposal was referred back to staff to fill in gaps. It is likely to come back to council (in the form of the planning committee) in two weeks—on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 4 p.m. Here are my speaking notes for my five minutes of input to council on the issue. More details on this blog (nearer the top) between now and then.

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at 4 pm (Anderson Room, City Hall), Richmond staff will try again to get council to acquiesce to the Walmart mall plan. It destroys the  wildlife corridor—and almost all life—between Alderbridge Way and Alexandra Road for roughly 450 metres from Garden City Road east.

My focus here is on the developer’s supposed response to the public concern about the loss of the unique and priceless panoramic viewscape as one looks northward from the City Centre area on and around the Garden City Lands. At the risk of numbing readers’ brains, here is how the staff report describes the response:

In order to address public concerns regarding the loss of existing native vegetation along the north side of Alderbridge Way on the development that includes a combination of native coniferous and deciduous tree planting, SmartCentres has proposed a planting strategy along the north side of Alderbridge Way that includes a combination of native coniferous and deciduous trees. SmartCentres drawings include simulated views of the proposed development from the Garden City Lands, which demonstrate that the proposed informal, native planting along Alderbridge Way, in combination with the relatively low proposed building heights would not block skyline or profile views of the north shore mountains from the south or central portions of the Garden City Lands. (Agenda package, pages 135–6)

This article begins with the closest thing to an illustration of it. The staff document includes no illustrations or clear explanations that demonstrate how the viewscapes would be conserved. Obviously they would not be. It is very disappointing.

A quick change of scene: At the Garden City Lands Ideas Fair, staff kindly welcomed the Garden City Conservation Society, and they set me up with a well-placed table. The topic that visitors constantly brought up was the Walmart mall and the views. Numerous visitors asked me to show them where the mall would be and what it would look like. They  didn’t like it at all. Not one visitor said it was okay, let alone a good idea. If the viewscape destruction actually happens, practically all citizens who firsthand will feel the loss when they see the Walmart mall and the viewscape destruction, and it will be tragic if things ever come to that.

Back at the staff report: It also brushes off other concerns in the 24 emails and letters from citizens about the Walmart mall effects, including the loss of most of the last ESA remnant of the natural wildlife corridor that existed along Alderbridge all the way from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road.

However, the report reminds us how staff and the developer have gone to great lengths, including a natural screen, to please another developer, Polygon. We’re just asking for equal treatment for the people of Richmond, especially the people of the City Centre.

Over to the Vancouver Sun: A recent Sun article mapped 2011 census findings about low income areas in Metro Vancouver. Along with Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Richmond City Centre area was shown as one of the lowest-income areas. The article introduced an online interactive map, which shows a median family income of only $42,517 in much of the City Centre. One part is even lower at $38,773. The people living in the City Centre and Walmart area always seem to get shortchanged, but they have at least had a place with panoramic viewscapes that are practically unmatched in the world. Now staff want to replace that wonderful source of livability and dignity with what amounts to a 450-metre-long billboard with mountain peaks peeking over it to silently admonish those who let it happen.

Furthermore, no one will benefit, not even the Walmart mall. When people see what has happened, Walmart and all the other parties who have had a part in it will be despised forever.

The staff report also brushes off other concerns in the 24 emails and letters from citizens about the Walmart mall effects, including the loss of even the ESA remnant of the natural wildlife corridor that existed from Alderbridge to Alexandra. However, the report reminds us how staff and the developer have gone to great lengths, including a natural screen, to please another developer, Polygon. We’re just asking for equal treatment for the people of Richmond, especially the people of the City Centre.

I typically speak and write with understatement. I never say I’m outraged. But this time I’m saying it. The treatment of our citizens, especially our less privileged citizens, is an outrage beyond words.


A related note:

I should also add briefly that staff are still asking the City take responsibility off the Walmart Mall developer’s hands for buying Garden City Road lots to reduce the traffic congestion from the mall. As a taxpayer, I can’t support that either. If the developer can’t do what it’s supposed to do, then the City could adjust its community plan so that all the basic residential lots that make up the Walmart lands get earmarked for sports fields, along with restoration of the wildlife corridor along Alderbridge Way from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road.


Some related articles on this blog:

Stewarding the viewscape legacies of the Garden City Lands

Respect the people, nature and legacies

Friend of Garden City re Walmart mall

Walmart-mall wisdom from Rick X

Please show me the Alderbridge wildlife corridor

Reminder: Anderson Room, 4 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. Agenda package here.

Friend of Garden City re Walmart mall

March 27, 2013

Winnie So, Friend of Garden City, writes:

I recently saw the presentation video of “Garden City Smart Centres” on the other side of Alderbridge Way to the Garden City Lands. It was shocking to see this destruction.

April 2011 SmartCentres video of the "Walmart mall" plan for Alderbridge Way in Richmond, B.C.

I can’t describe how upset I am with this plan to destroy our beautiful neighbourhood. Does Richmond need such a large big box ugly outlet style mall so close to our city centre?

Why would the developers be allowed to cut down so many trees and destroy the habitat of wildlife in Richmond? This will also change the viewscape of the Lands and worsen the already bad traffic along Garden City Road.

It may be alright to have a Walmart store in Richmond (which I am not really happy with) but we DO NOT need an extension of box stores for the cost of destroying the important wildlife corridor along Alderbridge Way.

As a resident of Richmond for more than 10 years, I would urge all councillors and the mayor to stop and reconsider this development and protect the viewscape and this important wildlife corridor.

If this ever will happen, I would have left no choice but to move out of this city.


Winnie W. Y. So of Richmond sent responses to the Smartcentres’ Walmart mall video to the Richmond Review and to the Richmond council members with a cc to  the Garden City Conservation Society. The Review published her letter on page 10 today, along with a Carol Day letter, under the heading “Richmond’s choice: Walmart City or Garden City.” Although the Carol Day letter is on the Review website, Winnie So’s isn’t, so here for you is her similar letter received by the conservation society. I bet that half the city will feel like Winnie So if the Walmart mall ever gets built in a way that destroys the City Centre viewscapes and the Alderbridge wildlife corridor.

“Please show me the Alderbridge wildlife corridor”

March 16, 2013

After reading “Respect the people and our legacies” in the Richmond Review newspaper, a councillor emailed to ask me to illustrate the wildlife corridor that needs to be restored on the north side of Alderbridge from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road.

With the help of the City of Richmond’s GIS Inquiry mapping, I came up with this adapted map:

Alderbridge ESA wildlife corridor in green

The green area is part of the Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) that has always been shown on the City’s ESA maps. It is the location of Richmond’s remnant of mixed urban forest that has also always served as both a wildlife corridor and an integral part of the natural viewscapes that stretch—essentially unbroken—from the Garden City Lands area as far as one can see, which on a clear day means deep into the North Shore Mountains, including the Lions.

Precise detail in case anyone wants it:
The 20-metre width is equal to a standard road allowance, so one can think of the wildlife corridor as being the same width as the Alexandra Road right-of-way on the north edge of the long block. You can also think of it as being four-fifths of the shorter dimension of the lot on No. 4 Road at the corner where it meets Alderbridge.

I brought this to council’s attention at the 12 March 2012 council meeting and on subsequent occasions. My presentation to the March meeting includes graphics that I showed to council with the overhead projector. You’ll find the ESA map on page 2 of those presentation notes. It is hard to measure the exact width of the ESA along Alderbridge, but it is reasonable to think of it as at least 20 metres wide all along.

I discussed the matter with key staff member Terry Crowe in a meeting with him and parks planner June Christy on 2 October 2012. By then, staff had slipped the western (Walmart mall) part of the ESA wildlife corridor off the ESA map, but Terry Crowe assured me that it would still apply to the Walmart mall development because it was in place when the mall development application was made. That means that for practical purposes we should think of the long-time ESA there as still being there.

If one is not opposed to the Walmart mall, there are two main options: (1) A mall that lines Alderbridge so that the stores and their signs are like a giant billboard or (b) a mall that is set back 20 metres from Alderbridge to enable the legacy of the wildlife corridor and world-class viewscapes to be restored. The giant billboard appears relatively pleasant for what it is, if we can rely on the SmartCentres video, but it is hard to believe that the people of Richmond would want to give up their legacy (future generations’ birthright) for that.

Note: From a wildlife/viewscape standpoint, what is really needed is buy-in and diligence from City of Richmond staff. The ESA space should be sufficient, but whether it actually accomplishes the purpose depends on proactive commitment from staff and, with their help, the landowners.

Note: On this blog, the articles that mentions the wildlife corridor are organized here. There’s a lot of overlap with the viewscape articles, which you’ll find here.

Respect the people, nature and legacies

March 11, 2013
Microsoft Word - JWright_2013-03-10_graphic.docx

Jim Wright, at right, says the City of Richmond must save the legacy of its city centre viewscapes for the people. The views shown are from the Garden City Lands, “Richmond’s central park” between Garden City Road and No. 4 Road. Top left, in a northward view on a spring 2004 morning, the mixed urban forest along Alderbridge Way enables a natural viewscape. Top right, on a late-winter 2011 evening, a grey Walmart-mall sand pile interrupts the view toward the Lions. Middle, from near Westminster Highway that evening, the marred viewscape looks restorable. Bottom, the developer’s Garden City Smartcentres video gives glimpses of the intended mall on the north edge of Alderbridge. It would permanently eliminate the natural trees and natural viewscapes.

This is rooted in Richmond’s remnant of mixed urban forest. It’s across Alderbridge Way from the Garden City Lands, the storied Agricultural Land Reserve farmland that is our central park.

The forest is a wildlife corridor with a diverse ecosystem, and it was always protected as an ESA (environmentally sensitive area). Its trees and shrubs are also a vital part of the natural viewscapes one sees from the park and neighbouring areas.

Our viewscape legacy is under attack and may soon be destroyed, mainly by the proposed Walmart mall. In the short term, the mall plan must be fixed.

I recently chatted about it with Richmond poverty-response people in the viewscape setting and afterward. We gained insights.

If you’ve had a look at the photos and caption, let’s get straight to the insights. (We’ll come back to the detailed picture later.)

First, the visual affront of ruined viewscapes is not just excruciating. The low standard it embodies would get applied to our central park.

Second, by ramping up density while cutting back park (West Cambie Natural Park, R.I.P., for instance), city hall made the City Centre Area and West Cambie Area greenspace-deprived, extending a poverty aspect to a wide community.

Third (that said), looking out for the people in greatest need is good for all citizens. That’s true of spirit-lifting views and accessibility, for example, and it nourishes the transformative culture of caring, as at Terra Nova.

Fourth, many residents have trouble getting to places like the Terra Nova parks and Garry Point but greatly need the wellness values of viewscapes and open-land park, including the social, mental and spiritual ones.

Fifth, poverty response advocates, who’ve been left out of the planning to enhance the central park, would like to be involved.

Sixth, if the city decision-makers start valuing the taxpayers like a big developer, the scarred “protected” area will be healed and better than ever.

Now the detailed picture, as promised.

The poverty-response advocates spoke with me at the Garden City Road entrance to the lands at the start of a recent eco-tour. We looked north past Alderbridge to a clearing, in the ESA but piled with sand. We also looked at images of how it was and how it will be unless there’s new respect for Garden City legacies.

Trees “protected” by the tree bylaw had been killed some time ago, with ESA protection cast aside. Then staff asked council to approve a revised mall plan that terminates every tree, including some in the SmartCentres video, on three-fifths of the Alderbridge block, 150 metres deep and stretching from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road.

In 2012, the developer’s plan added a large living-green screen and a parkade-roof greenspace to placate big-developer Polygon, giving it green viewscapes for its planned condos overlooking the mall and Garden City Lands. But mall sprawl would mar even more ESA.

Fortunately, the majority on council seem open on the urgent matter of the wildlife corridor that serves double duty for Garden City viewscapes. Still, it takes courage to stand up for citizens, not big developers and their staff enablers.

We simply want at least a 20-metre ribbon of our Alderbridge wildlife corridor to be genuinely protected—and with it our viewscapes. We say “Respect the people, nature and our Garden City legacies.”

Effective change is still doable. To save the day, it takes at least five council members who strongly put Richmond first.


You can contact Richmond council about this or other issues at . On issues related to the Garden City Lands and Garden City conservation, it’s appreciated if you cc or bcc

Note: The developer, SmartCentres, working with City of Richmond staff, has extended the Walmart mall to a larger area than what is shown in the SmartCentres video that was made available in April 2011. However, the changes do not improve the key aspects of (a) destruction of the wildlife corridor that was protected as environmentally sensitive area, ESA, and (b) (a) destruction of viewscapes.

Update: A recent article, “Please show me the Alderbridge wildlife corridor,” answers a councillor’s request.

Curing the wrong-place madness

November 15, 2012

The Richmond Review published “Garden City Lands are the wrong place for aquatic centre, stadium” weeks ago, but there’s been little change in the faulty assumption from some (who should know better) that it’s fine to disrespect (a) the Agricultural Land Reserve and (b) the Musqueam lawsuit.

Here (below) is the answer in a new form, with an illustration of part of the viewscape that would replace the green natural one in a concept that would consolidate Riverport and Minoru facilities on the Garden City Lands. It’s practically certain the concept will never become reality, but the problem is extensive collateral damage of several kinds, which is 100% certain if the madness continues.

Part of a Garden City Lands viewscape in the rinks/pools idea.

When a TV crew interviewed me on the Garden City Lands this week, I found they’d just interviewed a citizen who wants community sports facilities in that green space. The facilities might include an aquatic centre, stadium and artificial-grass fields. Wrong place.

They can only happen if the lands are removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). But the Agricultural Land Commission has rejected two recent applications for that. Most likely it wouldn’t even listen to a third.

In any case, I followed clues to the source of confusion. It seems the citizen had given undue significance to the “Conservation and Recreation” label on the Garden City Lands in a Metro Vancouver bylaw map.

The key point here is that B.C.’s Agricultural Land Commission Act always prevails over any local bylaw that conflicts with it. Both the provincial act (section 46) and the Metro bylaw (6.11.2) state that. To the extent of any conflict, the local bylaw has “no force or effect.”

As it happens, though, the proposed non-ALR uses for the lands don’t even fit with the brief Metro description of “Conservation and Recreation.” Its focus is to protect natural assets.

For taxpayers, the problem also adds to our risk in the Musqueam lawsuit. Put simply, it claims the city “unjustly enriched” itself by making a weak failed effort at getting the lands out of the ALR so as to buy the Musqueam’s interest at a depressed price. If the park planning assumes the city can get the lands out of the ALR with a good effort, it supports the case against us. The “unjust enrichment” figures work out to $250 million.

Fortunately, informed citizens have shown how the Garden City Lands can simultaneously serve entirely for agriculture, entirely for conservation and entirely for recreation in the open-land park in the ALR.

Our justly rich success will flow from our responsible approach:

  • honouring the natural legacies of the lands,
  • valuing community wellness and harmony,
  • and setting firm expectations for excellence.

Results of hearing

October 16, 2012

Here’s what I shared with Richmond council last night about the West Cambie Natural Park and viewscape legacies. My comments about the public hearing appear at the end.


Mayor Brodie and councillors,

Right now it is too early to cancel the West Cambie Natural Park. That has become clear for several reasons.

In the Official Community Plan, the people of West Cambie get only a fraction of the city-wide parkland standard, and the one mid-size park that they do have in the official plan may now be taken away. That would cut them back to one little park, some school land, and a potential greenway.

Council meetings have talked about replacement benefits for the people of West Cambie. For instance, it’s said that they could have easy access to the Garden City Lands by way of a pedestrian overpass. A structure like that over 200th Street in Langley cost $3 million last year. An overpass could be good if done right, but at this stage it’s just an expensive possibility.

There could be offsetting ecological initiatives. For instance, I recently talked with two very able city staff members about creating a wildlife corridor along the north edge of Alderbridge Way. It would restore and enhance both a damaged Garden City Lands viewscape and the Walmart environmentally sensitive area that has been degraded. With ongoing collaboration, that can be done at minimal cost while adding city-owned parkland.  However, that still requires more-definite City support, along with dedicated community action, so it doesn’t exist yet.

In contrast, rushing now to turn over the West Cambie Natural Park to developers would hinder the feasibility of creating the multi-value wildlife corridor. If council holds off on approving the bylaw, the townhouse developers will have an incentive to collaborate, just as Walmart does. In contrast, giving the developers something for nothing today would weaken our position. It would also threaten the legacy viewscapes from the Garden City Lands, devaluing the Lands for community wellness and as a hub of Richmond ecotourism and agritourism.

The principles I’m advocating can be implemented even if you later pave the way for a townhouse development in the West Cambie Natural Park. However, I don’t live in West Cambie, and the local people need to be consulted about that. Richmond does meaningful consultation at times, but the supposed consultation about the natural park has been window dressing.

Most significantly, the city implied the key decision as though it had already been made and then limited citizens’ survey input to whether they would like the townhouse development with or without apartments. A few citizens ventured to write down unapproved thoughts, and the survey clerk simply rejected them.  Actually, the key decision has still not been made, and there is still time do consultation.

As I’ve mentioned, some very promising things have happened in this West Cambie Natural Park matter, and please don’t lose sight of that. Please do keep building on them—and let go of the unworthy stuff, starting by not approving the bylaw at this time.


Besides me, Michael Wolfe and Derril Gudlaugson spoke on this issue. In effect, Terry Crowe, Manager of Policy Planning, assured council that matters like my principal concerns (e.g., wildlife corridor and natural viewscape legacy) would be addressed at a later stage. He is very capable, and I was especially impressed that he had visited the site recently to gather some key knowledge through firsthand observation. He would be familiar with the methods that can be used to obtain the wildlife corridor at minimal cost. Council simply voted to go ahead with cancelling the West Cambie Natural Park from the official community plan. There was too much at stake for the council inaction to be okay, but I did gain confidence in the likelihood of staff action.

Other speakers complained about losing huge profits because land-flippers in the know had bought their properties at park value and could sell (or develop) at townhouse development value. It was a reminder of the huge profits that rezoning gives to speculators, flippers and developers, when it should be possible to channel the windfalls so that they instead reduce the taxpayers’ burden. That could result in more City of Richmond money for conservation.

Public hearing on October 15, 2012

October 13, 2012

There’a a public hearing in the council chambers at city hall (No. 3 Road at Granville, Richmond, B.C.) on Monday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. The eighth/last item in the agenda package, pages 113–142, is to change the West Cambie Natural Park to “Neighborhood Residential” for townhouse development. (For some related posts, see the Viewscapes category.)

The pubic can address the hearing on the issue. Whether or not there is a time limit, speakers can normally make their point in less than five minutes, and I recommend planning your presentation for 2–5 minutes. It will be great if there are some informed speakers on this important matter.

I have addressed this in previous posts mainly in the context of the world-class legacy viewscape from the Garden City Lands that is being jeopardized by the proposed townhouse development, as well as by the Walmart development to its west. There are also significant ecological factors. To fill out the picture, I should mention that the West Cambie Area, which had far less park than the city standard, will now lose most of the little it did have, and all of this is happening with little consultation with the public

It was encouraging to me that staff met with me to exchange constructive ideas about concerns. In contrast, it is disappointing that the discussion has had no effect on what staff are asking council to approve.

If this matter gets approved, there will be nothing to safeguard the legacy viewscapes we’ve always had from the Garden City Lands. There will also be nothing to preserve and enhance ecological benefits to minimize—or at least offset—the ecological losses from the cancelling of the long-promised park. Those of us who don’t live in West Cambie can empathize better if we imagine it’s a park in our neighbourhood that is being eliminated to make room for townhouse development.

It is true that an ecologically sensitive area (ESA) is being kept on the ESA map in the park area, and that is better than nothing, but only slightly better. Since the city ignored Walmart’s preloading of ESA-designated land on its property with huge amounts of ecologically deadly sand, we know that an ESA is no substitute for the firm establishment of wildlife corridors that would also screen the construction (as seen from the Garden City Lands) to maintain the legacy viewscape.

What’s needed could be worked out prior to any official change to the West Cambie Natural Area. It would require negotiation with the owner/developer of the park lots, which the city never purchased. Obviously, the city is currently in a great negotiating position, and that position will become weaker if the city designates the park as “Neighbourhood Residential” before completing a successful negotiation.

It is clear that it will be a significant mistake if council votes to approve the change that eliminates the West Cambie Natural Park at this time. It is possible that it won’t be a mistake later, but key steps need to be firmly taken between now and then.

Stewarding the viewscape legacy of the Lands

October 12, 2012

Richmond’s Garden City Lands are a park full of legacies—gifts from nature and our communal past. Our responsibility is to steward them.

One cherished legacy of the Garden City Lands is the world-class viewscapes. Back when the community came together to save the lands from dense construction, citizens liked the Agricultural Land Reserve values, but the charm of the setting won many hearts.

Research shows that green and scenic settings are positively related to mental health. With all-weather trails and tranquil gathering places, the Garden City Lands will combine that with physical and social health benefits for locals and tourists.

But a key viewscape is at risk. It is the northward panorama that stretches from the green open space to the woods and finally the North Shore Mountains. Most people want ponds, so the chosen photo has one.

You’ll notice that the natural scene is almost unbroken, since Alderbridge Way is partly hidden. Where else would you see natural views like that from an inland  downtown area, let alone from all around a central park?

Sadly, that northward viewscape has been marred in the Walmart area in recent years. The lost quality could soon be irreversible.

Think of the Walmart area as the west half of the woods as you look north from the Garden City Lands past the green ridge and Alderbridge Way. Ecologically, it used to be mixed urban forest. It was guarded by both the tree bylaw and an “environmentally sensitive area” (ESA) along Alderbridge, but they’ve sometimes been ignored.

Altough some of it is still good, you see a long heap of grey sand on one part now. The trees are sparse, and developments are showing through.

A natural remedy would be a wildlife corridor at least 20 metres wide on the north edge of Alderbridge. Adding diverse evergreens of medium height could restore the viewscape and some lost habitat. (I used to think at least 10 or 15 metres, but on further examination I see that the need is for at least 20 metres.)

Coun. Harold Steves briefly suggested that feature to staff at the council meeting of March 12.

Think of the east half of the Alderbridge woods as mostly West Cambie Natural Park. The viewscape is intact there, but the park may be cancelled for townhouses.

Part of that area will still be ESA along Alderbridge. Before rezoning, the City could implement the wildlife corridor from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road.

I spoke on this at the council meeting of September 24. City Centre activist Peter Mitchell reiterated the viewscape trees concept, and Michael Wolfe spoke in a similar vein.

Coun. Chak Au sought prompt staff action, and council showed some interest.

Mayor Brodie encouraged Peter Mitchell, Michael Wolfe and me to speak with staff. Soon afterward, Manager of Policy Planning Terry Crowe brought me together with Senior Planner June Christy and him, and we shared many win-win ideas. Good start!

Almost all on council are committed to stewarding the Garden City Lands in the ALR for agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness. That would include the legacy views. If you see fit to encourage them, thank you.


This article has also been published as a column,Stewarding the viewscape legacy of the Garden City Lands,” in the Green Edition of the Richmond Review, Oct. 13, 2012.

Update, March 9, 2013: In the months since this article was posted, the Walmart mall has become a much greater concern. We found that the Walmart mall would go right up to Alderbridge Way, as came out in a staff report. Afterwards, we discovered that a developers’ video that showed the Walmart mall right on the edge of Alderbridge Way had been online since April 2012. Here’s the video.

Sharing legacy viewscape insight with council

September 25, 2012

Note: The public hearing at City Hall on Monday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. will address this matter in the context of the bylaw amendment to redesignate the West Cambie Natural Park for townhouse development. The public hearing agenda, including the proposed bylaw amendment, should be available from this page soon.

Blog readers know all about legacy views from the Garden City Lands. Today, it was Richmond council’s turn. Here’s what I shared:

Mayor Brodie and Councillors,

I believe that the West Cambie Natural Park does not deserve to die. However, I already spoke to you about that on March 12, 2012, with particular reference to some 2006 advice from the Agricultural Land Commission. So I’ll move on.

I just want to point out that there are huge side effects on the legacy views from the Garden City Lands if development replaces the woods along Alderbridge Way from No. 4 Road west. The side effects can be disastrous, but on the other hand they can be perpetually beneficial.

None of you would set out to destroy that natural legacy. I’m bringing it to your attention because I don’t see where it has been addressed to this point.

Looking north from the Garden City Lands 8 years ago or 80 years ago or 800 years ago, there was a panoramic view that stretched almost unbroken from your feet—as you stood there inland in the city centre—across the low-lying green foliage of the lands to the biodiverse green woods to the North Shore mountains and the sky.

For all practical purposes that legacy view was unique in the world. Along with the only sphagnum peat bog in a city centre, it was one of our greatest legacies from the past for the future. It is wonderful for the City Centre and all of us. When the Garden City Lands become the hub for eco-tourism and agri-tourism, it will be wonderful for tourists too

In recent years, the unbroken natural scene from the City Centre as far as the eye can see has been somewhat degraded, apparently by Walmart, at the woods on the north side of Alderbridge. However, the woods can be restored and enhanced even if the natural park is lost and Walmart goes ahead. Just yesterday, a group of us citizens toured the Garden City Lands and the Walmart area and West Cambie Natural Park areas with an eye to how this can be done, and it seems I feasible than expected.

Wherever this fits into the council planning process, I urge you to find a place for it.


Some council members “got it,” and I was particularly pleased that City Centre activist Peter Mitchell added his support. New council member Coun. Chak Au is especially open and not so reliant on staff, and that helps a lot in this situation. Coun. Harold Steves suggested that people could look over the top of Walmart to see the mountains or at least be given room for a view between the building, but that’s not a comforting thought from my perspective.

New views on Richmond’s legacy viewscapes

September 24, 2012

A team of ten of us got together on Sunday at the West entrance to the Garden City Lands to act on “The legacy views story” and “You’re invited.” We saw a September 2012 version of the March 2012 scene above.

As in March, it was evident that the woods across Alderbridge in the Walmart area have been degraded in the site loading process. It would be possible to offset that harm, partially offsetting the ecological damage at the same time. The woods in the West Cambie Natural Park are still providing both biodiversity and an essential element in the legacy view.

The panorama keeps on going from west to east and then southward until one is facing Mount Baker and the Seven Sisters. It was pointed out that we need to give due credit to those views to the northeast, east, and southeast, treating them as part of the legacy while addressing the present threat to the northern view.

As we walked around the south side of the Lands, we envisioned how the trees could be filled in to screen even the tallest buildings in the West Cambie area as long as the City does not give permission for new tall buildings that are close to Alderbridge. For safety reasons, trees along Alderbridge should not be very tall, and it was a welcome surprise to see that trees of a safe height can do the job well. As we thought about the natural park, we were reminded how diverse the trees there are are, and it was clear that it’s best to retain the diversity while mainly adding evergreens.

On Sunday we weren’t looking across an expanse of water, as in the March photo, but we talked about making the Lands a much wetter place in the drier seasons. It’s realistic to think of the legacy view as including ponds, because they will be there in one way or another.

After the planned tour, Michael Wolfe invited us all to go north to Alexandra Road and look at the Walmart area and natural park from the other side. That made me more conscious of the value of retaining a wildlife corridor on the north side of Alderbridge, and that fits well with the value of the woods for the legacy view.

The bottom line is clear: the legacy viewscapes from the Garden City Lands are as important to fight for as the other legacies of the Lands. What’s unclear to all is why the value is NOT as obvious to City Hall as it is to the citizens. Maybe they share our view and just haven’t communicated it.

You’re invited—Sunday, Sep 23, 1:30–3, Legacy Viewscapes

September 20, 2012

You’re invited to a free guided tour of the Garden City Lands on Sunday, September 23, 2012. It starts at the main (west) entrance on Garden City Road at 1:30 p.m. The length is 90 minutes, and the focus is on on one of the legacies of the Lands that is calling for more attention, the legacy viewscapes.

As usual, the main details are on the Eco-Tours page.

A good additional way to prepare is to review “Listening to the Lands = PARC,” which takes you into a respectfully grateful response to the legacy. Early in the tour, guide Michael Wolfe will be happy to answer any questions about that.

The tour topic is related to current Richmond council activity to change the use if the Alexandra natural park to the north. There is potential for the participants to be helpful to each other and to council in ensuing that whatever is done has, at minimum, a good effect for related legacy views from the Garden City Lands, and that in turn is likely to set a promising tone for the whole Garden City Lands if all goes as it should.