Gregor's Garden: A "shovel ready" project at last

Post by Mike Klassen in


gregor's garden
The Chance Gardener: Gregor at his "symbolic" future veggie patch. Credit: K. Thompson, Metro

An icy wind blows through Metro Vancouver today, and Gregor's Garden is a long way from being seeded. In fact, it's now covered with snow. Last Thursday Gregor Robertson, Vancouver's farmboy mayor, like a proud papa posted the following message into his Blackberry for all of his Twitter friends to read:

"relished digging up some city hall lawn to transform it into a symbolic community garden"

If there was anything more shallow, more entirely meaningless and wasteful the new team running Vancouver City Hall could do about climate change, I defy them to top this idea. It's even better than the chickens.

Pity Vancouver City staff, who must grit their teeth and smile through this vain and pointless attempt to make the city "green" after years of struggle on that front. If the economy wasn't in such sad shape, I imagine more than a few key staff considered quitting when they heard about the Mayor's community garden on the north lawn of City Hall.

Vancouverites probably do not realize that our city is widely heralded for its leading efforts at reducing the city's carbon footprint. One of the pillars of sustainability is economic, as in don't chase good money after bad. Gregor will be able to point at his symbolic garden from his office window, but he'll have a hard time justifying the wasted expense.

Sod back, the garden Saturday

As we pointed out the other day, the City of Vancouver has very clear guidelines regarding community gardens. There isn't a line in there that about having an edict sent down from the Mayor's office that says, thou shalt put a garden here. Rather, it requires an extensive public consultation process.

I have to ask, where are the "Group of Vancouver Neighbourhoods" activists now? They've spent hours in council chambers complaining for more public consultation, and now they're silent when the Mayor issues his decree on the new garden.

When it comes to the North Lawn of City Hall, this is only the latest slap in the face. Most Vancouverites don't realize that this is the front entrance of their most important public building, not the Mayor's backyard. After years of neglect, there has been an attempt to improve this public space in time for 2010. Recently a very beautiful Japanese garden sponsored by a local consulate has been installed beside the East Wing. Respected landscape architect Jane Durante has also been working on a new design for the area over the past year, but now these plans and the costs associated with them are being tossed aside by GCAT's pointless pea patch.

Questions have also been raised about the timing of the garden pronouncement. This isn't exactly gardening season, is it? The fact the Mayor presented at last Thurday's GreenTech Forum might explain it. This blogger was over the moon that this Mayor was giving them a new community garden and backyard chickens. Some crowds eat up these kinds of empty gestures.

Of all people, GCAT committee member David Suzuki should have seen this community garden idea for what it is - pointless. He knows well the urgency of the carbon crisis, and the time for "symbolism" is over.

As Thomas Friedman in the New York Times states sharply, "We can't do this anymore."

Instead of political posturing and writing speeches for green conferences, Vancouver should be redoubling its efforts around EcoDensity. It should be taking the time to educate the public on the benefits of sustainable practices, and enforce the rules for those who abuse our environment. It must abide by and expand the real, long term sustainability objectives of the City, and ban green photo ops.

Vancouver should not just be seen as a sustainable city. It must BE a sustainable city.

Finally, we must know what this little plan of the Mayor's is going to cost and who is paying for it. The community garden policy guidelines are clear - the City must NOT pick up the tab for a community garden. Here are a few questions for His Worship:

  1. Will SPEC, a non-profit society, pay for setting up the garden? If so, show me the money, gang.
  2. Where are the neighbourhood volunteers and how are they going to pay for what will be planted in the garden?
  3. What is the long term plan for maintaining the garden, and who will pay for watering systems, tools and storage?
  4. Is there a plan for the surrounding grass and what can the City now do with the north lawn now that it has a big vegetable patch in it?
  5. Will any of GCAT's $60,000 budget go into this garden? (My guess is not one penny will).

Of all the arrogant and self-serving acts of this Vision government in the past 90 days, for me this community garden at City Hall takes the cake. How will Vancouver ever become a sustainable city for my kid to grow up in with empty gestures like this?


There is a time and place for everything. The middle of the City is hardly the spot for the Back Forty. City Hall's grounds are hardly the place for a Victory Garden, unless of course you believe you are in the middle of a war; and there's the rub. Will the urban poor be queued up on West 12th Avenue by Vision Vancouver volunteers just to try to show how the mean and destructive Provincial and Federal government are causing widespread hunger in the city? Vision would love to make Vancouver City Hall an image of hunger and poverty and need.

Gregor's Garden is the work of a dilettante. How many people are going to be fed by food grown on this small plot of land?

And by the way, how will whatever is grown be distributed to the hungry? First come, first serve? After a means test? In the spirit of equality, can a developer or a landlord apply for a plot or collect a communal cucumber? and what is the most efficient way to feed the hungry? certainly not a City Hall garden plot.

Will pesticides be used? Because everyone knows that the soil around there produces wormy carrots without it. Ah, well, we'll probably never know, because that is likely to be the subject of one or more in camera meetings.

Grocers became popular because growing your own food successfully takes a huge amount of work. People only usually do this kind of time-consuming work if they don't have enough money to buy groceries.

Who is going to tend to these gardens once the enthusiasts get tired of hoeing and weeding? Answer: unionized city staff.

I think that Gregor's Garden is a manifestation of his ideology. It's a deliberate imposition on the image of the city, anti-grocer, anti-industry, calculated and created to undermine the image of authority and strength and prosperity that City Hall is supposed to project, by proving that you can ruin the landscaping with politically correct action.

It's a project that recalls the definition of a socialist as someone who suspects that somewhere, someone may be happy or refined or successful, and that it's time to put an end to that! People who support the Garden are offended by the idea of a prosperous City that can afford a lawn and a flower garden. I think that we should be proud of the idea of a prosperous City that can afford a lawn and a flower garden.

If the City is wealthy enough to be able to afford a lovely garden and lawn, well, the grim-faced ideologues say, let's tear them up and put in turnips, just out of spite.

Gardens have gone from being the salvation of the poor to being the showcase of the well-off talking head; people who are pressed by the current financial crisis, trying to make enough money to make ends meet, or looking for a job, don't have the time to go gardening.

I agree about the arrogant thing and Alice Waters. I kept wanting to yell at the TV, "and what they heck do you do if you don't live in California!!? How do plant a garden in Chicago when it -20 for 6 months!"

I love what Gregor is doing and fully support his move and hopefully inspires a few of the readers to grow their own gardens for the first time.

Growing your own veggies is self sustaining, healthy, envionmentally concious, green and greatly satisfying. WHY the heck would I want to pay Safeway $3 for a Cucumber complete with pesticides, trucked all the way here from polluted California, when I can grow it in my garden?

When I was a kid in the early 1960's almost every house in Vancouver had a vegetable patch. And it was a thing of great pride as to how beautiful it was and even to share your beans, peas, Zuccini, Squash, carrots, beats and so on with your friends, family and neigbours. Yep and many had Chickens, Rabbits, ducks and the occasional goat.

To grow your own veggies went almost completely out of "Style" in the early 80's when more people moved indoors to be mesmerized by the TV and convient packaged, money wasting fast foods.

There is nothing nicer and more
rewarding to do than to spend a few loving hours in the garden. Both my parents were urban landscapers making the city more beautiful with their designs.

Go to the website Mother Earth News and see for yourself how you can make a difference, how to plant raised gardens which a generally free from pests and give a hug bounty of fresh veggies.

Come home open a bottle of homemade wine from BackAlley Wine Works, kick off your shoes and socks, walk barefooted scrunching your toes into the cool grass and pop a few fresh Strawberries from your garden into your mouth, and savour the sweet satisfaction that only gardening can bring.

Go out and get active in your garden.

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