On most warm summer days, a stretch of grass on Sunset Beach in Vancouver is normally frequented with a number of young men and woman who are playing a pickup soccer game. This public space has been a great place to hang out with friends and enjoy everything that English Bay and the West End have to offer. But for how long?
If you've walked by this property lately, you may have seen in the distance a white sign with a bit of writing on it. The sign is from the Vancouver Park Board and it is a public notice letting you know that this open space is now earmarked for a new Gregor Garden. A report will be going to the Park Board soon and it is anticipated to get approval.
Prior to her departure (aka retirement), former Park Board General Manager Sue Mundick could be heard behind the scenes vehemently opposing the transformation of public park space to quasi-private gardens. It would appear that her replacement is not as convinced that eliminating park space and replacing it with a vegetable/flower garden is a bad idea.
Don't get me wrong, I actually like the concept of community gardens. The previous NPA government actually supported a motion to install 2010 new community gardens by 2010. In fact, there is a very clear policy paper that the Park Board has developed on where, and under what terms community gardens should be created. Terms are that there must be a community consultation process, and that the garden be built at no cost to the Park Board.
However, the gardens were never meant to be installed in places that wouldn't eliminate well used park space or be heavily subsidized by taxpayers. This is clearly not what is being implemented with Gregor's Green Garden program.
Erich Timm, a West End resident is fuming over the proposal to remove park space at Sunset Beach. He tells CKNW news:
There's at least well over a dozen probably wrestling with the Park Board right now that are totally, totally against it.
According to CKNW's report a "government grant" will be required to build the garden. Vancouver has been using money from its so-called $100,000 'greenest city neighbourhood fund' to support gardens over the past year. According to the Province:
Funding of about $30,000 for the project is coming from the YMCA, which got the money from Welcome B.C. — a joint program of the federal and provincial governments to aid newcomers to the country.
In response, the YWCA's Linda Rubuliak tells NW that almost nobody has complained about the proposed Gregor Garden:
We have received only one comment thus far, as a negative comment. Oh, this is garbage, total garbage.
It is also being reported that prospective gardeners will have to take workshops on topics like diversity and antihomophobia.
I recently visited the original Gregor's Garden on the front lawn of City Hall to see just how many vegetables were growing there. I can report that although there are vegetables growing in the raised beds, there are curiously a lot of perennials and annual flowers growing there as well. I'm an avid weekend gardener and do have a small vegetable patch, but was taken aback that the land set aside to grow vegetables was being used for marigolds and cosmos flowers.
As for the garden itself, it sure no longer feels like a part of the public domain. I felt like an intruder walking in between the beds and taking photos. Perhaps it's because each of the gardens has a small plaque which says something like "Dave's Garden" or "Jan and Bill's Garden". Hmmm. These labels send a not-so-subtle message to stay out, don't pick the fruit and trespass at your own risk. However, is this property not owned by the taxpayers of Vancouver? Is it really "Dave's Garden" or is it "Joe Sixpack's Garden"?
Before you form your own opinion, I would recommend you read a post Mike Klassen previously wrote discussing the pros and cons of urban agriculture. He talks about how these gardens are great community builders and can help educate the public regarding the importance on locally grown food, but have little to do with food security and not worth big public investment. As you will note from the write up on "Dave's Garden" plaque, even he acknowledges his plot only provided food for a few suppers and the occasional lunch.
Will Sunset Beach be torn up and replanted as part of the Robertson/Soloman 500-year plan for Vancouver? Or will West End residents band together and say public park space should remain accessible to the public?
It will be interesting to watch how this debate unfolds over the coming weeks as one of the most high profile Gregor Gardens is being planned for a beach with a lot of community supporters. What do you think? Should a portion of this beach be turned over to a few residents to plant vegetables and flowers? Or should it stay as park space? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
- post by Daniel