Friday, 25 January 2019

Vancouver City Blocks Community Garden Rebuild

Photo by Mary-Anne Charney
     On July 3rd, 2017 we had a fire at our community garden (Cottonwood) in Vancouver.  Cottonwood Community Garden is a large community garden with about 4 acres and 120 garden plots.  Unfortunately the fire consumed our greenhouse and tool/beekeeping shed.  Arson was suspected.  We lost a lot of tools including ladders, pruners, construction tools, weed eater, irrigation supplies and all of our community beekeeping equipment. 
     We started a fund raiser and within a few months with the tremendous effort of many folks in the community (October, 2017) we raised our goal of $10,000 to rebuild and retool.  The reason I am writing this is that many of my friends who contributed to the fund to rebuild have asked why nothing has happened.  To put this in perspective this is a small but much needed 100 square foot shed and similar size adjoining greenhouse which our volunteers could have rebuilt on a weekend.  The foundation of the shed was still intact and much of our greenhouse was salvageable.  We had planned to rebuild on October 2017 but something occurred which prevented us from doing that.  The City became involved.
      This began the onerous journey through the bureaucracy of city hall.  A building permit is not generally required to build such a small shed (under 110 sq ft) but the city decided to ponder whether they would give us permission to rebuild.  After a few months of consideration they decided they would allow us to rebuild but we would need to submit drawn plans which would need to pass inspection. A few months later this was approved (December, 2017). Then we would need to apply for a building permit.  A few months later this was approved and we were told we need to have an estimate of the labour costs (there are none but we need to pay a percentage of the labour costs if we had payed someone to do the job).  After all of this in June of 2018 they changed their mind and said we can't rebuild til a decision is made on the freeway location that may go through the garden when the Georgia Viaduct is demoed.  The problem with that is this is not included in the city's budget for the next 3 years so any construction will not start til after that.

     To put this in context a few years back the city proposed to build a freeway through the garden.  Doing so would not only destroy our garden and seriously effect the adjacent Strathcona Community Garden but also spell a demise to some of the food warehouses on our street which serve the city of Vancouver.  Alternatives have been proposed that would have less effect on the neighbourhood (railroad land) but the decision making process continues.  In the meantime we have the money and volunteer builders eagerly waiting to rebuild but the city has decided we can not.
     Our initial request in 2017 included installing a 20 ft shipping container to store supplies.  The response from city hall a few months later was they don't allow shipping containers on park land or community gardens which we found odd since there are shipping containers all over the city on city land including nearby community gardens and Stanley Park (Malkin Bowl).   However, they said they would give us a 10 ft shipping container they would install in a parking stall on the street outside our garden.  While not perfect it is much needed.  Several months later it was decided the city parking permit folks would not give the city permission to park a container by the garden.  We proposed many different locations where the container could be placed.  A few months later all were deemed unacceptable by the city.  In June of 2018 after they refused our right to rebuild they once again offered us a 10 ft shipping container for storage.  7 months later still no shipping container. 

     Meanwhile, over a year and a half has passed and some gardeners have left or are considering leaving because of the actions of Vancouver City Hall.  We have no greenhouse for gardeners to start their food crops in or room for our garden tools and community beekeeping equipment.  As a result we will not be able to offer our annual free beekeeping classes and will not have room for new beekeepers.  The once salvageable remains have since been vandalized several times and are suffering from the weather.  Vancouver City Hall has a "Greenest City Action Plan" with a goal to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020.  This action includes 10 goals, one of which is to increase the amount of locally grown food.  Blocking a vital rebuild of the largest community garden in Vancouver is definitely not going to increase the amount of locally grown food.  My opinion is that they have failed us miserably.  To lead us along, letting us think that we could rebuild, putting us through months of delays and then to change their mind is cruel and inexcusable.  I guess that old saying is true.  You can't fight city hall.

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