Growing communities with community gardens

It’s not magic. At street level it may look like magic, but community gardens are not the work of some cosmic Aquarian happening or even merely the work of avid gardeners. They are a carefully orchestrated balance between government, property owners, community advocates and, of course the citizenry you see toiling the soil. And therein, lies the beauty.

Davie Village Community Garden - “I’ve met people of all ages and from all walks of life”

It’s not magic. At street level it may look like magic, but community gardens are not the work of some cosmic Aquarian happening or even merely the work of avid gardeners. They are a carefully orchestrated balance between government, property owners, community advocates and, of course the citizenry you see toiling the soil. And therein, lies the beauty.

Take for example, the highly visible Davie Village Community Garden on the northwest corner of Davie and Burrard. A few short years ago when condo developments were sprouting on every corner of the city, Prima Properties (its property developers), wanted to cash in and redevelop the existing Shell gas station and mini mall into a new high rise condo tower, they were met with opposition from the West-End Residents’ Association and other area interest groups fearing that the character of the Village would be threatened.

This property, 1157 Burrard, falls in the cross hairs of many conflicting priorities. For example, nearby St. Paul’s hospital has an influence on the property and how it’s developed, but doesn’t own it. So when Prima properties applied for a permit to develop the site as a mixed-use high-rise development, the city declined it.

Burrard and Davie - Then

Burrard and Davie - Now

Community Garden Forensics

Before there was Prima properties (community garden), there was Onni Group (community garden). Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Onni Group owns property at Pacific and Seymour and rather than it lying fallow for the years it took for development to commence, Onni Group offered the land up for a temporary community garden. Thus was born, Seymour Community Garden.

Seymour Community Garden

Today, Seymour Community Garden is no more and it is remembered with some bitterness by its former gardeners who were given a scant two weeks to vacate the property before the backhoes arrived. According to Jon Lau, a member of Davie Village Community Garden Committee, “Rumours undermined the truth” and in fact, gardeners where told that they’d need to vacate any time between January and April, but as it happened, January was the month and this took many gardeners by surprise.

Jon sees the Seymour Garden, with which he was also involved, as a learning process on the path to the Davie Village Garden. “If not for Seymour Garden, Davie Village Garden couldn’t have taken place”, he explains even while admitting that “each garden has its own personality”. Jon is philosophical about the impermanent nature of these gardens, “I don’t look at it from the standpoint of longevity…I ask what can we do with the time we’ve got?”

Community Integration

Jon reflects that the single most common question from those visiting the Davie Village Community Gardens during the Olympics was, “How did you guys do this?” How its done is through community integration.

City Legislators

In midsummer 2003, Vancouver City Council approved a motion supporting the development of a “just and sustainable” food system for the City of Vancouver. The intention was to develop a system in which food production, processing, distribution and consumption would be integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of a particular place. City Council formed the Food Policy Task Force and in 2007, unanimously adopted the Vancouver Food Charter, an ambitious vision based on five principles:

  • Community Economic Development
  • Ecological Health
  • Social Justice
  • Collaboration and participation
  • Celebration

Encouraging community gardens also dovetails nicely with the city’s own Greener City Initiative, a mandate for Vancouver to become the greenest city in the world by 2020.

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