Report on Community
and Allotment Gardening
in the Greater Vancouver RegionIn partial fulfillment of:
Community Economic Development 404-5
Prepared by: Norm Connolly ID 93301-9731
firstname.lastname@example.org (Norm Connolly)
Professor Mark Roseland, Simon Fraser University
and Michael Levenston, City Farmer
I began work with City Farmer in Fall 1996 as part of a student internship in Community Economic Development at Simon Fraser University. During this project, I investigated the current state of community gardening in the Greater Vancouver Region. This included a site visit to 31 community or allotment garden sites that are currently operating, or in various planning or development stages.
Interviews were conducted with key members from 20 of these gardens. In addition, I contacted planning professionals from each of 12 muncipalities in the region. During these interviews planners were asked about their municipality's policy (if any) toward community or allotment gardening. They were also asked to comment on the issue of finding space for community or allotment gardens within urban areas.
The findings from the garden survey, as well as the feedback I received from the municipalities, has been compiled into a report. Eventually, we hope to take our findings "on the road" to various municipal planning departments and community garden groups. As part of sharing this information with the broader community, City Farmer has posted this report on it's Web site.We have placed information from this Report on three web pages. Scrolling down this page you will find a survey of municipal responses to community gardening in the Greater Vancouver region. Two more pages include a discussion of survey results and a graph displaying the survey of community gardens in the GVRD, April 1997.
A survey of municipal responses to community gardening in the Greater Vancouver region
In this section I investigate the feedback I received from municipal planners and other professionals concerning the issue of finding space in urban areas for community or allotment gardens. Planners from each of twelve municipalities were contacted by letter in February 1997. A copy of the letter that was sent to them is included in Appendix A. Responses from nine municipalities are included in this report. As of April 1997, the City of Richmond and the Municipality of Maple Ridge did not respond to my request for a meeting. Due to time constraints, both Langley City and the District of Langley were not included in the report. Their input, however, will be incorporated into a later release of this report.
City of North Vancouver
City of Coquitlam
City of Port Moody
City of Port Coquitlam
City of New Westminster
District of West Vancouver
City of Burnaby
Agricultural Land Commission
City of Vancouver
City of North Vancouver
Meeting with Richard White
City Planner, Development Services Department
The City has no official policy regarding community gardens. North Vancouver has adopted a passive approach toward community gardening within its jurisdiction. The view of the Planning Department is that it is up to local citizenry to approach the City directly with plans for new community gardens. The view of the Department is that community gardeners must work with local residents to garner local support for their project. This notion was also expressed to me by planners elsewhere in the region.
The Moodyville Community Garden at 1st Street and Lonsdale Avenue will likely be removed during next 1-3 years to allow construction of a high-density residential development. The community garden is on land owned by the City of North Vancouver and is being developed as part of the Lower Lonsdale redevelopment. Mr. White suggested that the City may consider finding an alternate location for the Moodyville Gardens when the time comes to develop the site.
Mr. White expressed an interest in knowing if most community gardeners live near the garden, or live further away and practise a kind of 'commuter gardening'. I suggested that suitable sites for community gardens may lie near the edges of existing civic parks where there is a surplus of unused grassed area. He agreed that some park sites would be suitable, but questioned whether this would render these gardens difficult to access for residents living further away in medium-density and high-density developments along Lonsdale Avenue.
Another sentiment that was expressed to me during our conversation, was that there is very limited open space in the City of North Vancouver, and even less available for community gardens. (The City of North Vancouver represents only the central portion of the urbanized area of the District of North Vancouver.) Because of this, Mr. White suggested that there may be more potential sites in the District of North Vancouver.
Telephone conversation with Cheryl Kathler Social Planner
Ms Kathler said that community gardens are not a priority item in terms of critical social needs in the city. This is based on feedback the Planning Department received from a 'needs survey' they conducted a few years ago. In this survey, community gardens were not selected as a priority item. Ms Kathler believes that a strong, grass-roots response from the community is necessary before the City will give it a higher priority. Unfortunately, by adopting this attitude, the City avoids responsibility for promoting community gardens in any way. It also ignores evidence that suggests community gardens can meet many social, psychological, and economic needs of urban residents.
Despite the reluctance of the North Vancouver social planners in promoting community gardens, Ms Kathler is nonetheless supportive of the concept. She expressed interest in building awareness of the benefits of community gardens within City Hall. She suggested that City Farmer invite planners to a meeting at City Hall and present the findings of our study and thereby increase awareness as to how other municipalities are approaching the community garden issue.
Meeting with Neil Spicer
Following my conversation with Ms Kathler, I met with Neil Spicer, a Planning Technician working on the Lower Lonsdale redevelopment. He showed me the computer-generated 3-dimensional images of various urban design proposals for the Lower Lonsdale area. Computer-Aided Design software was being used to model the impact of the new developments on scenic views of the harbour, as well as resultant shadow-effects. The plan covers a six square block area on either side of Lonsdale Avenue. The plan envisions several large condominium and mixed-use commercial projects in the area. About half of these new developments will occur on land owned by the City. Currently, most of the City lots in this area are vacant (one of these lots is currently used by the Moodyville gardeners). First Street, which has a wide median and angled parking on either side will be converted into a public square which will be linked to Lonsdale Quay through a series of terraced pedestrian plazas. Predictably, there is no provision for a community garden anywhere in the Lower Lonsdale plan.
I questioned Mr. Spicer about this. He reasoned that the Moodyville Garden is an exclusive use of public land and therefore, might be viewed negatively by other residents who are not members of the garden. He also mentioned that some residents in a nearby apartment tower had concerns about the appearance of the community garden. He suggested that the Moodyville gardeners should consider relocating to plots in the new Queen Mary Community Garden at Chesterfield Avenue and West Keith Street.
City of Coquitlam
Meeting with Jane Pickering
Ms. Pickering supports the concept of community gardens but, like her colleagues in North Vancovuer, she believes that there is only a limited amount of vacant or derelict city-owned land available for community gardens in Coquitlam. Ms Pickering stated city park land would offer the best range of possible sites.
I suggested that one way of providing for future community gardens, and taking pressure off city park land, would be to require that new developments incorporate space for a food garden somewhere in the development. I agreed with Ms Pickering that developers would be more inclined to incorporate edible landscapes into their projects if it could be demonstrated that it would be seen as an amenity by potential tenants.
Ms. Pickering identified a large parcel of land (>700 acres) immediately adjacent to the eastern side of Minnekhada Regional Park and extending to the Pitt River. She suggested that a portion of the area could be set aside for allotment gardens. This area is rural and was formerly within the agricultural land reserve. However, it is now classified as "recreation and protected natural area" and is now part of Coquitlam's protected areas system.
There is a tendency within some of the municipalities to locate community or allotment gardens away from urban areas. While this approach may be appropriate for large scale allotment gardens, there is a social cost to only giving sanction to this type of garden. By spatially separating gardens from gardeners, you are likely to make the garden only available to those who own a car. Diana Hall identified this characteristic in her thesis: Community Gardens as an Urban Planning Issue. She found that some of the community and allotment gardens in the Greater Vancouver Region have become "commuter gardens" because they are located away from where their members live.(Hall, 1996) People who do not have access to a vehicle are effectively restricted from participating in these gardens. This may mean that municipalities are missing the social and economic benefits that community gardens can provide to people on low incomes, retired people, the mentally or physically challenged, and children of families without a vehicle.
Telephone conversation with Mike Nihls
Assistant Director, Parks & Recreation Department
Mr. Nihls claimed it would be difficult to find park sites within Coquitlam that would be suitable for community gardens, since most sites are covered by second-growth forest, or are along shady ravines. However, he stated that the Coquitlam Parks Department is willing to work with local groups to develop community gardens if local interest is great enough.
The Coquitlam Parks Department does not have an official policy toward community gardens, mainly because there has been only limited requests for them up to this point. However, they are watching developments at nearby Colony Farm, and elsewhere in the region. Their reasoning is that Colony Farm, because of its size, may satisfy much of the demand for community gardens in the Coquitlam area in the near term.
City of Port Moody
Telephone conversation with Jim McIntyre
Mr. McIntyre echoed Mr. Nihl's belief that there is little or no land available that would be suitable for community gardens for reasons similar to those mentioned in Coquitlam. Interestingly, he feels that municipalities the size of Burnaby, Surrey, and Coquitlam would have a much greater land base of potential sites to choose from.
Conversations with planners in Coquitlam and Port Moody indicate that there is a misconception within some planning departments that community gardens are only feasible on relatively large parcels of land, i.e., greater than one or two hectares. However, as I discovered in Port Coquitlam, small-scale community gardens are feasible and appropriate where they need to reside close to where people live. As the Port Coquitlam case will show, the neighborhood scale of the Elks Park Community Garden answered the need for people who wish to garden locally.
City of Port Coquitlam
Case Study: The development of a community garden in Port Coquitlam
The creation of a community garden in the Port Coquitlam area represents a fine example of how municipalities can collaborate with local advocates to identify a site for a community garden. The project very likely would not have been successful without the energy and vision of two key people: Ann Pynenburg and Bill Herbst. Ms. Pynenburg is a Project Technician with the City Engineering Department. Mr. Herbst is the City Gardener for the Port Coquitlam Parks Department. Together they promoted the benefits of community gardening to their colleagues within City Hall. In addition, they gained the strong support of Mike Thompson, City Councillor. Mr. Thompson submitted a report to Council describing the need for community gardens within Port Coquitlam. The report presented some compelling arguments for urban gardening within the city. An excerpt from his letter appears below:
"the cost of land for the average homeowner is such that living in multi-family complexes is an economic necessity for many. The 'good old days' of large lots in which you could grow a few fruit trees and enough vegetables to feed your family for many months of the year is now becoming the unusual rather than the usual."
"If we are to continue to accept higher densities, we believe there is a genuine need to provide room in our community for low cost, passive, and rewarding recreation for our citizens. Community gardens not only fit that description but are rewarding and healthful pursuits as well. Large natural areas, green spaces, and parks are essential, but I also believe we must work toward providing arable land for those who wish to garden and provide food for their families"
The report that was sent to Council also included a short list of three sites for a proposed community garden. These sites were drawn from a list of ten potential sites that were identified by Ms. Pynenburg and Mr. Herbst in an earlier report. A prime ingredient in the success of this venture was the fact that the municipality took an active role by identifying potential sites for a community garden. Ms. Pynenburg provided information on land use planning surrounding each potential site, and Mr. Herbst provided information on water connections and soil characteristics. Municipalities have the advantage of knowing the status of each plot of land under their jurisdiction, knowledge that community gardeners rarely have.
City of New Westminster
The need for community gardens has been suggested by residents attending workshops on New Westminster's Official Community Plan Update. Residents attending these workshops identified the need for community gardens close to where they live. Some people referred to them as "community meeting places" and suggested two possible sites in the western portion of New Westminster. Other candidate locations were identified within the Queensborough area.
Case Study: The development of a community garden in Queensborough
I met with Deborah Williams and Joan Miller from the Queensborough Special Programs Committee (QSPC) to ask them about the proposed community garden in the Port Royal area of Queensborough. Ms. Williams and Ms. Miller are energetic, progressive community activists from the Queensborough area of New Westminster. Queensborough is a tough area. It has its share of social needs and urban planning problems. During the past three years, QSPC has been working on a number of community projects such as the Urban Farmers Fall Fair. They have used the proceeds from the fair to fund local initiatives, one of which is to create a community garden in the area. They have been successful in promoting their idea and winning support within their neighborhood for a community garden. This has occurred despite strong negative reaction to the idea from some residents when it was first presented. Once they had their community on side, they faced the subsequent problem of trying to convince the City to let them use some of the vacant and derelict lots in the area for a community garden. However, the situation for the QSPC was about to improve dramatically in Fall 1996.
The eastern tip of Lulu Island is owned by MacMillan Bloedel. MacMillan Bloedel used to have a plant on site but had shut it down long ago. MacMillan Bloedel and the City wanted to develop the vacant industrial land as residential; with a seawall-style boardwalk similar to the one in front of New Westminster Quay. The City has agreed to let MacMillan Bloedel to develop a large residential development on the site in four phases. However, before construction could begin, the City stipulated that the company remove all contaminated soils on the site, build a public walkway around the perimeter of the site, and donate a portion of the site to park land and a community garden. The company agreed and drew up conceptual plans for a mid-size community garden as a key part of phase one of their development, now called "Port Royal". The only catch was that MacMillan Bloedel and the City needed a group of local gardeners to 'breath life' into their plans. That is where the Queensborough Special Programs Committee (QSPC) enters into the picture.
Paul Daminato, New Westminster Parks Director, gave Deborah a call and asked if her group would be interested in administering a new community garden. She couldn't believe her ears, especially the part about MacMillan Bloedel designing a community garden. Since then, QSPC has been working with the Port Royal Design Committee on the garden plan. Colette Parsons, a landscape designer, was contracted by the Port Royal team to draw up plans for the gardens. The plan is now finalized and consists of the following components:
- 70 plots (8' x 10') along three terraces facing south
- concrete stairs and pathway between each terrace
- raised beds, prebuilt with lumber supplied by MacMillan Bloedel
- a central herb garden on the highest terrace
- water pipes on each terrace level
- a grove of fruit trees (plum, apple, vine-apple, crab-apple)
- an extensive berry patch (raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, grape vines)
This community economic development episode is instructive because it shows that a grassroots organization, a private corporation, and a municipality can work together toward a mutually beneficial objective. This case study illustrates that one of the best ways to find room for new community gardens is for municipalities to require that developers set aside space for a community garden as a normal part of the design process. The requirements for large-scale residential developments could be as simple as setting aside land for a "community reserve" based on a percentage of total area to be developed. City planners could exercise flexibility in the required percentages by consolidating smaller "community reserves" from adjacent developments into a larger area. Even if we ignore the socio-economic benefits that accrue to local residents from community gardening, municipalities still have a strong reason to pursue this policy. If space is set aside for these purposes as land is being developed, it provides an alternative supply of land for community gardens, thus reducing the pressure on city parks and other municipal land. For this policy to work, attitudes of municipal planners toward community gardens would have to change. Municipalities need to view community gardens as a legitimate, long-term use of land within their jurisdiction. Planners may also have to take a more active role during the initial stage of planning for a community garden, since they would have to work with a developer to identify an appropriate space for a "community reserve".
Meeting with Stephen Scheving
Mr. Scheving stated three concerns that the City of New Westminster has about community gardens:
- The amount of overhead that would be required of City staff in administering gardens. The City's preferred approach would be an "arms length" arrangement with a community group that would handle the administration and upkeep of the garden site.
- Liability issues on public lands: would the City be liable if land was found to have contaminated soil or if nearby residents objected to certain types of gardening practices?
- Tenancy arrangement with community garden association: a firm understanding regarding the length of tenure on City land must be made at the outset of any agreement. This is to be done to avoid political problems latter on when the City may want to use the land for other purposes.
Mr. Scheving held that the District of West Vancouver was in the unfavourable position of having to manage the community gardens within its jurisdiction. The means that the District was responsible for everyday matters of the gardens such as membership, annual deliveries of manure, and instruction about proper composting methods.
I believe that all of Mr. Scheving's concerns about community gardens can be addressed by requiring that any community garden group wishing to operate on City-owned land be administered by an independent non-profit society. The City can then draw up an agreement with the community garden society that stipulates such things as the City's obligations and the society's obligations during the term of the lease. The Vancouver Parks and Recreation Board has formalized its relationship with community garden groups through such a policy.
Another fine example of a formalized relationship between a public park and a community garden association has occurred at the recently created Colony Farm Regional Park. The park, comprises about 600 acres of cottonwood forest, meadow, former agricultural land, and marsh habitat. The park is administered by the GVRD. Seven acres of the park are devoted to the Colony Farm Regional Park Community Gardens Society. The community garden will expand as demand requires to an ultimate size of 420 plots, making it larger than any community or allotment garden in the Greater Vancouver region. The agriculture advocacy group Farm Folk City Folk, a group that promotes urban agriculture, was instrumental in designing the "Constitution and By-laws of the Community Gardens at Colony Farm Regional Park".(see Appendix C) The constitution covers all operational matters of the community gardens, including membership requirements, board structure, plot fees, and gardening practices.
District of West Vancouver
Telephone conversation with Liz Busch
Both the Navvy Jack and Argyle community gardens are administered by the District of West Vancouver. The District has created Argyle Community Gardens on two separate sites along the Ambleside waterfront. The District has also setup a compost demonstration garden on another vacant lot nearby. The three lots reside alongside heritage homes in the Argyle Village area. The homes in the Village have lifetime leases, i.e., when the owner sells or passes away, they revert back to District control. According to Ms. Busch, the District views the operation of the Argyle Gardens as a temporary situation. In fact, the District would not have involved itself to the degree it has if it viewed the gardens as a long term land use on the waterfront.
The Navvy Jack Community Garden resides further west, at the foot of 21st Avenue. This garden did not begin as an initiative of the District. Rather it began, as have most community gardens in the region, through the efforts of local residents looking for a place to garden together. For several years, the garden operated independently of the District. However, a few years ago the main garden coordinator stepped down and because there was no one within the garden available to fill the role, he asked the District if they would take over the administration of the community garden.
During my site visit to the area, I was impressed by how easily both gardens fit into the waterfront environment. Indeed, the lucky gardeners that have plots there are able to garden in one of the most idyllic settings in the Region. The garden grounds are exceptionally well-tended and fit into the relaxed mood of the waterfront. Unfortunately, the long term tenure for both gardens is uncertain. According to Ms. Busch, the long term plan for the waterfront does not envision community gardens in the area. An excerpt from the West Vancouver Waterfront Directions Study (1991) seems to confirm her statement:
"The Argyle Village area represents the remnants of a significant historical pattern of settlement in West Vancouver. In recognition of its historic stature, the Argyle Village area is conceived as evolving into a flexible outdoor festival area with a selection of existing houses renovated for public use and programmed with a variety of function. A 'Kit of Parts' has been outlined that suggests a collection of built elements (structures, lighting, paving, furnishings, graphics and colour) to ensure a continuity of design through a 'family' of materials and objects."
"The mandate to redevelop privately owned residential blocks of Argyle into public parkland is symbolic of the importance of the waterfront parks to the community."
Corporation of Delta
Telephone conversation with Jim LaMaistre
Deputy Director of Planning
Mr. LaMaistre stated that the municipality had no official policy on community gardens. He was also not aware of any community garden initiatives within the community. The impression I received was that the Corporation of Delta viewed community gardens as more of an urban need, and not a high priority for an area with a large amount of land in the agricultural land reserve. However, my site visit to the new community gardens at the Delta Recycling Centre called this point of view into question.
The Delta Recycling Society operates a community allotment garden behind the recycling depot. The allotment garden is part of the new compost demonstration garden that was opened in 1996. Because the recycling centre is located in the Tilbury industrial area, the community gardens are located several kilometres from the nearest residential areas, which are along Scott Road or in Ladner. However, interest in the new community garden is strong and all of its plots are spoken for. This has occurred despite the fact that the gardens are a long distance away from where most people in live.
City of Burnaby
Meeting with Peter Bloxham
Mr. Bloxham is the area planner for Burnaby's Big Bend area. This area lies in the Fraser River Lowlands on either side of Marine Way stretching from New Westminster to Boundary Road. Current land use in the area is characterized by intensive farming, as well as a mixture of industrial uses. This area is also the home of the Burnaby and Regional Allotment Garden (BARAGA). The land in this area is highly productive for growing vegetables, representing about 10% of the total vegetable production for the Lower Mainland. The Official Commmunity Plan for the area supports continued agricultural production and recognizes the importance of the diversity of the types of farms in the area. One of the plan's objectives is to support agricultural activities within the area, including allotment gardens.
"to encourage expansion and diversification of agriculture and related activites (e.g. from opening new production areas to continued municipal involvement in the Allotment Gardens Program." (City of Burnaby Planning Department, 1996)
The land in the central portion of the Big Bend area and immediately south of Marine Way is owned by Burnaby Business Park (BBP), a private corporation. BBP owns 265 acres in the area, of which 222 acres are zoned for agricultural use. BBP owns several small, vacant, or unproductive parcels within its holdings and wants to consolidate them into larger farms. The farms would likely grow vegetables, blueberries, or cranberries. BBP has also suggested that a provision be made to encourage organic farming practices on the farms within its holdings. The plan proposes removing 52 acres of land along the southern perimeter of its holdings and classifying them as industrial. The interface between industrial and agricultural land would be a 30m wide, "dedicated park buffer" that would be tied into Burnaby's greenway system. Along the perimeter of the BBP holdings, land would be set aside for a bog forest, a forest "habitat restoration area", and a new "community allotment garden". This garden would provide new plots for people who wish to garden but cannot because there are no open plots at BARAGA.
According to our survey, Burnaby is the first municipality in the Greater Vancouver region that legitimizes community allotment gardens through a land-use plan. It is encouraging that the City has endeavored to set land aside for a future community or allotment garden.
At this point, Burnaby City Council has approved the plan in principle. The plan will be implemented in 1998. As of March 1997, no local group has approached the City about the future garden site.
Agricultural Land Commission
Meeting with Bruce Gunn
Mr. Gunn stated that the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) does not have a specific policy toward community or allotment gardens. However, he did say that, "community gardens are an entirely compatible land use within agricultural lands". The ALC has had good experience with allotment gardens on agricultural lands within the GVRD, as gardens in Richmond and Burnaby have proven.
Mr. Gunn suggested that advance planning for community gardens should be done when "neighborhood concept plans" are being drawn up. Planners would then be more likely to suggest to developers that some land be set aside for community gardens. He stated that municipalities usually acquire some land as part of the development process. This typically occurs because the developer agrees to dedicate some of its land to the city in exchange for development approval or rezoning. We agreed that if a neighborhood concept plan identified the need for a community garden, planners would support the plan by allocating "set-asides" or "land dedications" for potential garden sites.
Mr. Gunn was aware of two neighborhood concept plans being drawn up in both the Cloverdale and Clayton areas of Surrey. He suggested talking to the planners responsible for these areas about the issue of community gardens and whether they are being incorporated into the overall community planning process.
City of Vancouver
Meeting with Al Floyd
Mr. Floyd was aware of the benefits that community gardens bring to local residents. He remarked that the City feels positive about its experience with community gardens within Vancouver. He cited both Strathcona and Maple gardens as providing fine examples to other prospective community gardeners. Mr. Floyd echoed a familiar sentiment that there is a limited supply of land within Vancouver suitable for community gardens. He felt that the best potential for future community gardens lies in City park land and recreation areas. In addition, Mr. Floyd would like to see community gardens integrated with social housing. He was also open to the idea of having developers incorporate some kind of "common open space" into new residential developments, thus providing potential sites for small community gardens.
Relative to other municipalities in the GVRD, Vancouver appears to be furthest along with integrating community gardens and City park land. As of Spring 1996, there are nine community gardens in Vancouver that are situated either within existing parks, or on land that has fallen under the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Parks & Recreation Department: