Opinion

Last writes and rebirth for Garden City Society

Five years ago, citizens trying to save a Richmond treasure began forming the Garden City Lands Coalition. It was soon a society. I was president. Now it’s a happy memory, though reborn in a new way, which I’ll get to.

The coalition society is gone because we met the need. The people won. We’ve kept the Garden City Lands green in the Agricultural Land Reserve for ALR uses for community wellness.

At last, almost all on Richmond council are committed to that goal. The Agricultural Land Commission is also stronger now, and the commission rulings that protect the lands will endure.

The community success has had far-reaching effects. You know the Garden City Lands carry priceless legacies for community wellness, but there’s more.

It’s less known that the property was a chosen battleground for anti-ALR forces. Its removal from the ALR would have opened an ALR floodgate. Our resolute defence of the lands helped the commission stand firm. Great for food security!

We even set an example for the world. The International Eco-Safety Cooperative Organization (IESCO), a United Nations affiliate, chose Richmond as “Demonstrative City” for a term till the end of 2013. The award selectors had visited and were struck that citizens fighting the City of Richmond’s ALR application that threatened the lands also teamed with the city for successes like the Terra Nova Sharing Farm.

Looking back to 2007, I ask “What were we thinking of?” We took on a powerful triad bent on wresting the lands from the ALR. Besides our own city hall, we faced the formidable Musqueam Indian Band and Canada Lands Company, which owned the property. We were just a bunch of folks who saw a need.

The triad spent at will on public relations companies. One ran a massive phone survey to prove that residents wanted the Garden City Lands out of the ALR. A citizen blew the whistle. Her letter in this paper showed how the survey refused her pro-ALR response. The manipulation was typical.

Looking at the triad’s agreements, citizens found little for Richmond. Besides space for an unloved trade centre, the city would buy land “scattered throughout the entire Garden City Property”—green space for dense development for others’ profit.

Exposing the faults was a sad civic duty, but it was helpful. Citizens started adding their ALR visions for the lands to earlier ones from poverty response groups and Kwantlen University’s urban agriculture experts.

At Richmond council’s public hearing about the Garden City Lands in 2008, the coalition to save the lands grew as citizens came forward with passion for community values.

The citizen input next flowed into reasoned submissions to the Agricultural Land Commission. By my count, 150 parties wrote. Of those, 144 (96%) opposed the application, including a number of groups, one with 1,846 signatories. They described ALR uses of the lands for community needs. That squelched the triad’s claim of non-ALR “needs,” which the commission dismissed.

For brevity, let’s skip to the present.

Citizens, including council members, have given thousands of volunteer hours to bring the natural legacies of the Garden City Lands to today’s stage as city parkland. In the history of Richmond, no consultation has had greater input.  It’s up to the city now. There’s excellence in sight.

Also now, the former coalition society has its new existence. The focus is conservation.

On Saturday, I’ll be honoured to accept the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal—for all who did what it took to meet the need.

Jim Wright is president of the Garden City Conservation Society.

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