21 December 2012

Happy Holidays to all my readers

Safe travels.  
May the light that perpetually shines, light your way this holiday season and throughout the New Year.

19 December 2012

The Importance of Gardens: A Letter of Hope from Chicago

Here is a letter the President of the Chicago Botanic Gardens sent to her staff. I thought it was worth sharing: 
As you know, last Friday we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon together—celebrating our colleagues’ years of service and achievements.  As we left the party that day, we learned that yet another tragedy had taken place in the world.
I walked back to my desk in tears, feeling helpless and wondering what I could do to make the world a better place.  Adding this grief to my worries about climate change, feeding hungry families, and reconciling our Federal budget just felt like too much!  Perhaps you felt, or are feeling, this way too.
And that is why I wanted to write this letter to you.
Because while as individuals we cannot solve all the world’s problems, we are, as Garden staff and volunteers, doing a lot together.  When I realized how much we are doing for others, my pain began to ease.  I hope that you, too, will find solace in remembering the importance of our garden. 

Each and every day of the year, from dawn to dusk, we offer a refuge, as well as education, wellness, therapy, inspiration, and conservation of the environment.  Each and every day, as part of the intricate team it takes to run our garden, you deliver joy, healing, and inspiration. Your efforts, especially now, make a difference in so many ways. People who come into contact with your work can feel your commitment and your nurturing kindness.

Our garden is a place where hope for the future can be rekindled; where serenity and the beauty of nature can calm the spirit and the mind.  Each season and every program offers a respite from the stresses of the world.

Our garden is a place where people play, stroll, eat, laugh, and dance with friends and family, with strangers and alone, in good times and bad.  Our garden embraces people of every age and background and welcomes multi-generational families to enjoy a day together. Our garden, through its formal design, and informal programs, offers joy, beauty, fun, and peace.

Our garden helps ensure that science education reaches thousands of children and provides individuals of all ages—and from all backgrounds—with engaging classes and programs.  These opportunities enrich people’s lives, complement the education system, and, hopefully, over time, help heal the planet.

Our garden helps people get regular exercise and grow their own food.  People who walk outside move at a faster pace, perceive less exertion, and experience more positive emotions than people exercising indoors.  Together with wonderful partners, we are committed to growing and donating food, and training farmers throughout Cook and Lake Counties.

Our garden helps heal and conserve the environment.  All life depends on plants; Garden conservation scientists study what is happening to plants, the changes that can result from a loss in plants and healthy habitat, and then seek to discover ways to heal the damage.

Our garden serves veterans and people who have physical and emotional challenges.  Working with plants builds strength, relieves stress, fights depression, and increases well-being.  Just looking at a scene depicting nature activates parts of the brain associated with balance and happiness. Garden therapy programs extend beyond physical boundaries, serving schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and hospice.

Our garden is a refuge and a good value—people return over and over again and Mother Nature, aided by skilled horticulturalists, always provides something new.

If we remember that gardens are important to the physical and emotional well-being of all people, and if we honor the opportunity we have to work with wonderful colleagues in a place whose beauty changes with every hour, we will help address the world’s challenges today, and for many years to come.

Thank you for all you do for the Chicago Botanic Garden.  I am profoundly grateful to work with you and hold you and your family in my heart.

I wish you all the best for a Happy, Healthy New Year.


Sophia Siskel
President & CEO
Chicago Botanic Garden

11 December 2012

Kerrisdale community centre's legacy a model threatened by city

City hall's new 'efficient' style will erode parks and recreation system

One of Vancouver's truly interesting characteristics is its 24 neighbourhoods, distinct geographic enclaves across the city. They all have their own unique charms and challenges but it has always been thus. Kerrisdale is one of them. Originally the hub of the Point Grey municipality before the city's amalgamation in 1929, the Kerrisdale Community Centre now sits where once stood the handsome arts and craft style municipal city hall. My point is that the Village has been a vibrant business area and community since about 1905.

The diverse merchants of Kerrisdale formed a strong association decades before the Business Improvement Area schemes now in place city-wide. Actually, when Kerrisdale followed suit and formed its own BIA in 1990, this grassroots forerunner brought over $80,000 in funds into the equation. I guess you could say they were good managers of their collective money.

Kerrisdale Village's December holiday entertainment has already started with the perennial horse and carriage rides, strolling brass bands, quartets, and of course, Santa Claus. December Saturdays, between 12 to 4 p.m., near Yew and West 41st, is where you'll discover enough enthusiasm for the season putting a smile on your face while making those very important purchases be it a holiday gift, lunch or a cup of coffee.

But back to the Kerrisdale Community. Following the Second World War, the community and business leaders approached the elected Vancouver park board with a plan to build a skating arena and a community centre. They knew it would be expensive but their proposal was to put it to area voters as a special capital plan bylaw. If approved all property owners in this specific region would repay the money to the city through additional taxes over a period of time (20 years). This is how many community centres and fieldhouses (run by field sport organizations) were financed mid-century. By the late 1970s park board capital plans reflected city-wide park and recreation needs and were paid for by collective taxes.

The point to be made here is that Kerrisdale residents are very close to their community facilities. Their joint "ownership" is palpable to them. Community Centre Associations like Kerrisdale's (KCCA) have been running the programming side of park board-owned centres for over a half century and by all accounts doing a good job of it. They retain the funds from room rentals and programs to hire instructors, and they make a profit which is further invested in their centres. In this way the KCCA has contributed considerable funds to build Vancouver's first senior centre and to permanently cover one of Vancouver's original outdoor pools enabling its use year round. In addition the KCCA ensures that indigent residents are able to participate in their programs free of charge.

Along comes a new style of management at city hall which under the guise of corporate efficiencies instructs the park board to amalgamate its park and recreation staff with city hall, pruning off positions left right and centre. Some of these changes may in fact be efficient, such as in accounting and information technology, but general erosion in expertise is inevitable. Now they are looking to alter joint operating agreements (JOAs) with these vital neighbourhood associations in order to be in charge of all the funds generated by them. The word on the street is that community centre associations generate over $17 million a year which presently is plowed back into each respective community and allocated as they deign. Under the new plan, those funds would go to city coffers and be allocated back to centres. The city says this is "fairer" and more "equitable" to those community centres which have generated less. I would purport it is a money grab by city staff who are funding a host of initiatives not approved by voters and at the expense of communities.

The attitude at city hall these days is that we have to run the city like a business and this includes park and recreation services. I disagree. Taxpayers do not mind their money subsidizing a swim or a skate for the greater good. That's why they pay taxes. A Vancouver Sun newspaper columnist recently asserted that Canada's only elected park board is arcane in this day and age and that community associations are some sort of hold-out from a past Vancouver need not recognize anymore. The way I see it we are all being set up for the park board to be eliminated and I'll just make an observation.

What does every visitor to the city say? This is a green paradise ringed by beaches and one of the most beautiful seawalls in the world, where there are recreation centres and parks mere blocks from residents. This happened not by accident but because Vancouver has a separately elected park board whose mandate is specific under the Vancouver Charter. City hall may hold the purse strings but they do not have the power to sell off parkland or indeed make any decisions relating to the park board mandate.

The power rests with the park board to deny and defy city hall managers and their new plans. Instead of wielding that power, the park board is being usurped. Power not taken is power lost. I would say 80 per cent of people voting for park commissioners and city councillors are not familiar with the candidates when they cast their ballots. Usually once elected these politicians rise up to their responsibilities and engage in a balancing act of separately elected offices. That has not happened over the past four years.

About 20 years ago the park commissioner from New York City visited Vancouver. His was an appointed position serving at the will of the mayor. While we drove him around the city visiting various park board facilities, he marvelled at our system. What he wouldn't give to have a Sunset nursery again where staff grow their own plants for parks and gardens. But he was most impressed with the elected board itself which is mandated to advocate for parks and recreation despite being placed in an adversarial position with city hall at times. "What I wouldn't give for that kind of power to protect parks," he said.

Should city hall get involved with the operations at grassroots, neighbourhood community centres? Should the park board be eliminated bit by bit while no one is watching? Should developers be allowed to forestall community amenity contributions because the city deems they are providing affordable housing? By the way, define affordable in the context of livable. Hmmm. I wonder.

Terri Clark is a Kerrisdale resident and former park board communications officer.

02 December 2012

Park board wants control of community centres


The Vancouver park board is considering a plan would change the 40-year-old service model that alllows each city of Vancouver community centre to operate semi-independently. Critics fear this could change local programming. 

Photograph by: Les Bazso, Vancouver Sun


The Vancouver park board is planning to take control of all community centre revenues in a move that some critics say could significantly change local programming and dampen community fundraising efforts. The park board plan would change the 40-year-old service model that alllows each city of Vancouver community centre to operate semi-independently.

Under the change, revenue surpluses from programs and room rentals would flow to the park board. The park board would decide how to spend such surpluses, not the community associations that run each centre.

In a statement, park board general manager Malcolm Bromley said the point updating the agreement is to provide a more equitable distribution of funds among centres in the city. “A key focus will be to ensure that all citizens, regardless of socio-economic status, have fair access to community centre programs in Vancouver — something that is the norm across the city’s ice rinks and swimming pools, but not the case across all fitness centres and other programs in our community centres.”

Several community centre associations are seeking legal advice and suggest the proposal is a thinly disguised cash-grab by an indebted park board trying to cover its own shortfalls.

Earlier this year, the park board announced it faced a $2.4 million shortfall for its $104-million operating budget for 2012, which had it considering various cost-cutting measures. A park board power point explains the community centre plan includes shifting the development of programming to the park board, and away from individual community centres.

Christopher Richardson, president of the Mount Pleasant Community Centre Association said the move could seriously affect community centres’ ability to fundraise, to maintain community-based volunteer staff and to provide programs that are of direct interest to the communities each centre serves.

Some core programs, like swimming and ice skating differ from those that are market-driven, and might be offered by individual teachers with specialized skills, such as cedar basket-weaving or guitar, explained Richardson.

“I have a board of volunteers that live in the neighbourhood and represent the community. It is necessary for us to move quickly to address the needs of the community. A centralized system will not allow us to do that.”

Bromley said the Park Board “would like our public to have access to any and all community centre programs without having to take out separate memberships at each centre. This will ensure our citizens have access to the full network of community centres and all the programs they provide.”
At issue in particular are some programs, such as fitness centres, which vary in access and quality across the city.

The Kerrisdale community centre, for example, does not accept the city-wide community centre flexipass because their updated gym was funded largely through private donations, and is run separately from the community centre.

Richardson questions the Park Board’s motivations and is concerned about a lack of public debate. “This is the most major change by the park board and they haven’t (held an) open debate or considered the alternatives.”
Kate Perkins, Grandview Community Centre Association president said that the CCAs are putting together a counter proposal. “We’ve had a 60-year relationship with the Park Board. We are putting forward a counter-proposal and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

with files from Brian Morton

25 November 2012

A Park By Any Other Name...

So the Chair of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation is promoting changing the name of Guelph Park to Dude Chilling Park. No surprise here. Vision Vancouver, ever afraid of being on the wrong side of public opinion, and in their perpetual attempt to be hip, jumps on-board the band wagon once again. Remember Mayor Robertson’s support for changing Stanley Park to Xwáýxway? Remember Commissioner Jasper’s attempt to name the new park at Trillium Jim Green Park

Never mind that the Park Board has a process for park naming. Never mind that parks are generally named in perpetuity and that they are purposely chosen, not for fad or nonsense or rewarding political allies, but rather to reflect the geographic area or the historic contribution of an individual.

Dude Chilling Park may sound amusing to us now, but will it still be in 5 or 10 years, or will it simply be an anachronistic embarrassment? Is this really what the community calls it? Is it just a handful of people, or even simply one person’s joke?

Is it even necessary to change the name? Pioneer Place at Carrall and Hastings has been known as Pigeon Park for years. No one has come forward to initiate a name change. In the same way if Dude Chilling Park is what the community refers to it as, the name will stick.

If the community really would like the name changed then by all means ask the Park Board to initiate the process. The process takes time, but it reflects community will. Have the community consulted in a meaningful way. An amusing sign, however beautifully made, is not meaningful consultation. Nor is an on-line petition. Democracy sometimes takes a little longer, but it’s worth it.

11 November 2012

Act of Remembrance

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

"For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon.

01 November 2012

Mayor’s people behind power grab in community centres

(This article was originally titled "Who actually runs the city". It was re titled by The Province newspaper for publishing.)

November 1, 2012, The Province by Stuart Mackinnon

It will be, arguably, the single biggest change in governance in Vancouver since the decision at the first meeting of the city council in 1888 to create a park board. A fundamental shift in governance is happening behind closed doors that some say is a money and power grab by Vancouver city manager Penny Ballem and others say is the only path to equity within our recreation system. And you don’t know anything about it.

Community centres in Vancouver are jointly run by the Board of Parks and Recreation and community centre associations, or CCAs. The terms of this management structure is set out in the joint operating agreements negotiated with each of the CCAs. The partnerships set out in the agreements have been in existence for more than 70 years in some of the community centres.

Volunteers at each centre have worked hard to make their individual communities better by volunteering countless hours fundraising and writing grants to keep the cost of programs affordable. The park board set out to renew and renegotiate the joint operating agreements some time ago and have met with little success. The sticking point is who gets to keep the revenues that community centres generate.

The associations by and large run the programming at the centres and say that they should keep the money they make to invest in equipment, programming and facilities in their neighbourhoods.

The park board says the revenue should come to the city to be equitably redistributed between “have” and “have not” areas of the city.

A stalemate for many years has resulted in frustration on both sides. Enter city manager Penny Ballem, who, it has been reported, has told the associations that now they have no choice in this — the money will flow to the city.

The idea that the city manager would be dictating terms to what has always been the purview of the park board is as big a shock as the change to the joint operating agreements. Vancouver has an independent park board with elected commissioners so that the city does not meddle in the operations of parks and recreation.

Where are the elected commissioners in all of this?

Whether one thinks that a new fiscal arrangement between community centres and the board is needed or not, is it not the park board, through its staff and elected officials, who should be doing the negotiations?

Why is the city manager — who takes her direction from the mayor’s office — meddling in park board affairs? Why is the board rolling over by this power grab by the city? And why is the public not in the know about this? Change happens. Circumstances change, as do fiscal realities. Equality is a noble goal.
No doubt the joint operating agreements need to be updated, but this updating should be a matter between the community centre associations and the park board.

Board staff, along with the elected commissioners, should be negotiating with the associations. The negotiations should be done in good faith without threats or ultimatums.

Vancouver’s Charter ensures that parks and recreation are in the hands of the citizens through their elected commissioners.

The city manager should keep her hands off of our parks and recreation.

Stuart Mackinnon was a Green Party Vancouver park board commissioner from 2008 until last year. He continues to advocate for parks and public spaces and writes about city issues at Betterparks.org


08 October 2012

City Council's (1976) Recommendation for Point Grey Foreshore

Point Grey Foreshore advocate Sal Robinson spent a little time in Vancouver Public Library's Northwest History Room with an old city planning report...

Adopted by City Council December 7, 1976

Policy 4: The beach area should remain in its current “natural” condition.
This stretch of beach provides one of the few “natural” beach experiences in Vancouver; intensely developed parks are immediately to the east at Kitsilano Beach and to the west at Locarno/Jericho.

Policy 5: The development and maintenance of street ends as mini-parks, in a manner that will improve their usability, should be investigated and reported back to City Council.
The beach currently has a number of access points, street ends that provide a lookout, and “miniparks”. However, the access points are poorly marked in many locations and the street ends are in varying degrees of conditions.

Policy 6: Improved signage and delineation of access points and improvement of access points (stairs, hand rails, etc. including an additional access point at Hastings Mill Park) should be investigated and reported back to City Council.
The City Engineer has been instructed to report back to City Council on the implementation of these two policies.

Policy 7: An amendment to the Zoning and Development By-law (No. 3575) should be prepared that would require all designs for retaining walls to be approved by the Director of Planning who would give regard to location, extension from existing cliff face, materials, landscaping, texture, etc. structural adequacy and safety. In no case, however, may seawalls be constructed to extend the existing land form at the top of the cliff.

Policy 8: No construction of building should be permitted at the base of the cliff.
Retaining walls that may be built in the future must be designed and built in an appropriate manner to enhance the character of the beach area. They are required to prevent erosion; however, they must be properly designed and landscaped to be compatible with the beach area.
Sal Robinson writes: The source of the above is a 1993 document from City of Vancouver Planning entitled "Kitsilano: A Community Profile."  Policies 1, 2 and 3 are about property acquisition; Policies 9, 10 and 11 deal with the form of future development (no purpose-designed apartments or townhouses; no relaxation of side-yards for new developments.) I have not found, yet, that the by-law amendment mentioned in Policy 7 was ever made.

03 October 2012

For the Record: Courier Columnist Clarifies Her Remarks

FOR THE RECORD: Sandra Thomas, Vancouver Courier

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that the Riley Park/Hillcrest Community Association has applied to the park board to replace Vision Vancouver park board vice-chair Aaron Jasper as its liaison, claiming he appears a tad too busy to do the job properly.

At the time, Jasper told me he has been working with members of that group for years, which I took to mean he had been their liaison for years. But that's not the case. Jasper has only been the park board's liaison to Riley Park/ Hillcrest since being re-elected last November.

Read more here:  http://www.vancourier.com/news/Central+Park/7336430/story.html

19 September 2012

Cutting Your Nose to Spite Your Face: Maintenance Cuts Hurt the Bottom Line

For those of us who love the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, this was a bit of a disappointing year. The gardens just weren't as beautiful as they have been in the past. They were a little frayed around the edges. This is not surprising as, like every other garden and park in Vancouver, their maintenance budget was cut this year. This is incredible as the VanDusen is actually a revenue stream for the Park Board. People pay money to view the gardens, and if they don't like what they see they won't come back. In addition to the cuts in gardeners, under the new protocol the Bloedel Conservatory will soon be funded out of VanDusen revenues with no additional support from the City. This will put even more pressure on the VanDusen. I am absolutely thrilled to have the expertise of the VanDusen staff supporting and managing the Bloedel Conservatory, but just as the archives, museum and planetarium are funded by the city, why isn't the Bloedel?

The City has strange priorities when they cut funding to places that actually bring in revenue directly to the City--not to mention all the indirect revenue that tourists and residents alike bring to the City through their dollars spent at sites like VanDusen and Bloedel. We are in great danger of losing our cultural heritage if we don't look after it. Please support the VanDusen and the Bloedel. If you haven't visited in a while get out to them. Now is especially a great time to see the outdoor gardens at VanDusen. The trees are magnificent in their autumn colours. And tell your elected officials that gardens are important. They help our environment and make Vancouver one of the 'greenest' cities in the world.

15 September 2012

You just can't fool all of the people all of the time

Poor Park Commissioner Aaron Jasper. It seems he just can't get a break. In the Vancouver Courier, columnist Sandra Thomas writes that one of his liaison responsibilities wants to jettison him. Thomas writes in her Central Park article Lazy Liaison? that the Riley Park/Hillcrest Community Centre Association wants to dump Jasper for another commissioner, preferably Nikki Sharma, one of Aaron Jasper's Vision Vancouver colleagues (ouch! that's gotta hurt). When questioned by Thomas, Jasper replied that he doesn't understand the kerfuffle. Thomas reports that Jasper says he's "baffled" by the Riley board's decision. "Actually, I have yet to be invited to one meeting since February," said Jasper. "I've been liaison to this board for three years and was always invited to meetings until Jesse became president."

Well just a minute here. Seems that Commissioner Jasper must have his liaison duties a bit mixed up. Aaron Jasper has not been liaison to this association for the past three years. I was on the Park Board from 2008-2011 and I don't recall Jasper holding that position. I seem to recall that it was another commissioner's responsibility. For further proof just ask former Commissioner Ian Robertson about it. At his I on the City blog, Robertson writes about this in his article Why did Aaron Jasper lie? 

Jasper is correct that the usual protocol for Associations is to invite commissioners to meetings--Association meetings are not generally open to the public--but my experience was that some Associations have standing invitations to their liaison.

This is not the first time Commissioner Jasper's hyperbole has gotten in the way of the truth. I was subjected many times to his curious interpretation of the truth. Just one example was the issue of a referendum of the Aquarium. He stated in a press release that I was "knowingly" putting the Park Board at legal risk by discussing the issue--something he knew was false as the the City of Vancouver's legal department had reported to him, as Chair, that the motion was fine.

I suppose one can just put down this kind of thing as not allowing the truth to get in the way of good story, but once again it leads the public to distrust politicians and the whole process. I hope Commissioner Jasper will do the right thing and correct his misstatement. It can't hurt--in fact it can only help in the search for the truth, regardless of whether or not the truth is a good story.

10 September 2012

Another year of reduced maintenance in our parks and public spaces

As autumn approaches and the leaves start to change colour and fall to the ground you might wonder what happened to all the city gardeners this past summer. Parks and boulevards looked shabby again this year. The fine folks who maintain our parks and public spaces were around, but there were fewer of them trying valiantly to keep up with all the growth that happens over a warm season like our summer.

In my neighbourhood (Fraserlands) as I have reported before, the people took to the streets to tend the little bits of untended public space. This past weekend they were at it again. The neighbourhood sure looks better for their efforts! A hearty thank you to all involved.

One area that they took on that surely the City should be maintaining is the shared (pedestrian/bike) public path along Kent Ave North. This is well used path but has been fairly quickly disappearing because of the growth of the shrubbery between the pavement and the pathway. A few years ago city/parks crews came out 3 or 4 times a year to keep the greenery at bay. This maintenance dwindle to nothing this year making the path very dangerous for both cyclist and pedestrians. And so the Fraserlands Community Gardening Group with clippers in hand attacked the offending shrubbery. Unfortunately hand clippers are slow and awkward against unwieldy bushes. What could take the City an hour or two with their power tools and professional crew will take several days by volunteer hands.

This is doubly galling when you consider that we pay taxes for the maintenance of our public thoroughfares. This volunteerism is a form of double taxation for these kind folks.While taking bits of unused ground and transforming it into a rainbow of colours with lovely flowers is one thing, the maintaining of public thoroughfares is quite another.

I've said it before and I'll probably say it again, cutting the budget for maintenance just doesn't make sense.We all know that allowing graffiti to remain encourages more. Likewise letting public spaces deteriorate encourages vandalism and litter. Call the city (3-1-1) and ask them to cut the boulevards and verges, clean up the garbage, and maintain our parks and public spaces. Write to the Mayor, City Councillors and Park Commissioners and demand that they keep our city beautiful. After all, it is what they they were elected to do.

30 August 2012

Live in South Vancouver? Take the Fraserlands Community Garden Survey!

A group of neighbours have recently formed the Fraserlands Community Gardening Group with two goals:

1.      To work towards establishing a community garden in our neighbourhood;

2.      To complete reclaiming and beautifying the pedestrian/cycling pathway that runs along Kent Avenue parallel to the train tracks between Kerr and Elliott streets.

In an effort to determine our neighbourhood’s support of a community garden as well as to gain information in applying for grants, the group has developed a short online survey.

Please make the time to take the survey as we want to collect as much information as possible. You can link to it here. The survey will be available until October 15, but we encourage you to take it as soon as possible as it’s easy for these things to get forgotten!

GardenWorks at Mandeville and Chevron Canada have generously donated gift certificates for a prize draw. We will be awarding one prize of a $25 GardenWorks gift card, one prize of a $25 Chevron gift certificate, and one prize of both a $25 Gardenworks gift card and a $25 Chevron gift certificate. You have to take the survey to be eligible for the prize draw.

Please forward this message to all the contacts you have who live in Fraserlands… we really appreciate receiving as much input as possible as this will provide valuable information as we move forward.

Jill Lunde
Member, Fraserlands Community Gardening Group

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31 July 2012

Vancouver is teeing off over city-owned golf greens

 Developers, and the city itself, would like to see affordable housing, rather than affordable golf, on the publicly owned land

by Emma Teitel Maclean's Magazine , Tuesday, July 10, 2012 
Teeing off over city-owned greens
Rebecca Bollwit/Flickr

Vancouver’s publicly owned golf courses—Fraserview, Langara, and McCleery—are currently protected “green zones” out of reach to interested developers. But pressure from none other than the city itself, and its mayor, Gregor Robertson, might change that.

Last week Robertson revealed his plan to establish a housing authority that would manage the development of taxpayer-owned land. He also revealed he’s open to leasing some city public golf courses to developers for the construction of public housing. Referring to Langara golf course in particular, Robertson said, “It is debatable as to whether that is valuable green space. The public can’t access it, it is not bio-diverse and there is no strong business case.” The mayor might agree then, with Vancouver Sun columnist Don Cayo’s argument that “selling 20 per cent of just one of three city-owned golf courses could net $675 million that could be used for providing affordable housing to lowering taxes to approving amenities.”

This argument isn’t unique to Vancouver. Since October, the city of Winnipeg has received 32 proposals from private companies interested in leasing one or more of its public golf courses, which lose about $1 million a year.

Community activists in both cities, however, are concerned that development will eliminate valuable green space. And in Vancouver, some argue while affordable housing is very important, so is affordable golf: Vancouver’s supervisor of golf operations, Howard Normann, recently defended the city’s public courses, arguing they make golf accessible for those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

Source:  http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/07/10/vancouver-is-teeing-off-over-city-owned-golf-greens/

25 July 2012

Former Vancouver park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon questions new meeting schedule

A former Green park board commissioner by night and a schoolteacher by day, Stuart Mackinnon admits he’s “a bit of a process wonk”.

Having served one term on the board, from 2008 to 2011, Mackinnon told the Straight he finds the board’s new meeting structure “peculiar”. Earlier this year, the Vision Vancouver–dominated board adjusted the meeting schedule so that committee meetings happen right before meetings of the full board, all on one night.

“There is a reason why committee, for me, happens at least a week before the park board,” Mackinnon said by phone. “That’s so that, if something comes up, staff has time to go back and research and make changes. Quite often, an idea would be brought to a committee, commissioners would bat it around and listen to people, and then we would send off staff, saying, ‘We need to look at this, and we would like to see this.’ And it gave them a week, at least, to tweak it or to rejig it and then bring it back. That made sense to me.”

Ian Robertson, a Non-Partisan Association commissioner from 2005 to 2011, told the Straight of the new arrangement, “It’s ridiculous for a couple of reasons. First of all—and I think most importantly—it significantly limits the public to have discussion and debate, and to understand the issues by doing that. Secondly, it just jams everything into one night. Therefore, you’re not able to get a thoughtful and good discussion around an issue.”
Vision park board chair Sarah Blyth told the Straight one reason commissioners decided to change things was for greater simplicity.

“Take, for example, the seawall [motion from July 23],” Blyth said by phone. “We severed it, and we are putting it back to committee—because it was at committee—but we need to do a bit more…we want to bring up the issues of the past [relating to the foreshore in question].”
She admitted there may be initial “bumps” with the new approach.

“But I think that, overall, it’s a lot better,” Blyth said. “It saves money, which we can put back into our programming, and staff time to work on other things.”

One Misstep After Another: Where is Vision taking the Park Board?

First it was housing on the Langara golf course, now paving the last natural foreshore on English Bay. Where are the Vision Vancouver park commissioners going? Do they even know?

If you look at the their 'policy' statements from the past two elections you would see that they really stand for nothing and have no real ideas. Follow lock-step to where ever their City Council colleagues lead them. Cuts to park maintenance, cuts to community centre maintenance, cuts to renewing the aging infrastructure. Gauge public opinion and then jump on the band-wagon. They have closed programs and raised fees for children. In their first term they tried to undo decisions made by previous Boards while postponing making real decisions in the present. This is hardly leadership.

Vancouver deserves better than this.

The recent debacle of the Seawall extension from Kits to Jericho is a good case in point. A poorly worded motion that was based on an amorphous and mysterious 'anonymous' donation of a reported $10 million dollars. Good public policy is not made on ephemeral promises. Good public policy engages the public and understands the economic, environmental, and social costs of all decisions. This hare·brained scheme missed the mark on all three of these benchmarks. And once again, the decision was not made but deferred.

But this is not surprising; as the election campaigned showed, the only desire of the Vision team was to be re-elected. And re-elected they were. We have another two and half years of missteps and political theatre. Pontificating and grandstanding. Perhaps their plan is to abolish the elected Park Board as an anachronism. If this is the case they are certainly making their point.

18 July 2012

KEEP KITS BEACH WILD. Say NO to the Point Grey Foreshore Seawall

Please visit  the KEEP KITS BEACH WILD website to sign the petition. The following information is from the website.

The Vancouver Parks Board is proposing to extend the seawall from just west of Kitsilano Pool along the quiet wild beach to Spanish Banks. Vision Vancouver has lined up a private donor who is offering $10 million to pay for the costs. Park Board Chair Sarah Blyth introduced a seawall motion on July 9, 2012, “ which, if approved July 23, will see staff developing options to connect the seawall and provide a timeline and estimate of costs for the job ... That preliminary work will include city engineering reports, community consultations, meeting with residents along the route, discussions with the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans, which manages the foreshore along that stretch of beach, and nailing down the cost and funding." (Vancouver Courier July 11, 2012)

This beach is called the “POINT GREY FORESHORE”. It is the last natural beach in the City of Vancouver. On this foreshore a bounteous intertidal zone provides a rich feeding for waterfowl that come in large numbers, especially during the winter months. More than 150 different bird species have been identified here, at which at least 70 are regular winter residents.

As a concerned citizen wrote on a sign at a beach access point: “This is the very last publicly accessible undeveloped beach in the City of Vancouver, a recovering marine habitat. The media has portrayed this beach as a preserve of "the very rich mansion owners of Point Grey Road. Most of them have no access from their property: they may or may not be on the beach. The Point Grey Foreshore belongs to those who love and use it, who do not want to sit with 10,000 others in an artificial environment, who want to watch the herons fish, seals pass by and cormants sun themselves on floating logs. Vancouver has many kilometers of wheel-accessible beach paths, only one "primitive" beach for the general public.

Another concerned citizen wrote in a Letter to the Editor of the Vancouver Courier on July 13, 2012: “One of the wonderful aspects of living in Vancouver are the pockets of relatively unspoiled nature that the public can enjoy if they want to. So now the two parties at city hall want to ruin the quality of life that many of us enjoy by marketing (and therefore ruining) the very thing that makes Vancouver special. The beach beyond Kits all the way to Spanish Banks is a joy to use for the very fact that there isn't any formal seawall or path way that the hordes can use... and therefore makes it a gem in Vancouver. When my family and I are down there for our walks and mooching around, it is almost like being on a Gulf Island but with a city view. No crowds, no frenzy, just a wonderful peaceful retreat within the city. It's a luxury within Vancouver.”

This is another attempt to homogenize the natural world that we live in. It's remarkable that we have such a treasure in our midst -- a place where one can walk and see the city -- but feel like one is not in the city. Let’s keep it that way. Don't turn it into another noisy seawall of cyclists, joggers and skateboarders. We have plenty of those.
We urge the Vancouver Parks Board and City Council to take a walk on this quiet beach and reconsider your plans to extend the seawall. Keep Kits Beach Wild. Say no to the Point Grey Foreshore seawall.

We also ask that you reveal the anonymous donor. We're entitled to know this information so that we can determine if there are any vested interests.

12 July 2012

Just because we can build a seawall extension doesn’t mean we should

 July 12, 2012. 4:00 pm • Section: Opinion
The Province, Vancouver BC

There has been some discussion at Vancouver city council about an extension of the seawall. A motion is coming to the parks board on the feasibility of extending the seawall from Kitsilano Beach to Jericho Beach. This is on the heels of an anonymous donation pledge to help defray some of the costs.

I think the city and the parks board are putting the cart before the horse on this one. And I have to ask: just because we can do something, should we?

I asked this questions several years ago when the proposal to prop up the dead stump in Stanley Park, known as the Hollow Tree, came before the board. Vision Vancouver said yes and the tax payers are now on the hook for maintaining it in perpetuity.

I asked the question again a year later about keeping whales in captivity in Vancouver parks. Vision Vancouver said the citizens didn’t have a right to answer for themselves and my motion for a plebiscite was rejected. Now it is an extension of the seawall.

The seawall is a tremendous amenity, surely one of the most used public features in the city. Tourists and residents alike take great delight in the grand vistas of the cityscape seen from it, whether on foot, rollerblades or bicycle. It is a place for serious fitness and casual pleasure. Yes, it would be nice to have a continual path around the city, but is it necessary?

The seawall cost millions of dollars to build and further millions to maintain. It is a never-ending job keeping it safe and secure. Time, storms and natural erosion take their toll on the structure.

With limited budgets for maintenance, we have to ask ourselves if an extension of the seawall is a good use of tax dollars. Look around Vancouver this summer. It seems we don’t have enough money to maintain the parks and amenities we already have. So why are we looking at an expansion we can’t afford?

A seawall extension would also dump tons of fill and concrete onto one of the last sections of natural foreshore on English Bay. Is this what we want? Do we really want a cement, fortress-like structure surrounding our city? What about leaving some space for natural waterfront?

There is another foreshore walkway along the Fraser River. This path is a mixture of soft walkways and shored up breakwater support. This is part of the flood-control system and serves a purpose as well as providing a lovely amenity. There are no concrete retaining walls. But what do concrete slabs hugging the last rugged shorelines of English Bay serve? Other than once again spending countless millions to show that yes we can do this, not much.

I would suggest a better use for the millions of dollars required to build and maintain a seawall extension would be to maintain the parks and community centres we already have. Vancouver used to be a city with flower baskets and beautiful gardens maintained by parks employees who were proud of their work. Today, our parks and public gardens are neglected and ragged. Boulevards are unkempt and public litter bins are overflowing. Many of our community centres are aging and need replacing. Outdoor pools have been closed. There are only so many tax dollars to go around. Let’s use them wisely.

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Let’s have a discussion about whether a seawall extension is a good use of our money, time and the environment.

Let’s have the discussion about whether we should before we have the discussion about whether we can.

Stuart Mackinnon is a former Vancouver parks board commissioner. He blogs at: betterparks.org

Source URL: http://blogs.theprovince.com/2012/07/12/stuart-mackinnon-just-because-we-can-build-a-seawall-extension-doesnt-mean-we-should/