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Let a thousand flowers bloom amid the traffic

August 14th, 2009 · 7 Comments

I’m up late trying to make my (bad word bad word) iPod downloads work and browsing the net, which gives me some time to link to these lovely photos that Gord Price has taken of one of our weird and wonderful new community gardens we’ve sprouted.

This one is in the heart of the downtown at Burrard and Davie and is the most prominent, but Vancouver is simply surreally delightful these days with corn and flowers and tomatoes being grown in the most unexpected places — in cars parked at the corner of truck route Clark Drive and bus route Broadway, on Pacific Boulevard by the Seymour off-ramp, along much of the old train tracks from the Arbutus Line, and where next?

(Sadly, the Pacific Boulevard one is likely to be going soon. As the condo market recovers, the gardens will go. The Onni people were at development permit board last month getting the final major permit for their building there — which will be an extremely tall tower, but one that most people at the meeting seemed to be thrilled with except for the big chunky podium on it that they’re still working on.)

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  • Joseph Jones

    Burrard and Davie … How the site of that huge tax break for empty developer land makes my pocket hurt. In your mind smell the skunk cabbage that ought to be growing there.

  • gmgw

    I was profoundly disgusted at all the pats on the back and good-corporate-citizen accolades Onni got for making available the Pacific & Seymour site, as if they’d made a genuinely altruistic gesture. What they were actually saying, of course, was “Here, you can play with this until we grab it back as soon as the real estate market starts going back up”. Wow! What astonishing corporate generosity! Did the people who planted on that site even get two growing seasons out of it?

    As for the Burrard & Davie garden, the fact that it’s on the site of a former gas station means that anyone eating anything grown there risks ingesting a whole host of contaminants; a quick Google search turns up benzene, toluene, xylene, and a nasty-sounding one known as methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE). Among others. As I recall, concerns were raised regarding soil quality on that site as soon as the garden was proposed. The problem with underground fuel-storage tanks is that they tend to leak into the soil. Certainly no one would have been willing to spend the considerable amount of $$ that would have been needed for soil rehabilitation for something as mundane as a community garden.

    One might also consider the considerable amount of hydrocarbons and assorted other toxic substances shed daily by the heavy car traffic that passes both sites. Eat hearty, folks!

  • cold water

    “a quick Google search turns up benzene, toluene, xylene, and a nasty-sounding one known as methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE).”

    mmmm benzene…

  • LP

    Very good observation. I was under the impression that any site where a gas station had been would require either removing/replacing said soil, and/or a period of at least 7 years for the chemicals to dissipate.

    I would ask if someone at the city like NRFM, could explain which if any were done to this site at Burrard/Davie and how much that cost? Was this land owned previously by the city or purchased for this purpose? And what type of long-term cost a garden on this corner represents in way of lost property/business taxes?

    As someone who gardens and grows quite a bit in my own garden, I seriously question the few heads of corn and the value of what can be grown on this lot, versus the lost value to the city taxpayer of such a prominent location while our tax rates increase at 8% a year.

  • gmgw

    Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather see a garden growing on each of the downtown sites any old day than yet another bloody highrise. I’m merely questioning the wisdom of growing anything on either site that’s meant for human consumption.

  • Sharon

    LP, those gardens were a pure and regrettably legal form of property tax evasion. A change of zoning from high density residential or commercial (taxed at the commercial rate) to community gardens which are taxed at next to nothing. The property owners did not care if one plant every lived there as long as the land use was such that their property taxesbill was almost zero while they waited out the real estate correction or the land remediation process. Nobody is out any tax revenue – every other commercial property in the city picks up the diverted assessment – and therefore gets stuck paying higher taxes in an already outrageous commercial tax jurisdiction.

    I work close to a former gas station site that has been in remediation for 6 years. Every once in a while they come and drill a few holes to test how things are going. God forbid if anyone lights a match near by. Who in their right mind would eat food grown on a former gas station site? I would not be surprised if the carrots come up neon green.

  • Not running for mayor

    Not really my dept, but my understanding is that the top layer was taken out, a protective covering placed down and then clean topsoil above that. There is always the possibility of contamination so there was legal disclaimers signed by all those that received a plot. Most people planted flowers anyways.
    I’m torn on the tax loophole, sure the developers are doing this for their bottom line, but the city “citizens” do gain as well. Would we be better off if it was a gravel lot fenced off for 2 years?