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The ongoing fight to save the Bloedel Conservatory

January 14th, 2010 · 15 Comments

I haven’t paid enough attention to this issue til now, but I finally did a piece for today’s Globe on the fight to save the Bloedel conservatory. I find it fascinating to see how a community group comes together spontaneously on occasions like this — shows people aren’t all couch potatoes, after all.

This is an interesting one to watch, as I think it turned into more of an issue than anyone expected.

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  • Well, I’m going there today, mostly so my kid will have a chance to see it just in case the attempts to save the Conservatory fail.

    However, I’ve found that whenever the topic has been coming up in conversation, asking a simple question of those who rail against the closure and the ineptitude of government tends to bring a telling silence. The question? When was the last time you went to the Conservatory?

  • “When was the last time you went to the Conservatory?”

    So, we can not favor the forests unless we walk through the trees. Or, appreciate the mountains unless we climb the rocks?

    I don’t visit the Museum of Man very often but would be devastated if it closed. We pay for schools only children attend. We provide an art gallery for those who favor fine arts and play grounds for those who do sports.

    The Bloedel Conservatory offers a unique experience, unequaled anywhere in Vancouver. It’s one thread in the fabric of culture.

  • Please don’t inflate an anecdote into a world view Mr. Farrell. Or assume that I support closing the Conservatory because I ask a relevant question of those who say it must be saved.

  • I wonder how the cost of preserving the Bloedel Conservatory compares to re-roofing BC Place Stadium? Or, to the long term cost of maintaining the 36 acre gardens of Government House, home to BC’s Lieutenant Governor.

  • FBT

    Well for starters, the money from the Burrard Bridge bike trials could have more than saved the Conservatory AND more people visit the conservatory each year than use that bike lane.

    Chris, if you’d like to start talking about initiatives that are being taxpayer funded but only being used by a small percentage of the population, we can start the debate right there.

    And you lose.

  • “Chris, if you’d like to start talking about initiatives that are being taxpayer funded but only being used by a small percentage of the population, we can start the debate right there.”

    The bike lane is a piece of transportation infrastructure that needed to be fixed to address deficiencies liable to result in lawsuits (as evidenced by previous accidents and out of court settlements) and the other is a public attraction.

    Apples and oranges and anyway, I’m not making the argument that how many people use a facility should be the criteria, just observing that the folks I’ve talked to who are complaining about the closure don’t seem to actually use it.

  • david hadaway

    It’s fair to ask how many people use the Bloedel but also fair to say that plenty of convincing answers have been given.

    Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s about to be lost, I think that’s the case here. I used to love taking my son there and would like to be able to take my grandchildren too and during the gap in time between those things then I’m fine with paying for it to be available for other people’s kids and grandkids. If people are willing to support something that mostly benefits others isn’t that a good thing?

    It is hard to imagine any other self proclaimed “world class” city permanently shutting down capital assets like the Bloedel and Children’s Farmyard because of a short term revenue drop. The inept way the decision seems to have been made and then defended makes me question the motivation and competence of several councillors and commissioners who got my vote. They seem to be people who know “the price of everything, the value of nothing.”

    As a property tax payer I’m happy to see my money go toward these institutions, in spite of the painful rises that have have been imposed over the last few years. It’s stuff like cascading lights on City Hall, tax breaks for land speculators, quarter million dollar logos, and a dozen other things that come to mind that drive me nuts.

    Sometimes something just feels wrong. I hope the Mayor and Vision will be big enough to see this, take a step back and do the right thing. For what little it’s worth they’ll get my respect and vote back if they do.

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Three Little Pigs Thought of the Day

    “ Bloedel and the Petting Zoo… This prolonged civic travesty that sounds like a children’s book title to me, it feels more and more like a retelling of The Three Little Pigs fairy tale, though, this time told from the Wolf’s perspective.”

    Ever wanted a retelling of the Three Little Pigs fairy tale? Ever wanted to hear what the Wolf’s angle was? Then, this is it! Was he testing merely the building codes or was he executing renovictions? Was he craving for attention, was he the lonely middle pup out of a litter of 10+1, was he simply testing his lung capacity, huffing and puffing?
    Rumours are pointing toward a Ballet. Real orchestra, big theatre, period costumes, the whole shebang, grand production. It will be swell! Can you picture you know who, en pointe?
    Yes, I want to see that too.
    Casting is going on well over at the City Hall as I am writing this, however, hopefuls for the Pigs roles are scarce. Apparently nobody wants to be too Vancouver Visi(on)ble. The City Manager’s office is interviewing hard for the Wolf part. No winners. Yet.
    Fair comments, but you are on your own on this one. Zing! Zing!…and Zing!
    Norm, FBT, David:
    Wonderful comments coming from real caring and emphatic citizens. Kudos!

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Bill McCreery

    Thank you Francis for one of the best coverages of this issue to date. I am glad you are on it & hope you will stay so. I have been wondering where the media has been on Bloedel & the Children’s Farmyard, especially the print media.

    There has been some TV & radio good coverage. But, it seems the Sun has taken an editorial position to support Vision because they’re ‘green’. Just because someone says they want to be ‘green’ should not be justification for not critically assessing the what & why they are doing. Newspapers in particular are the bastions of the 4th ESTATE. An even more critical societal role when there is a weak opposition.

    By the way, have a look @ Stuart McKinnen’s web site. He has some interesting facts & is asking a very important question.

  • “Ever wanted to hear what the Wolf’s angle was?”

    He was hungry for pork.

  • So, after visiting the Conservatory yesterday, a few observations from me and my daughter.

    – Better than Butterfly World (not as smelly and more to see… a surprising response from my perspective, I thought B. World would be the favorite as they have big old tortoises, some lizards, etc.)

    – No family bathroom (we’re not all typical two parent families and some of us have offspring of the opposite sex)

    – Birds were a big hit, as was being able to touch the leaves of particularly interesting plants.

    – Hard to access w/out a car or tour bus
    – Admission is a little steep for what’s essentially a 15-20 minute outing unless you are a real green thumb. Kids won’t be interested for longer than that. Would like to see a discount for (BC) locals and charge the tourists a little more.
    – Better signage or docents on-hand. I didn’t go there to read a brochure with tiny text.
    – How do they heat the place? If it’s ‘green’ it would be great to promote that more. If it’s not, it should be.
    – no love for Bucky Fuller? Would like to see info about the unusual bldg and its origins, perhaps some mention of other domes in Canada (Montreal, Far North, etc)

    Conclusion (Dad POV only):
    A facility with lots of potential, but dated in its presentation of materials. Needs a reboot to attract a younger demographic. A stronger emphasis on topics such as ecology, the importance of biodiversity, and guided tours would be a great start.

    There are companies in Vancouver that could buy the Bloedel some time by coming with the quarter million necessary… and it would probably barely make a dent in their discretionary spending. They dodged a bullet when Council gave them a good deal on taxes… isn’t this the part where they ‘pass on the savings’ or the fun and profits trickles down?

  • Westender

    I have noted in the past my support for a modest increase in taxes to preserve our civic facilities, even those I don’t use. I think more could be done to market and interpret the Bloedel and perhaps the current controversy will be a growth opportunity, rather than (as it currently appears) a death knell.
    I do have some concerns with the idea that ad-hoc community groups are somehow supposed to come together to save the day. While I agree it can be surprising to see the way members of a community “gel” behind issues like this, it’s important to recognize the hundreds and thousands of hours of personal volunteer time that end up being expended. The contributions of these volunteers are sometimes necessary due to less than careful analysis on the part of the powers that be, resulting in the need for the community to issue a wake-up call. Creating anxiety and exhausting limited volunteer resources should not be considered a normal part of the decision-making process when this could be avoided through research, analysis, vision (small “v”), and consultation.

  • david hadaway

    The link to Mr Mackinnon’s site is below. One wonders why the Bloedel and Farmyard were targeted when they are actually the cheapest subsidized amenities.

    Nerd note; The Bloedel is a triodetic dome, not geodetic like Science World. Its structural members are continuous across its surface with triangular interstices. A geodetic dome is based on pentagons surrounded by hexagons, although these may be subdivided into triangles just to confuse things. However the structural lines remain discontinuous and, to me, less elegant.

    A similar dome in concrete ( although with lozenge shaped interstices due to the absence of horizontal members ) is the Palazzetto dello Sport in Rome, by Pier Luigi Nervi. It’s strange to think that their beautiful and revered building was a legacy of the 1960 Olympics whereas ours is a victim of the 2010 games.

    How times change.

  • As Frances notes, she and her media colleagues were all slow off the mark to recognize the importance of the Conservatory to the community. But credit is due to NPA Park Board Comissioner Ian Robertson who has championed the issue from Day One, and came up with alternative sources of funding to keep the Conservatory open from the very first meeting at which Vision announced the closure.

    He is also a champion of maintaining the 2.75 acres per 1000 residents for all new developments, a standard that has cost developers millions of dollars through administrations of all political parties until Vision took over city council.

    They should immediately recommit to the 2.75 acres per 1000 residents if they are serious about allowing the most dense development in Vancouver’s history in NE False Creek.

  • MB

    The Bloedel Conservatory is a gem, and it doesn’t need a formulaic and rather arbitrary one-size-fits-all measuring stick for planners to conceptualize, build and preserve.