Published on
the Vancouver Sun

North Vancouver Considers Plan for Farms on Boulevards

UBC lab is 'trying to create something that doesn't exist anywhere else'

Kim Davis

(City of Vancouver/Green Streets)

From the Victory gardens of the last century's two world wars to the community-garden movement started in the 1970s, urban agriculture has played an important role in the security of the food supply.

Metro Vancouver is no stranger to the urban harvest. According to City Farmer, 44 per cent of Vancouver's population is involved in some form of urban agriculture.

When Vancouver city council passed a motion in 2006 to encourage the creation of 2,010 new garden plots by Jan. 1, 2010, a legacy for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, there were 950 plots in 18 gardens.

Today, there are more than 1,700 new plots in more than 40 community, or resident-shared, gardens. There are also 20 farmers' markets.

Unlike gardens grown for and by private gardeners, gardens grown for commercial purposes have historically met resistance by urban authorities and planners. Considered relics of a rural past, they were either prohibited or severely restricted.

Times are changing. Environmental degradation, dwindling oil resources and increasing concerns over urban food security are among the causes.

Locally a proposal from the University of B.C.'s Greenskins Lab to the City of North Vancouver could soon bring your local farmer to a boulevard near you.

Alex Kurnicki, a city hall staff member, has the responsibility for preparing a recommendation on the proposal for city hall. He says that while city council will have the final word, and only after receipt of public response, there is no shortage of enthusiasm for the project.

The City of North Vancouver, by council's passage of a 100-year sustainability vision, is already known, by those who would know these things, for its progressive approach to sustainable design and development.

"When the Greenskins Lab came and made a presentation to a small group of staff and councillors, they made a very compelling argument," Kurnicki says.

"This is yet another piece in the whole sustainability puzzle, one with which we could address a whole series of issues, including: Reducing our carbon footprint, providing more local food supply and security to the North Shore and providing employment."

From derelict or otherwise under-used public land, rights of way, for example, or boulevards, the Greenskins Lab proposal would create an example of a diverse, productive and esthetically pleasing urban landscape.

Among some of the innovative components of the proposal are biointensive farming, on-site energy generation and rainwater harvesting.

"The model that the Greenskins Lab created is not a community garden; it is not a farm, and it is not park," Kurnicki says. "They are trying to create something that doesn't exist anywhere else."

The public purpose of the proposal is a strong element in its champions' advocacy.

"What we can do with a boulevard is that we can create an urban farm and a social space that invites the public in to use these under-utilized spaces, especially in higher-density urban areas," says Karen Morton, a UBC sustainability-management student and Greenskins Lab volunteer.

"It is also a way of creating green jobs to support the local economy, and a way of helping people get back in touch with the growing of our food."

After seeing images of similar projects in France and China, City of North Vancouver councillors were particularly impressed by the design and esthetic considerations of the Greenskins proposal.

"It can be made to be a beautiful display garden that people can stroll [through], enjoy and have a sit, while they see people working and producing profit," says Kurnicki.

The proposal is not without its challenges. Competing interests, the need for open space, for example, and conflicts with existing covenants and regulations are some of the issues that face the project.

"The complicated part is making it fit onto the legal stuff," Kurnicki says. "It is very exciting for us; for the city and me personally.

"Planning staff will also be working with Greenskins to find a way of meshing this new era of sustainability, addressing issues such as food security, with the existing world of zoning, land title restrictions, and other public needs." As Julian Taylor, of Legacy North Shore notes, ''given all of the assets that we have as a society here [in Vancouver], we ought to be leading the world in green and sustainable living."

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