A crappy way to treat a neighbourhood

A former park commissioner watches a waterfront park lose its lustre

The Fraserlands neighbourhood in southeast Vancouver is truly a hidden gem. Riverfront pathways meander along the Fraser and awesome bike paths make access to the outdoors very easy. The neighbourliness is something I have not experienced anywhere else in the city. This camaraderie might be due to the accessibility of outdoor activities, so that one tends to see more of their neighbours.

When I moved here the City, through the Park Board, had a dedicated gardener for Riverfront Park—a green space extending along the Fraser from the foot of Victoria Dr. all the way to Kerr St. The paths, verges, lawns and fields were well maintained and the gardens bloomed throughout the summer with a riot of colour. Picnickers and sports enthusiasts flocked here year round. Along the bike path, which runs the length of the railroad tracks, the grass was trimmed and the shrubs were pruned regularly – 3 to 4 times per season – making this a model neighbourhood.

This all changed with the election of a Vision Vancouver majority to both City Hall and the Park Board. Since Vision was elected in 2008 they have cut the parks maintenance budget every year. In my neighbourhood this has meant that the dedicated gardener has vanished, the gardens are neglected and the lawns and fields have been cut fewer times. The picnic area is often covered in litter and the garbage cans overflow. Along the boulevards and verges the grass and shrubs have not be maintained at all. This has resulted in a sharp increase in the amount of litter and even household garbage piling up.

When the City no longer takes pride in its property, people tend to disrespect it as well. Several times I have seen individuals urinating on the verges and in the park, and this morning I saw someone defecating along the bike path—simply because he thought he could not be seen hidden by the uncut grass. A few years ago the Park Board talked about closing washrooms—seems some people thought they had.

I called 3-1-1 (thanks Sam!) and was told a Streets crew would come out within the next week to ‘take a look’, but I really don’t think it should take someone defecating in front of my home to get the city to clean up its land. Some of my neighbours are so disgusted by the lack of maintenance that they have started guerilla gardens—a move I applaud. A motion I brought to the Board last term allows them to do this, but unless they are granted approval from the City they run the risk of losing their flower beds.

I have always encouraged people to help keep their neighbourhoods clean. I have participated in neighbourhood and beach clean-ups and I have supported neighbourhood gardens. However, if the City doesn’t do its part in keeping neighbourhoods clean, trim, and safe, neighbourhoods will continue deteriorate. Then citizens will become increasingly alienated from each other and our gorgeous city will lose its charm and beauty. It’s time the city made neighbourhoods a priority. We pay taxes for a safe, clean and beautiful city, let’s spend them to keep Vancouver a livable city.

– post by Stuart Mackinnon

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  • well said Stuart. How long will it take before Vision’s m’wild look’ starts an urban wild fire in the underbrush?

  • Terry M

    Kudos Stuart!
    Again as if there was any need to say it, the clowns are in, all the good people are spectators. What was that slogan by Glissy where all the people of Vancouver were stupid enough to vote the Vision circus in? 🙂

  • Kitty

    A developer will one day buy this land and make it a wanted place to live just like the Olympic Village.

  • Dave Pasin

    Good article Stuart.
    Unfortnately, a drive around the City reveals too many similar situations to list. The Boulevards on Cambie are typical with GIANT mushrooms that I noticed a couple of people were picking last week. (oohh the colours they must be seeing now interspersed with severe cases of the “munchies”!!!)

    We both campiagned against this kind of short sightedness last year and we received much support for this issue. Unfortunately, the majority of voters didn’t seem to vote for those who cared about the maintenance of the City, our Parks or Community Centres.

    We are all reeping what we sew. Dishevelled poorly maintained parks, chock of full weeds choking out gardens, grafitti galore, playing fields with potholes with sand substituting for grass, childrens play areas overgrown with 1′ high grass, garbage cans overflowing with rats and other vermin attracted to the areas by the garbage and neglect, washrooms that would be considered horrid in a 4th world country, city boulevards that are home to giant mushrooms and even bigger weeds, planters on bike lanes that are the repository of cigarette butts, potato chips bags and even more weeds and dead plants.

    Is it any wonder that the lack of respect to City property is increasing?

    Recent travels have led me to observe that some of the worst rustbelt cities in the US like Detroit, Toldeo and even Cleveland are neater and far more litter free, and, … even gasp!!! the dreaded Toronto are cleaner than our supposedly enviro friendly, yoga wear fancying outpost is here on the West Coast.

    The “meadow” look is quickly become yet another misnomer for starving maintenance budgets to the detriment of the entire City. More short term thinking that will lead to far more long term loss and cost.

  • teririch

    Neglect is rampant in this City. I walk the Burrard Street Bridge to and from work and to see the growing deterioration makes me sad.

    This Mayor and City is so focused on bike lanes, they seem to not notice or care that everything else is falling apart.

  • Julia

    There is a little show garden at the north end of the Oak Street Bridge that welcomes people to Vancouver. The grass and weeds are 2 feet high – what a lovely welcome. If you can’t maintain it – don’t plant it!

    I witnessed a school yard with grass that was 12-18 high. It looked ridiculous and no doubt hid endless hazards to young kids who regularly play there. 2 staff showed up in riding lawn mowers to harvest the hay. I spoke with one of them. Because it is left so long, the one day job becomes 2. How is that saving any money?

    I look at our boulevards in commercial districts that are supposed to be maintained by property owners. How can we inspire or enforce civic responsibility when the city has none itself.

    Vancouver has a tourism reputation for its british style gardens and stunning landscapes. It is too bad we are going to lose that glowing reputation because this council seems to think their other ‘council priorities’ are more important.

  • politics101

    Bet the gardens on Cortes Island are well maintained and the grass cut.

  • Christopher Richardson

    Thank you Stuart — always ‘Commissioner Mackinnon’.

    Your example is but one of a number of ‘adjustments’ to the Park Board priorities that seem to have been implemented without public consultation and conversation — and all seem to be the result of recent severe budget reductions from Vancouver City Hall.

    Other examples include various unjustified and undebated ‘efficiency’ reorganizations that are significantly impacting ‘services to the public’, staff morale and the ability of the Park Board to contribute to the ‘lack of neighbourliness or community’ that the Vancouver Foundation has recently identified as being of grave concern.

    A number of decisions were made in the last several years without any or full debate as they were ‘temporary’ but with the ‘unexpected’ budget cuts these have become permanent. I truly believe that change is worthwhile when properly researched, based upon documented experience and explained but the historic process of managing change at the PB seems to have been lost — or at least not fully communicated. One primary example is the recent twinning of community centre supervision. I firmly believe that coorperation and consistency is healthy but not at the expense of serving the public and being that neighbourhood catalyst serving to bring some dialogue and service / programming cooperation with other very worthwhile service-providers in the neighbourhood such as neighbourhood houses, childcare facilities, libraries, schools, Ys etc. The recent PB recognition of being but one of a number of providers contributing to healthy communities is going to be lost before this ‘awakening’ can provide result. Another very recent example is childcare — on one hand the PB rejection of the much sought and excellent services that are Community Centre Association offered that has ended with the hiring of Malcolm Bromley from Toronto is being undermined by other PB decisions and City processes. This may be unintended but still unfortunate.

    I firmly believe that ‘stepping back’ or making time to plan is very productive but I see examples everyday of decisions being made that lack the necessary discipline, thought and institutional memory to ensure that they are appropriate.

    In all this — staff are one’s major resource — it is essential that proper professional development, support, supervision, internal promotion and advancement and career management be available to attract, retain, motivate and encourage staff and volunteers.

    Now don’t get me started — but with the recent moves to once again acknowledge and recognize volunteers and the long-standing partnerships that have developed since the Vancouver Baord of Parks and (Public) Recreation partnered with various community association that began the neighbhourhood / community Centre building processes in the late 1940’s and 1950’s ( not the other way around ) … I am hopeful that the time, efforts and frustrations ( over the last 12 years ) can be set aside and we can finally get back to serving our neighbours and publics.

    OK now I have vented and I can get back to my real vocation.

    NOTE — my comments are my own and personal for which I take full responsibility — those of a proud former Vancouver Park and Recreation Commissioner — 1986-1990 and 1999-2002 and the current President of the Mount Pleasant Community Association and as such they have not necessarily been discussed, debated or endorsed by the MPCCA Board.

    I would love to continue this discussion but if it will take more that 20 minutes we will have to go for a walk ….

    Thank you Stuart once again.

  • Stuart

    Park Commissioner John Coupar is asking people to take pictures of the neglected parks and public spaces around town and sent them to the Park Board. Great idea! Send your photos with the location to: pbcomment@vancouver.ca

  • Brilliant

    Vision has been a disaster for the city’s parks and boulevards. Money diverted to foolishness like front yard wheatfields should go back into public spaces. Hopefully Constance Barnes will jump for an NDP nomination and there will be a chance to cut down Vision’s dominance of the board.

    • The Angry Taxpayer

      Speaking about our not-so-esteemed Park Board Commissioner:

      Is it true that Sun-Yat-Sen gardens (her place of employment) got a $3 MILLION bump from the City of Vancouver last year—for, er…marketing?

      My questions:

      1)How was that money actually used? Programs? Services? Salaries?
      2) If it went to a “marketing program”, what was the lift in visitors to the gardens?
      3) How much additional revenue did those visitors bring in?

      One of my Chinese friends tells me that the Gardens suffers from a lack of defined branding. In his words, “The Chinese think it was created for Caucasians, the Caucasians think it is (built) only for Chinese”.

      I was there several months ago. Empty and the public space (auditorium) is in no better shape that a similair space found in a high school, circa 1950. hard to imagine that any of that $3 MILLION was spent on the physical aspects of the place.

      Wow. And all that dough to an undefined space, while community centres have to continually make deep cuts in programming, service hours and staff levels.

  • Victor

    Great piece Stuart. Thank you.

    On a similar theme, I wonder if the City/PB had budgeted for the maintenance of the new Comox Bike Path – they call it a Greenway? (you can only fool some of the people, some of the time!) It’s misnomer is the laughing stock of the West End. If it wasnt’ so wasteful and such a ridiculous waste of money we would find it even more amusing)

    it is all very well to spend our hard earned dollars on minimally used infrastructure – like the now unkempt and neglected planters installed for the separated Bike Lanes, but if there is no budget to maintain them, residents not only have to live with the inconvenience but the added eyesore supplied by their elected V V Councillors.

    Also what about replanting the turf around the new English Bay Cactus Club on the beachside, where hundreds of tourists descend to admire Mayor Moonbeam’s Greenest City…..and all they find is dirt and mud. Nothing Green about that! Sheesh!

    • Terry m

      Right on Victor! Welcome to the city of symbolic crap!
      All these people did, was give themselves and their friends jobs and contracts… LOL!

    • Everyman

      If we’re speaking of mudpits don’t forget the grandaddy of them all – that in front of the Art Gallery. What a civic embarassment to have in the heart of our city.

  • Working Mom

    Thank you Stuart for a wonderful and well written article regarding our neglected neighbourhood which shows the lack of respect Vision has for our community and other communities at large.

    I think it is quite sad that there have been such severe budget cutbacks and layoffs at City Hall and Parks Board and the media have not covered this or its ramifications. It just goes to show how the media is sitting in the back pocket of Vision Vancouver and not presenting some of the serious issues regarding the running and maintenance of Vancouver.

    What I would like to know is with all these budget cutbacks, where is the money going/spending. How come there is such a need for these deep cutbacks when in the past this was not necessary?

    Why has the media not covered these cutbacks and layoff?

    A couple of years ago Vision closed down a public open air pool – without public consultation and converted it to community garden. Let’s see the rational of this: people lost their jobs and thousands of people no longer have access to a pool – which is great for exercise and family fun – and for what? So that a handful of people can have a small garden, I just don’t get it? If you want a community garden then use the unused land under the skytrain tracks or how about vacant lots that overgrown with weeds?

    I had also called 311 regarding the condition of the parks and state of the street with over-gown vegetation that can scratch cars and cyclists while causing blind spots at the intersection. I also talked about how in the park field there are no washroom facilities so people who play in the field for sports leave trash and defecate in the bushes. In the picnic area I see chicken bones and other trash lying around after some event. The grassy areas are so over-gown that it is even difficult to clean up poop after the dog!

    We have people who illegally fish along the river and leave fishhooks, fishing lines, beer cans and other junk behind.

    I have spoken to some of these people and they have told me that they have even caught sturgeon and that it tastes good! Can I say POACHING???? However, when I spoke to Park Rangers regarding all these issues they told me that there is very little communication or cooperation between the city, park board and department of fisheries so nothing can be done.

    City workers I have spoken to told me that moral has reached an all-time low and many are ashamed and frustrated at how dilapidated this wonderful city is becoming.

    I was also told that maintenance of empty lots of land is responsible by the city and they in turn bill the land owner. So when I hear of lots of land that are rat infested and full of junk, or areas that are so overgrown with weeds that is it a danger to motorists and pedestrians I wonder who is benefiting from this? I think it is funny that Vision likes to blame the land owner when it is really their responsibility for the clean-up and then they send the bill for work done. Is this the case or was I miss informed by a city worker?
    Yes Mr. Mayor who wants the greenest city is the world; you are getting us there with a green city, green with weeds and moldy junk.

    Nice Job Bud!

    • The Angry Taxpayer

      @Working Mom,

      And I was there at a Park Board all-candidates in 2008, when Constance Barnes, loudly and proudly declared that MT. PLEASANT POOL MUST BE SAVED! without exactly…er…telling us where the $$$$$$$ would be coming from to do just that.

      Unfortunately, the locals didn’t like hearing the truth from then NPA Commissioner Robertson (who was merely going to look for ways to fund the pool).

      No, the neighbourhood prefferred to buy the lies of the Vision candidates (who could, in all good conscience say that, gosh, we WANTED to save the pool! after the election—when they all knew the precarious financial position of the infrastructure). Boy, did I hear from disgruntled Vision voters about that one!

      As for the place being turned into a community garden: think of VV as a latter day Marie Antoinette:

      “Let them eat lettuce!’

  • Victor

    Oh yes, Everyman….that art gallery “browning” is disgraceful in the center of our city…..as is the other mud pit around those tacky laughing Asian men at the foot of Denman. Two sins…..tacky “art” and loss of a quiet oasis that many people formerly gathered. Used to a fun, surprising gathering park….now it is just horrible brown wood chips! That is what it is to be “green”? Who is kidding who here?

  • The Angry Taxpayer

    Stuart, We miss you there. This whole debacle, of course, due to City Hall clawing back the Park Board budget—to disastrous effect. It doesn't help that Vision Park Board Commissioners are spineless lapdogs (which would actually make them pet slugs) to the Powers that be at City Hall. [comment edited]

    • Working Mom

      Please Angry Tax Payer – don’t insult the poor Slug. Vision and their followers are a breed unto themselves! =:-)

      • Steven Forth

        Indeed we are. And proud of it.

      • waltyss

        Mom, after attacking me for being a chauvinist pinko, etc. I am truly surprised that you did not attack the Angry Taxpayer for his really truly revolting and truly sexist comments about Park Board Chair Constance Barnes. Do you know what a fluffer is, Mom? and you too, teririch.
        Oh yeah, I forgot, like you the Angry Taxpayer is on the nutty far right and anything he says you approve. Sad but true.

        • The Angry Taxpayer

          @waltysss,

          You know, what they say about “assuming” anything:

          You don’t:
          1) know my gender
          2) know my politics
          3) accept that Vison Park Board commissioners are useless, in that they don’t answer to the voters, but rather to City Hall, only (e.g. do you hear ANY ff them standing up for their budgets? No, you don’t)

          PS A “fluffer” is not a term just involved in a male-dominated industry, but rather, is now used as common slang for anyone who “smooths the way”. Mind out of the gutter, Waltyss! SO male of you.

          PS Park Board. The city blvds. and certain park areas look like shite. Perhaps, Constance, Aaron et all, can steal away from their cocktail parties, and proviincial election plans and push a push mower around a bit. That would help.

          • waltyss

            Angry:
            I couldn’t care less about whether you have a penis or not; you are still a disgusting chauvinist pig for the comment you made about Chair Barnes. To suggest as you seem to that “fluffer” is now used as “common slang” for someone who smooths the way is nonsense and the suggestion that you used it in that manner suggests only establishes that you are a cowardly liar. Reread what you wrote and even if there are two definitions (which there are not) try to convince me (or anyone) that you used the more benign definition..
            To add to your lack of qualities, you can’t spell: it’s “oleoginous”.
            Instead of hurling disgusting insults, why not try to learn to read and write.

        • Working Mom

          No waltyss I do not know what the word “fluffer” means – and I am sure it has many meanings. NO ONE should be throwing insults to each other – it is losing the integrity of this blog site with intelligent and constructive debate.

    • Steven Forth

      Thank you. Reading ‘oeliginous’ made my day.

      • The Angry Taxpayer

        Ha! Just for you, @ Steven Forth–and you are a great exception to the pontificating VVites that usually post. Very much enjoy your comments–and the fact that you are able to entertain reasonable ideas.

        @Working Mom. My apologies to all gastropods, everywhere!

  • Max

    I heard on this mornings new, Global BC, that the ‘city’ is considering selling off some of the park lands because there is no $$ for upkeep????

    • boohoo

      @Max

      Again, you panic/insinuate with knowing what you’re talking about.

      The news article is about Metro Vancouver.

      • teririch

        @boohoo:

        Global said ‘Vancouver’.

        If I am incorrect – post it up.

        • boohoo

          @teririch & Max

          http://www.globaltvbc.com/metro+vancouver+parks+under+significant+stress/6442652151/story.html

          That took about 5 seconds of googling. Seriously you guys, do some bloody looking before you shoot your mouth.

          • Stuart

            It really doesn’t matter whether it is ‘Metro’ or ‘City’, parkland, like school property, is held in the public trust for future generations. It is short-sighted in the extreme to sell off public lands as we will never be able to afford to buy them back. They were bought by our grandparents, held in trust by us, for our grandchildren and theirs. We do not have moral authority to sell them off unless we replace them with equal or better land.

  • Ned

    Vision Vancouver suck s at all levels of administration, Park Board, VSB, Council & Mayor. Yet there they are, doing all the damage to this city. Where the hell where all the Vancouver voters on voting day… were they all Lobotomized? It’s a fair question

    • Steven Forth

      Did you see what the alternative was? An NPA mayoral candidate who supported casinos, destruction of bike lanes, a dead economic policy and who was supported by some of the least attractive developers in this city. Hearing more of her views now that she is a political commentator makes me relieved she was not elected. Let’s hope there are better options in the next election.

      • The Angry Taxpayer

        @steven forth,

        We need better altneratives, of that there is no doubt.

    • waltyss

      I go on this site and am amazed at the disdain Klassen and his acolytes have for the citizens of Vancouver just because they have the temerity to disagree with the NPA and the right. I too listen to Susan Anton each week on the CBC or read Klassen and his diatribes and am grateful to the citizens of Vancouver that we did not elect her or him. If you and your followers have such a low opinion of us, Mike, why did you even run. Do you really want to lead people you and your followers so arrogantly despise.

  • Brilliant

    @Angry Taxpayer-Yup, Mt Pleasant has been screwed over by Vision more than any other neighbourhood, but you can bet its Leftie Lemming residents will blindly vote for Mayor Moonbeam next time.