Community garden debate grows deeper

Two weeks ago, I was talking to the operators of Kale Corner about their experience with the City of Victoria as they fought to save the Capital’s newest community garden.

Two weeks ago, I was talking to the operators of Kale Corner about their experience with the City of Victoria as they fought to save the Capital’s newest community garden.

Born over three frantic days of negotiations between Chris Fretwell, Zoe Mager and the city, Kale Corner was ultimately saved and we all moved on to bigger and better things.

Or so we thought.

Last week, the folks at Haultain Commons (one of the Capital’s established boulevard gardens) attempted to set up a community living room out of a stump left by city crews the day before, only to find it gone the following morning.

At first glance, it would appear that everyone is in agreement about boulevard gardens. The city’s concerns — expressed through Kate Friars of the Parks Department — amount to public safety, access to utilities and public space and public liability. Pretty straightforward.

Friars’ concerns are echoed by urban gardeners.

“Public safety is an important concern for responsible citizens,” says Rainey Hopewell of Haultain Commons. “[Boulevard gardeners] don’t want to hurt anyone, we want to do the right thing, and we want to move forward.”

Right, who can argue with safety. And public access?

“[Kale Corner is] a common garden. We expect that anyone who wants to harvest food is going to do that,” says Chris Fretwell.

“I think if you’re growing it on public land it belongs to everybody,” agrees Hopewell.

Still no issues.

Friars’ final point is where things get heavy. She points out that while fixtures like raised beds and stump living rooms do offer a potential improvement to community space, when one person trips over another’s community initiative it’s the city — not the gardener — who gets the bill. Urban gardeners, on the other hand, seem to take a more walk-at-your-own-risk approach.

Ultimately, this seems like a clash between two ways of doing things. Spontaneous, creative people on both sides work for what they think is best while the careful, plodding rules remind them of the risks inherent in, well, everything.

Being unable to stop people from running to a lawyer after every stubbed toe, we are left with this sort of vague wait-and-see situation. Fortunately, legislation often follows the lead of folks who are willing to bend the rules. M

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