This is the second in a series written by Daniel Sax, edited by Karen Ageson. See Part 1.
The land on which Fo57 sits is part of a 25-acre plot previously owned by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and currently under development by the Onni Group (Onni). The site has been home to the George Pearson Center (GPC) and Dogwood Lodge residents since 1952. The Pearson Dogwood redevelopment will dramatically change the landscape as the site becomes dominated by luxury condos and high-end retail. When considering this transition, I was particularly interested in how the integration of the proposed 1-acre urban farm contributes to this pattern of change and its potential to alter relationships to place through processes of “green gentrification.”
Photo credit: Daniel Sax. A view of the Farmers on 57th Market Garden’s Main Field between Wards 1 and 3 of George Pearson Centre. Heritage apple tree orchard on the left, planted by volunteers in 2009 to help establish the GPC resident’s therapeutic gardens.
Typically, large-scale redevelopments — those impacting land parcels greater than 8000 m2 — occur in three phases: a policy statement, a rezoning application and phased development permit approvals. These steps ensure that projects occur in a measured and methodical fashion, transitioning from broad land-use decisions towards the finer detail of on-the-ground construction. Public engagement on the Pearson Dogwood policy statement began in 2013 with the site receiving Vancouver City Council’s approval for rezoning in July of 2017.
When work on the policy statement for Pearson Dogwood began in 2013, VCH administrators sought to ensure that development priorities aligned with the needs of communities both within and surrounding the site. Working with a consultant VCH convened a community advisory group including neighbours, George Pearson Centre residents and Fo57 to help shape the priorities and design of the project. A difficult exercise in self-advocacy but aided by strong support from GPC residents and administrators, Fo57 leadership defended the farm as an essential element of the site. A 1-acre urban farm was eventually integrated into the Pearson Dogwood rezoning application approved by Vancouver City Council (see Pearson Dogwood Policy Statement and Rezoning Document). The consultation process that led to this decision was unprecedented and represented a significant departure from typical consultation practices in which pre-determined site plans are presented to and voted on by the public. Instead local stakeholders including Fo57 were able to have influence over the initial site design for Cambie Gardens.
This appeared to be a significant win for Fo57 in the struggle to secure land tenure, but there remain hurdles to navigate as the rezoning process transitions to development permitting and construction. When will the new farm site be built? Will the existing farm be able to remain in place until the new farm is built? Will the existing operators be involved in the design and implementation of the new farm site? Who will build, pay for and operate the new farm?
During the 2018 growing season it became clear that Fo57 had to move the farm from the eastern lawns to the western lawns of GPC to get out of the way of construction. Although farm leadership and volunteers successfully negotiated an interim farm location with VCH, GPC and Onni, and they were able to secure funds to re-install farm infrastructure and establish the current site, the Pearson Dogwood redevelopment continues to be a source of uncertainty.
One challenge is the lack of consistency and accountability among VCH, Onni and the various design consultants working on the Pearson Dogwood project. Fo57 leadership prioritized strong relationships between the farm and developers. The farm achieved this goal early in the redevelopment process and played an essential role in shaping the high-level design of the new 1-acre farm. However, as the project has progressed Onni, VCH and the City of Vancouver have introduced novel actors to help shape and implement the project. Although this is common practice for large-scale redevelopments it erodes the personal relationships that farm leadership were able to forge with development staff. Impactful advocates have ceased their involvement in the project. As a result Fo57 leadership has had to continually adapt their approach and messaging to meet the expectations of novel development stakeholders.
It remains uncertain what role Fo57 will have within the Pearson Dogwood redevelopment going forward and to what extent the farm can count on Onni, VCH and GPC for support. This situation is further complicated by the introduction of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation as a project stakeholder. In a last-minute decision following approval of the rezoning application the City of Vancouver decided Parks Board would adopt the planning, design, and development of the new 1-acre farm. Parks Board is responsible for identifying a non-profit organization to manage and operate the farm under Parks Board supervision.
To date, there has been little interaction between Parks Board and Fo57. As the phased construction marches on, Parks Board waits to receive the 1-acre land parcel before it begins to design its first ever farm. Fo57 leadership has been put in a position where it must find ways to adjust its farming practice and advocacy to accommodate the Park Board’s as yet unarticulated vision for the Cambie Gardens farm and prove itself as a strong contender to manage the future site.
These challenges and uncertainties are familiar power dynamics within “green gentrification” wherein Fo57 is beholden to the expectations of institutional partners with no guarantee of long-term support or land tenure. Whereas for VCH, Onni, the City of Vancouver and Parks Board the Cambie Gardens farm represents a unique challenge in site planning and sustainable development, the Fo57 community relies on the farm for both their livelihoods and connection to place.
In my next and final blog post, I consider what the future of the Pearson Dogwood project and Fo57 may look like. I’ll offer thoughts on how Onni, VCH, the City of Vancouver and Parks Board can improve their processes to respectfully and meaningfully involve participation of the Fo57 community. The farm community, the people who built and are connected to that place, is the reason the farm is there at all.