The Fraserlands neighbourhood in southeast Vancouver is truly a hidden gem. River front 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 Drive all the way to Kerr Street. 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—three to four 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 recently 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 guerrilla 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.
Stuart Mackinnon was park board commissioner from 2008-2011 representing the Green Party. He blogs about parks and public spaces at betterparks.org.