Gardeners fear their paradise will be paved

Strathcona-area gardeners are worried the potential demolition of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts would see their paradise paved so that Prior Street doesn't become gridlocked like a parking lot.

Potential plans to remove the viaducts have brought new urgency to plans to extend Malkin Avenue over the train tracks to Clark Drive to help prevent Prior Street from getting clogged with traffic.

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But 40 per cent of the 21-year-old Cottonwood Community Garden was planted by volunteers on the Malkin Avenue right-of-way after that freeway that was stopped by citizens in the 1970s.

"This right-of-way is 12 lanes wide and part of Cottonwood Garden, Strathcona Garden and Strathcona Park have all been developed on this unused right-of-way," reads an information sheet prepared by Cottonwood gardeners.

"It would be excellent to traffic calm Prior, but you don't destroy two of the oldest and largest community gardens in Vancouver, and they're not just community gardens," said Jill Weiss, co-vice president of the Strathcona Community Gardeners Society and a stakeholder in the city's 2040 transportation plan. "At Strathcona they have the largest collection of heirloom apple trees in B.C., we think. And at Cottonwood, we have many, many trees and perennials that are not anywhere else is Canada. It was planned and planted by a famous permaculturist who grew a lot of the rare plants from seed. VanDusen [Botanical Garden] doesn't have some of the plants we have. It's an incredible pollinator and wildlife habitat and bird habitat."

Weiss noted Cottonwood includes a memorial garden planted by the families of women murdered by Robert Pickton.

When herbal medicine student Vanessa Prescott learned the gardens are at risk of being replaced with tarmac, she not only signed and circulated a petition to save Cottonwood Community Garden but also started shooting her first short documentary video. Interviewees include gardeners and NDP MP Libby Davies. Prescott plans to post the video on YouTube and Vimeo in a month.

Weiss said Cottonwood gardeners and representatives of the Environmental Youth Alliance, which brings 1,000 at-risk youth to Cottonwood each year, met with city staff nearly three weeks ago to discuss options to retain the garden.

"Although they are saying that they're just looking at all the options, they were clearly very, very attached to the idea of widening Malkin," Weiss said.

Viaduct removal proponent and Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs said staff is to report to council in January or February.

Meggs doesn't want to see removing the viaducts to create other benefits or preserving Cottonwood cast as an either/or choice.

"This has been a 40-year risk which we now have to wrestle with but I personally don't think there will be a future for the area without Cottonwood," he said. ". This discussion about Malkin was going to occur with or without the viaducts because the False Creek Flats planning is advancing as well."

But Weiss said Cottonwood couldn't be easily replicated.

"It would be different if it was just a community garden with plots," Weiss said. "It's a plant diversity ecosystem and it can't be replaced."

The city didn't provide a traffic engineering spokesperson by the Courier's press deadline. crossi@vancourier.com Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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