Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces

By Jill Glover

March 11, 2014 at 7:30 AM

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Protecting Vancouver’s greenspace – some thoughts on the idea of a ‘no net loss’ policy

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Sometime on the morning of March 11th, perhaps as you were heading outside to sit on a bench with your morning coffee, Vancouver City Council were discussing a motion entitled “Protecting Vancouver’s Public Greenspace.” As we noted last week, if passed, this motion would direct City staff to develop a policy of no net loss of public green space. (There are other provisions in the motion around increasing greenspace setting biodiversity targets as well). 

What ‘no net loss’ idea means, in general, is that whenever there is a loss of greenspace in a park or school board site, it would have to be replaced. Of course, as we note below, it’s the specific details where things start to get tricky — and we have identified a few items that we feel are worth thinking about if this motion gets the go-ahead.

To that end, we sent off a letter to offer our support – just as we did almost seven years ago when it was first proposed by former Park Board Commissioner Spencer Herbert. Here’s an excerpt:

…The idea of developing a ‘no net loss’ policy has considerable merit. The VPSN first wrote to the City in support of a similar motion in November 2007. We commend the City for revisiting this issue.

We note that the idea of a no net loss policy has some technical and implementation-related questions that will need to be looked at closely. We would like to use this opportunity to share some considerations in advance of any policy or strategy development.

  • Clarifying ‘no net loss’ – Greenspace can be reduced in two ways: (1) through a reduction in the number of hectares of designated greenspace (e.g. through the expansion of a park building or installation of a parking lot – assuming that these are not part of the original ‘net total’); and (2) through the potential reduction in available park space per capita, as the population of the city grows. The VPSN supports measures to mitigate both of these forms of reduction.
  • Greenspace vs open space – Some additional clarity should be considered around the loss of greenspace versus open-space, as these terms are overlapping, but not synonymous. If a park is redesigned and has an increased amount of hard-surfacing introduced – i.e. a plaza – does that count as loss of greenspace? Similarly, if a public gathering area/plaza without any real landscaping is reduced, could that trigger the provisions of this motion?
  • Quality and quantity – While this motion focuses on the idea of quantitative reductions in greenspace, we would suggest that improvements in quality may be as important, if not more important than quantitative improvements. Stated another way, merely ensuring that ‘lost’ greenspace is replaced doesn’t necessarily guarantee a public or environmental benefit is derived.We understand also that, in at least two of the community plan consultations (Marpole and Grandview-Woodland), strong preferences were expressed for qualitative improvements to existing parks.Given that a no-net loss policy will require some funding mechanism for parkland acquisition, this raises the question – would at least a portion of that money be better spent improving under-performing spaces before acquiring new space elsewhere. We offer this as food for thought.
  • Locational considerations – In general, the VPSN supports a ‘no net loss’ approach that ties any ‘replacement greenspace’ to the neighbourhood/local area in which ‘the loss’ takes place. However, we note that the motion raises a question of equity: what if there is a net loss in greenspace in a neighbourhood that is particularly park rich? Is it appropriate to shift the public benefit to an area of the city that is park deficient? Again, something to think about in the course of developing a strategy around this. Either way, we recommend that the City be clear on this issue.
  • Funding ‘no net loss’ replacement greenspace – The City’s parkland acquisition budget is not particularly large. Furthermore, the Parks Board already has a number of laudable park acquisition priorities: focused on ensuring waterfront access, increasing parkland in park-deficient neighbourhoods and supporting the acquisition of park space to meet the Greenest City 5-minute ‘Access to Nature’ goal. We would not want to see this already-limited budget further stretched to support the no-net loss goal. To that end, we favour the apportioning of additional funds from the annual City budget to support this motion.

Again, these comments are intended – pending approval of this motion – to strengthen any future work around a no-net of greenspace policy. We would like to further note our support for the other provisions of the motion that deal with the potential to expand greenspace and, also, to set biodiversity targets in the city.

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