For the next few weeks I plan on getting up into the blogosphere more frequently to talk about what I'm hearing on the street and on the doorsteps of Victoria. My website at www.johnluton.ca will be updated soon, and I've got a couple of videos up on youtube where I have had the chance to highlight a couple of key issues.
Here's one on housing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pay5RMiQthQ
And one on jobs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb4TrPjRKQY&feature=related
I'll be talking more about other key issues, but here on the blog, I'll scatter some thoughts around about some of the things I've encountered around Victoria. It isn't planned to cover the most important issues first or last, just more of a report on some, sometimes surprising themes that are showing up in the community.
Yesterday in the Oaklands neighbourhood, apart from issues of taxes (always an issue and we get good value for our taxes here), there was a good reception, but I did have a couple of people talking about boulevards and green space. Not top of mind for most perhaps, but there are a couple of good examples in their neighbourhood of residents taking control of city boulevard space in front of their houses to grow food or flowers and make something more aesthetic or more productive of space we haven't always been taking good care of.
We're in the middle of doing a "boulevard review". It's coming none too soon. Numbers of neighbourhoods have decided they want to take care of their own space, though the city still manages acres of grass separating the street from the sidewalk. It's important to me, and to many of our residents, that we protect and enhance our urban forest, and many of our street trees live in the boulevards. We've taken a more forward looking approach, widening out some of the boulevards to give some of those trees a little more room to grow and we're also mixing up species to ensure streets and the urban forest remain as healthy as they can. Too often in the past, single tree species have been planted along our city streets and there have been cases where a disease outbreak has wiped out entire blocks of trees and left neighbourhoods a little barren. It's not only a loss of the trees that are a worry, but also the impact this has on things like stormwater management, traffic calming, habitat integrity or heat island effects. The urban forest is an incredibly important and valuable asset.
The urban forest is also a concern as we try to adapt to the impacts of climate change. I'm always asking our parks department about their choices of species and they are working to ensure that the trees we plant now will adpat to the shifting climate zones we are facing not matter how much we do to slow global warming. The effects will be felt for years to come and the trees we plant now will have to live for the next 100 years with the impacts of industrialization that have happened over the last 100 years.
Another emerging trend in urban boulevard management is all about food security and pride of stewardship. Food security is a big issue for many in our community and Victoria has a growing community market culture, many residents doing their own backyard farming, and more who are looking to use the boulevards in front of their homes to grow something other than the latest golf green.
At the city, we'll be mindful of making sure that where we turn over the boulevards to residents, that we can redeploy our workforce elsewhere in our parks system, or if we can manage within our constrained budgets, using some of those used to just cutting the grass to work with residents on their ornamental or food gardens. It would be a great way to get more from our public spaces and help keep jobs in the city.
We also have to be mindful of what we grow in the boulevards we may turn over to residents. We don't want to plant nut trees if they have the potential to cause problems for children with allergies. We also want to make sure that food grown in boulevards is well tended and harvested to ensure we don't create rodent problems, spread root systems into sidewalks or underground utilities (sewer, water, phone lines etc.) and we should be careful to ensure fruits and vegetables left untended don't spill out and rot on the road where they can turn into a slippery mess that creates a hazard for cyclists, or for pedestrians on the sidewalk.
Never thought there would be so many issues associated with the urban farming movement, but boulevards can be pretty small and the city is not the same as the countryside. There will be issues to deal with. Still, it's an appetizing opportunity that many cities are taking advantage of, and Victoria needs to get on board.
We've got some examples already of people taking on their boulevards and we're leaving many of them alone while we work through the review. One fantastic example is in the Oaklands neighbourhood where we were door knocking (one of my council colleagues got the door where on resident has created her own farm on the boulevard in front of her house), and I heard from a couple of others concerns about managing the boulevards or other small greenspaces in the neighbourhood. They were most concerned that the grass, or the weeds, were often left uncontrolled and looking too tired or creating other problems. An small corner greenspace became a dumping ground for neighbourhood junk when some found it easy to hide their garbage in the tall grasses and dandelions that were taking over the space.
Our boulevard review will take some time and I'm looking forward to "digging in" on the issue. It's important to me that we try and be creative around the management of our greenspaces and our urban forest. Boulevard gardens are a way of partnering with our residents to take care of our city and bring some ideas from other cities into our urban fabric. It's about sustainability and it's just one of the issues I expect to be hearing on the campaign trail.
Today's picture is from Portland, where residents are taking over entire intersections to create not just gardens but attractive community spaces for all to enjoy.