Strathcona residents debate future options for Cottonwood Garden

When Vancouver City Council heard a staff report last July about the future of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts, finding ways to calm traffic hurtling off the Viaducts along Prior and Venables was a top priority. Strathcona residents, after all,  had held repeated demonstrations to insist on immediate action.

The answer seemed obvious: bring forward long-standing proposals to take traffic from the downtown core along Malkin Ave. to a future connection to Clark Drive. That suggestion triggered alarm in another part of the Strathcona Community — the Cottonwood Garden folks who have slowly turned the corner of Malkin and Raymur into a green community amenity.

Their demand to leave Cottonwood untouched flew in the face of calls from other Strathcona residents for traffic calming. City staff have since been meeting with the gardeners to find a solution, but bulldozing and paving the garden was never the objective. As I later told reporters, no one can imagine the community without Cottonwood.

But there was the fact that Cottonwood encroaches on a city right of way. Indeed, as Cottonwood founder Oliver Kellhammer makes clear in his history of the garden, he deliberately planted the first plot in the right of way as a way of ensuring the crosstown freeway — of which the Viaducts were to be a key element — was never built. (Malkin had been intended to receive traffic from the Viaducts to reduce impacts on Strathcona. This never happened either.)

Now Strathcona residents are debating a range of options on the Save Cottonwood Garden website. (See “comments” section here.) With staff scheduled to report back on the Viaducts in the New Year, a resolution may be at hand.

Here is what I have been saying to people to have been writing to me on this topic:

Thanks for your recent letter regarding the Cottonwoods garden and the proposed Malkin widening. As you are aware, I’m sure, Malkin has been part of the city’s plans to protect Strathcona from traffic for many years. Its role has been highlighted by the recent discussion regarding removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts, which have a very detrimental effect on Strathcona.
As a former Strathcona resident and part of a family that had one of the original Strathcona Community Garden plots, I am well aware of the importance of the Strathcona and Cottonwood Gardens. I am quite certain city staff will consider Cottonwood and possible impacts as they prepare their next report to council. Decisions regarding the Malkin connector, as it has been called, are some time away and it should be noted, they would not add to traffic capacity. They would replace existing capacity going through a residential neighbourhood.
I share your concern to protect the values and achievements of your organization, but I am confident we can find solutions that open up opportunities to improve the surrounding neighbourhoods, provide appropriate traffic options and make Cottonwood a permanent part of our city’s future. As long as Cottonwood is on a strategic road right-of-way, that security won’t be available.
I look forward to working with you further on this important issue, which is related to decisions that could reshape the entire area north and east of False Creek,
Yours truly,
Geoff Meggs