Community gardens can satisfy more than just their gardeners’ nurturing instincts for food and Nature. They add instant visual beauty and interest near
bike and pedestrian routes. After all, car drivers are usually moving too fast to encourage up close lingering and reflection on budding plants and garden art. Sample approaches of community gardens in relation to active transportation routes, will be highlighted for cities of Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.
A Bright Spot in Industrial Area by Leslie St. Spit- Along Toronto’s Waterfront Bike Route
Fifteen years ago, before community gardens became the blooming rage for growing local food and flowers, I used to cycle to work daily and pass a large community garden along Toronto’s Waterfront bike route –not far from the Leslie St. spit. At that time, this garden had a low wire fence where one could look over top to see a profusion of plants, compost piles and garden lawn chairs scattered about for resting.
Now, the Leslie St. Allotment Community Gardens are protected by higher secure fencing. But these gardens still thrive in the same location. They have expanded and matured with some lawn grass rows and ever-thickening
bushes. Most likely, the choice location wasn’t because of the bike path location. It was the reality, that sometimes people could drive and stop briefly to unload soil and other gardening tools. Besides, the location was on a convenient plot of public land across from a light industrial area that continues to have flotillas of trucks rumbling on the road. Thank goodness for a marked bike and walking route. Without the Leslie St. allotment gardens and signed pathway, this area would be dull, bleak and an area to avoid.
Vancouver’s Spirited Reclaimation of Abandoned or Underused Land
Some Vancouver community gardens display creative reclamation of abandoned public right of ways and other underused land plots, such as traffic calming circles. Just a 5-minute walk from the Granville Public Market, lst Ave. near Fir St., are recent new community gardens lining the abandoned Molson branch rail line from the Arbutus Corridor, another abandoned rail line.
The gardens line a well used bike route that feeds to and from the popular Burrard St. Bridge separated bike lanes that are 2 blocks away. The Burrard Bridge separated bike lanes have a daily average of 5,300 cyclists. (2011)
You can’t help but stop by to marvel bright red poppies, miniature tongue-in-cheek, homemade transmission line art and jewel-coloured floral annuals dotting decorative grasses, ground cover plants and some veggies, including tomatoes. It’s a brave garden: it has no fencing –yet. There’s even an arbour built right by the rail crossing sign. Certainly cyclists have to slow down anyway to look, in order to angle their wheels safely across the rail line.
After cycling another 10 minutes north on the separated bike lane via the Burrard St. Bridge, you will reach the Davie Village garden.
This community garden is planted right in the heart of downtown Vancouver, at a street corner thronging with people, car traffic, buses and bikes during the day. The garden has overtaken land where there was once a gas station. The land was specially prepared to contain soil contamination for gardening on top. There, sunflowers rise like smiling, calm faces to greet the harried crowds and traffic.
The City of Vancouver had only discovered within the last few years, that its cycling network had some major routes close to a wide range of community gardens. Here are maps that combine its bike routes and community gardens.
Bright Spots in Calgary– A Prairie City
Calgary has less of a lengthy history and number of community gardens. People tell me it’s the shorter warm growing season since it is over 400 km. north or 8
degrees latitude north of Toronto. While Vancouver has over 2,500 community garden plots, Calgary has 30 community gardens with over 115 garden plot allotments.
So the expectation to find many of Calgary’s community gardens near its signed bike routes and paths, is a bit premature at this time. The most obvious community garden would be a large full community garden behind Fort Calgary along the heavily used Bow River bike path in the downtown core. If it
weren’t for the occasional concert and staging area for annual Calgary Stampede, this flat prairie parkland is otherwise underused. The community garden is a bright spot under the blazing hot, naked sun.
As you continue along the path and near the heritage Simmons Bedding Factory which now house architectural offices, there are temporary community gardens in the rising, rehabilitated East Village area. The gardens pop cheerfully and humbly amongst the construction flurry of condos, a new Central Library and more.
Community gardens and bike-pedestrian routes, if well-positioned and integrated into community design, enhance neighbourhood property values, health of its residents, and promote conviviality among people in shared outdoor activities.
Further Reading and More Photos of Other Community Gardens
Calgary Horticultural Society. Community Gardens. List provided with links.
Chong, Jean. People’s Oases: Community Gardens. In Cycle Write Blog. Apr. 9, 2010.
Chong, Jean. Touring Vancouver’s Community Gardens Along its Bike Route. In Velo-city Global 2012 Conference Blog. Apr. 15, 2011. Includes community gardens on front lawn of Vancouver City Hall.
City of Vancouver. Community Garden Walking and Cycling Tours. Includes maps.
Toronto Community Garden Network. Community Gardens in Toronto and GTA. For unknown reasons, Leslie St. Allotment Gardens are not on this list.