The Off Bank Community Garden: Partnership pays off for developers and residents

IMG_5828-e1503354360661-560x385The Off Bank Community Garden, one building space east of Bank on Nepean, formally opened on June 4, after several phases of initial development starting in July 2016.

Members of the Trees and Greenspace Committee (T&G) of the Centretown Citizens Community Association (CCCA), and several of the gardeners, were joined by Kevin Yemm, vice president of land development for the Richcraft Group, and Councillor Catherine McKenney.

While the event was small, and included more work than partying, there was much enthusiasm and high hopes for success.

In the past, citizens and developers have not always got along smoothly regarding urban change and development. The start of a new community garden project in the busy heart of Centretown is a sign of hope that these relations can be greatly improved.

This project grew out of the search for opportunities to enrich our downtown, particularly through further greening of the neighbourhood and asking the questions: Can this be done? And how can we go about achieving it together?

It was noticed that many inner city properties can remain vacant for several years before they get redeveloped. The properties and any buildings on them soon fall into decline in appearance and safety. By temporarily putting the property to some other use, we can help maintain, beautify, protect and make the property safe, as well as serving certain public needs (e.g., additional park, garden or other public spaces for the community).

Councillor McKenney played an important role in helping connect the parties involved, including City of Ottawa services and staff.

McKenney said, “This is the first example in the ward where we’ve worked with a developer who asked to demolish an existing building. Normally what happens is that we ask what is to replace it. Nothing was going to [for a few years in this case]. Kevin and I spoke, and after a couple of conversations, he agreed quite graciously to allow us to turn this [property] over to the community until it is reused again for development. The great thing is this this brings developers like Kevin and the community together, to really understand the needs of the community and to work together. It’s a win–win for everyone.”

Yemm, now feeling more part of the community, commented, “This makes me very happy because I love to garden as well. So I’m happy that people who don’t have a yard can use this as their yard.” He has his own garden at home and does “anything from vegetable gardening to perennials and annuals.”

Tom Whillans, CCCA president and chair of T&G, is managing this project, with the committee supplying guidance and backup support. Rules and regulations were drawn up for the use and protection of the property based on the experience of several gardening groups in the city. By the end of this season, the gardening group will set up its own continuing management team.

In April, a lottery was held to select gardeners from the pool of those showing interest and living near the site. Twenty-four plots were assigned. Fortunately, all those highly interested were able to get a plot. T&G holds two spots and an extra one will hopefully be used for growing crops that can be shared with the neighbourhood. There is a waiting list of people from outside the immediate area, should any of the plots become vacant.

Gardening was planned to start at the beginning of May, but because of heavy rains and the extensive weeding required, this was delayed by a couple of weeks. At the time of the opening, 16 plots were already in full operation. Shortly afterwards, the other plots came into use. The gardens appear very healthy and productive.

A garden shed stands at the back of the property and a composting area is being developed. Part of the site has also proved useful as a place to store plants which eventually went to the plant sale at Minto Park on June 10, and plants that were given to support other parks, gardens and greenspaces in Centretown, such as the McNabb Garden and the children’s garden at Dundonald Park.

The Minto Park sale raised a significant amount of money that will go back into supporting further greenspace developments and tree planting.

It is our hope that this greening initiative (and others such as the Dalhousie Community Garden, profiled in the June 17, 2017 issue of The BUZZ) will give stimulus to other such developments. It further serves as our contribution to Canada’s 150th anniversary and Ottawa’s 2017 special celebrations.

Article also available on The Buzz website here.