Greater Vancouver’s regional authority manages 138 square kilometres of parks and protected zones, an area 30 per cent bigger than the City of Paris. Staff put the number of park visits in 2012 at 10 million. The regional land inventory includes key sites across the region — Pacific Spirit (adjacent to UBC), Burnaby Lake, Lynn Headwaters, Campbell Valley — as well as a growing number of cycling and pedestrian greenways.
Despite all this, the proposed restructuring or dismantling of the regional parks system has attracted little attention beyond a couple of news articles in April, 2013. As the Metro Vancouver Board launched a parks services review, reporter Jeff Nagel quoted prominent mayors as suggesting that the region and municipalities are duplicating each other’s efforts.
“It just doesn’t make sense to have three different land agencies monitoring the same trail within 300 metres,” North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton said at an April 18 Metro committee. (Actually, as many as seven agencies could be monitoring the hypothetical trail, if the Province, the Port and First Nations get nosy; so it goes in Fraseropolis.)
This past weekend, I asked the mayor of my home community of Maple Ridge for his thoughts. Ernie Daykin said the parks review notion started with Mayor Derek Corrigan of the City of Burnaby. “It was three or four years ago, and the regional Board decided we didn’t want to pay for the dredging of Burnaby Lake. Since then, he’s been saying he wants to dredge the lake himself, and stop paying for parks outside of his own municipality.”
Mr. Daykin said that if regional parks responsibilities are parcelled out to local governments, small and mid-sized municipalities could take on disproportionate costs. For example, Maple Ridge might inherit the extensive Kanaka Creek park and trail network. He said the annual cost of maintaining regional parks is $25 per household, a small price to pay for the integrity of shared parks and protected areas.
The challenge for Greater Vancouver parks, as with any regional government service in Fraseropolis, is that there is no champion for the system as a whole. Responsibility for making the system work rests with Metro officials trying to follow the direction of a part-time board.
The current service review is supposed to result in draft recommendations this summer, with decisions by the Metro Board in the fall. The minutes from the Board’s Intergovernmental and Administration Committee of April 13 (E 2.1) outline the following requirements:
a. validation of the Regional Parks function expressed through an examination of different operating models or options;
b. confirmation/refinement of the strategic direction for Regional Parks and the steps necessary to align policies, programs, priority actions and funding with this direction;
c. definition of Regional Parks acquisition program reflecting the strategic direction including funding commitments, confirmed park deficiencies, and selection criteria;
d. a realigned and rationalized plan for Operations, Capital Maintenance and Replacement,and Basic Facilities expressed through an updated 10 year Capital Plan reflecting the strategic direction; and
e. a review of governance structure of Regional Parks which will include geographic scope.
In other words, everything in Metro Vancouver’s parks system is up for grabs. Given the absence of public discussion around these issues, the apathy of the news media, and the mysterious balance of forces among the region’s local governments, it is hard to predict what may happen.