There are a lot of obstacles to getting out and transforming our communities. Knocking on a stranger’s door to invite them to participate in a placemaking activity is by far one of the most significant barriers to placemaking.
It takes a lot of courage to become a community builder! But without this first step, a vicious cycle can then ensue, where a lack of community becomes self-fulfilling.
Cost can also be a major barrier – paint for a street mural or materials for a garden are not cheap. Similarly, time can also be a factor – not everyone has the time needed to set up a community gathering or build and maintain a little free library. To promote placemaking, we should, therefore, endeavour to remove as many of these barriers as possible.
Rather than working with members of the community to promote placemaking, cities sometimes put up barriers to those seeking to transform the communities in with they live. These barriers can be erected intentionally, but all too often they are unforeseen collateral arising from efforts to tackle other problems. As placemakers, we should always be vigilant and work to remove barriers where possible. Workshops can be used to empower people with the knowledge and confidence to initiate projects in their neighbourhoods. Working together, neighbours can pool their resources to make any project possible. Small community grants, like those provided by My Great Neighbourhood Grants or Resilient Streets, remove cost barriers, and the support of neighbourhood coordinators can help people get projects to completion.
This week just such an issue arose in Saanich. The City Council debated amendments to their boulevard gardening bylaws, and these included provisions for a $25 permit for those wishing to engage in boulevard gardening. In essence, this would have represented a double barrier to boulevard gardening: a cost, and a cumbersome application process.
Building a garden on your street can already be an expensive undertaking, adding a fee to doing so would represent, in essence, a tax on placemaking. The requirement for a permit adds a further hurdle, as would-be placemakers need to submit a detailed plan to the city. And the entire permitting process adds additional costs to the City, as was pointed out at the Council meeting. In fact, the $25 fee was said to have been proposed to cover the cost of processing the permits, making this a revenue-neutral fee.
Fortunately, Council changed its mind and amended the bylaw to waive the $25 fee. This was a sound choice, but one which still left a barrier of a permit.
How do the new bylaws in Saanich compare to others in the CRD? Even with the permit, Saanich’s bylaws seem restrictive.
Take Victoria for example, which rather than having a fee or permit, freely encourages boulevard gardening; and even publishes guidelines, giving people tips on how to be successful with their boulevard gardens. Small community micro-grant are also offered to help neighbours with the cost of boulevard gardening.
In Esquimalt, would-be boulevard gardeners need to go through similar procedures as in Saanich. The handy Township Guide to Boulevard Modifications enumerates the following procedure (page 5):
- The lot owner would review this guide to gain an understanding of the requirements for a boulevard alteration.
- The lot owner applies to Engineering for a Boulevard Alteration Permit.
- The application will include a fulsome description of the proposed alteration. The description may or may not include diagrams of the proposed alteration but must show enough detail that the Township can review this information and verify permit compliance.
- The application will be reviewed by the appropriate departments to determine how it complies with standards. It is also at this stage that the Township determines which requirements and conditions the lot owner will have to satisfy for the permit to be issued.
- The permit is issued, and the lot owner carries out the alteration.
- The Township carries out a final inspection and signs off that the construction meets the intent of the permit.
The required forms do have a place for a fee, though the exact amount or whether it may be waived, remains vague. A phone called determined that the fee is variable and at the discretion of the city. I was told that a project involving a small planter, for example, would not likely require a fee, while more extensive alterations might.
The form also has intimidating sections referring to the requirement of a “deposit in the form of cash, cheque, or letter of credit to meet the cost of repairing any damage which may be done to the highway during the proposed work.” As well as insurance requirements: “Proof of property damage and public liability insurance, showing Township of Esquimalt as an additional named insured, in the minimum amount of two million dollars ($2,000,000), submitted by the general contractor and any sub-contractor involved in the work.”
While my conversations with the City of Esquimalt and the form make it clear that these provisions are intended to refer to large installations, such language certainly serves as a deterrent to those contemplating adding a small growing box on their boulevard.
How about Oak Bay? Finding a form or information on this municipality’s website is more than a little challenging. After making a phone call, I learned that Oak Bay Bylaw 4100 contains provisions concerning boulevard gardening. Section 41(3) enumerates the requirements of someone looking to plant a boulevard garden. These include:
- A nonrefundable $100.00 application fee;
- A letter explaining the rationale for the proposed works;
- A dimensioned site plan to scale not less than 1:500, showing:
(i) the location of all underground pipes, conduits, utility poles, irrigation heads, meters, manholes, utility covers and any other infrastructure in, under, over or upon the boulevard within a horizontal distance of 2 metres from every part Bylaw 4100, Streets & Traffic Bylaw 2000 28 of the proposed works;
(ii) the location of the property line defining the boundary between the land and the boulevard;
(iii) the location of any roadway, curb or public sidewalk adjacent to the boulevard;
(iv) the location of any driveway crossing the boulevard;
(v) location of existing boulevard trees;
(vi) any areas of existing vegetation other than grass on the boulevard;
(vii) the proposed location of a testable backflow prevention device if the proposed works include an irrigation system; and
(viii) the location and horizontal dimensions of the proposed works; and
- Dimensioned elevation plans for any proposed works projecting above the surface of the boulevard.
So now, in addition to a $100 fee, Oak Bay residents have a huge amount of research and drafting ahead of them. You should always call before you dig, but detailed designs seem cumbersome just to grow a couple of tomatoes and beautify your street.
It would be interesting to compile and compare all of the boulevard gardening bylaws across the CRD and evaluate them based on their propensity to encourage or discourage placemaking. This is perhaps a project for another day, but for the time being it is safe to say that out these four major municipalities, that Victoria has by far the most permissive bylaws.
As placemakers, we should encourage our cities and city councillors to remove barriers to placemaking, such as boulevard gardening actively! We are the garden city after all.