Background and Context
After several years of lobbying, senior administration at Carleton University agreed to allow the GSA to construct a community garden on-campus in 2012. Construction on the garden was completed in the spring of 2013. The creation of the garden involved careful consideration of detail and site-specific planning to ensure proper drainage, accessibility, safety, and the implementation of innovative permaculture techniques. In the summer of 2013 the GSA approached Algonquin elders who came up with the name of the garden, Kitigànensag, which is Algonquin for ‘little gardens.’ The naming ceremony and blessing of the harvest was conducted by elders in September.
The community garden is a source of pride for the many students, staff and faculty who contributed to its creation. It stands as a symbol of the Carleton community coming together to build something that is ecologically sensitive and sustainable, educational, recreational, and accessible to the entire community. It has been described as a “gem” by those who have attended public tours of the garden, and as “establishing a new benchmark for community gardens” by an expert in urban agriculture.
The agreement between Carleton University and the GSA includes a caveat that the garden could be moved by the University at the University’s expense. The University was very insistent on the inclusion of this clause in case the site was needed for a new building in five or ten years.
As the first growing season came to an end in 2013, the GSA was notified that the garden needed to move immediately to facilitate the construction of a new privately built and privately operated residence. To-date the new for-profit residence has not been approved by any of the University’s governing bodies.
In recognition of its agreement with the University and its obligations to the volunteers who constructed the garden, the GSA held a broadly advertised emergency meeting to discuss a potential move. While many at the meeting opposed the move outright, the prevailing sentiment was that any relocation must respect the high standards and innovative techniques incorporated into the existing garden.
Avoiding Failure: The Need for a Comprehensive Relocation Plan
A new site for the garden was proposed by the University. It is located between the Nesbitt Biology Building and River Field. The GSA provided a list of detailed questions regarding the site and proposed relocation. The response from the University suggested the GSA is making the process too complicated and reiterated that the garden must move immediately.
Any proposed relocation requires a comprehensive plan. While the components of such a plan are numerous, four examples of concerns include the following:
- Water Management – the proposed location exists in a flood plain. The GSA has been informed that topographical maps of the flood plain and records of flooding either do not exist or will not be provided to the GSA. Drainage is an important consideration in the construction of any community garden, and is paramount when the garden resides in a flood plain.
- Safety – the proposed location is isolated and lacks lighting. The proximity of the nearest emergency phone is not ideal. To-date the GSA has not received an adequate response to its request to discuss safety issues at the proposed location.
- Accessibility – pathways in the existing garden were constructed to be up to code. This includes issues like width and slope. The garden is the first in Ottawa to incorporate wheelchair accessible garden plots. Any relocated garden needs to incorporate accessibility into the design and layout of the garden and entrance and egress points.
- Timeline – the university has asked that the garden be moved in 2013. Given that the ground is already freezing, and the complications in developing a proper plan for the new garden, following the timeline proposed by senior administration is unlikely.
The same standards and planning applied to the construction of the garden are required for any proposed relocation. Without care and consideration of site-specific details and a comprehensive plan, any relocated garden risks failure. The garden cannot simply be picked up and moved haphazardly.
The GSA is calling upon senior administration to respect the garden as an asset that is valued by the community. By not providing the necessary information and consultations, senior administration is preventing the GSA from making a reasoned and informed decision regarding the relocation of the garden. Members of the GSA, gardeners, and the broader community have expectations and standards for the behaviour and decisions of the GSA Board of Directors. The Board cannot exercise its duties and responsibilities in the absence of a plan and the information required to develop a plan.