>> Lee Herrin
This past month, Spring Ridge Common(s), the “garden” at the corner of Chambers Street and Gladstone Avenue in Fernwood failed in its ambition to be an “edible urban oasis.” There is no doubt that edible plants abound at the site. However, these past few months it became more of an oasis for drug dealers, petty criminals and unfortunate addicts and the homeless than it was for neighbourhood residents.
Fernwood is a tolerant and welcoming neighbourhood. Most of the immediate neighbours of the Common(s) do not object to people hanging out and relaxing with their friends and neighbours. What they do object to is drug dealers selling hard drugs and intimidating passersby, and others setting up permanent campsites, using the grounds as a toilet, and discarding used needles and rubbish across the site.
The neighbours acted in mid-July. Weary of calling the police yet again, and waiting for volunteer crews to maintain the site, they took matters into their own hands and cut it back significantly. Much of the vegetation was removed or cut back to ground level, and the larger trees were pruned up to a height so that everyone—including the neighbours walking through and the police driving by—could see right through the site. According to some immediate neighbours, this has already greatly reduced the undesirable activity on the site, while others object to the rough handling of the “forest.”
Spring Ridge Common(s) is owned by the Greater Victoria School District (SD61) and is currently leased by Fernwood NRG, but that lease expires September 30th, 2014. When Fernwood NRG agreed to take over the lease in 2010, we agreed in principle with the previous leaseholder “to maintain the site as a permaculture garden” which was to be maintained by volunteers from other organizations. Now, it is apparent that those volunteers have drifted away and cannot be counted on to ensure the site is secure and healthy. It is clear that the status quo is unacceptable and that a change is needed in order to have a safe and healthy place for neighbourhood residents as well as people passing through the site.
Fernwood NRG will hold a public meeting in September. The purpose of the meeting will be to seek a broad consensus for necessary changes to the physical structure and ongoing maintenance regime of the Common(s) and a clear mandate from the immediate neighbours for Fernwood NRG to lead that work in consultation with the neighbourhood.
Fernwood NRG is a neighbourhood organization. We know we cannot please all of our neighbours all of the time. However, we cannot be put in a situation where we end up pleasing none of our neighbours all of the time. In the end, if as neighbours we cannot agree on a realistic, functional and feasible future direction for the site, Fernwood NRG will have to let the lease lapse and the School District will be forced to manage it themselves, or find yet another leaseholder, likely from outside the neighbourhood—and that would be a tragedy.
Fernwood NRG will host a public meeting at 7pm, Wednesday, September 24th at the Fernwood Community Centre (1240 Gladstone Avenue) for all those who are interested in the future of the Common(s). We will include as many stakeholders as possible and will leaflet immediate neighbours to ensure they are aware of the meeting.