What if Kingston…

community garden in Kingston, urban garden in Kingston, food grown in KingstonIn part three of Kingstonist’s examination of the downtown business-scape, we highlighted the fact that there are numerous neglected parcels of land along the strip of Princess Street that falls between Bath and Division.  A majority of these properties were once home to car dealerships, car rental agencies and gas stations, while they are now undeveloped and paved lots.  This makes the prospect of future development rather exciting, as this area could eventually become home to some exciting new businesses.  In the meantime, the presence of so many abandoned shopping carts, for lease and for sale signs has become a blight on this part of our city, which resembles a derelict ghost town.

This section of Princess Street has been ignored and on the decline for well over a decade.  I think that most Kingstonian’s would agree that something desperately needs to be done with these vacant properties, but unfortunately most of us are not massive land owners nor real estate developers.  This got me thinking about some short term, community-driven uses for these parcels of land.  What if we could temporarily develop these underutilized properties and make Kingston more sustainable?  What if Kingston transformed these vacant properties into community gardens, and urban farms?

Communal plots and gardens are not new to Kingston, however they are not as prevalent here as they are in other cities.  With sustainability on the minds of many folks in City Hall, I was not surprised to see the long overdue, recently released draft Community Gardens Policy.  Therein, the City recognizes:

…community gardening as a valuable activity that contributes to sustainable urban living, community development, health and well-being, positive social interactions, environmental education, protection and use of open space, and enhanced food security through economical, nutritious food production. The City of Kingston encourages community gardening by collaborating with non-profit groups and/or neighbourhood associations in the development, operation and management of community gardens. This policy applies to municipally owned lands.

The draft policy is generally supportive of community gardening projects, while one of most outstanding highlights is the proposed annual funding to support new gardens and enhance existing ones.  That said, the last sentence in the text quoted above hints that the City will limit their support of communal gardens to those on municipally owned property.  Hence, the city would not support efforts to establish temporary community gardens on vacant, slacker land along Princesses Street, or elsewhere for that matter.

After a bit of research, I finally discovered that Victoria’s community gardening policy allows communal plots on private property.  While their policy has numerous, potentially restrictive provisions governing the matter, the fact remains that they support community gardens on private land and Kingston does not.  I’m willing to concede that many land owners would likely be opposed to permitting the establishment of temporary gardens on their vacant property, as it could be seen as an obstacle for prospective development.  Even so, with another growing season on the horizon, how many of these properties are realistically going to see any sort of development before the end of summer?  Wouldn’t they be better served as community gathering spaces, which contribute to beautification, sustainability as well as the local food movement in the Limestone City?

Special thanks to The Ardvaark for today’s photo of a really cool community garden in Chicago’s Logan Square.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

9 thoughts on “What if Kingston…

  • A charming idea, until it is subjected to reality…
    Who will pay for the services this will need, as in water, seed and fertilizer, storage, soil, landscaping, tools, etc? Who will perform the necessary work to make this happen? City employees? Although I notice the Victoria version makes vague reference to "fees" that the gardeners pay, I strongly suspect that the city (read, the taxpayer) is subsidizing a lot of this. Given how far Kingston is in the hole already, let's not go there. Taxes are high enough already, thank you very much…
    What happens when the owner of the property wants to develop it? Who pays to clean up the mess? Who will be responsible to do it? How long does the owner have to wait for the "gardens" to be removed? Why do I have the sinking feeling Joe Kingstonian would get handed the bill?
    What is to prevent an area like this becoming a litter-strewn after-dark hangout for the "homeless", teen thugs, and drug dealers?
    Sorry for the negativity, but I think this city has more pressing concerns. Like figuring out why businesses abandoned the area in the first place, and how to get them (and their money and jobs) to come back…

    • Lots of negative and some points here, while I agree that our taxes are high enough. My understanding of other communal plots/co-ops is that their members pay a fee to join, which covers soil, seeds, fencing (to keep your hoodlums out….seriously though, this is Kingston), tools etc… I am sure some cities absorb all of these costs, but that's not what I'm proposing. Otherwise, wouldn't this be a golden opportunity for the likes of Vandervoorts, Home Depot, Rona, CanTire etc.. to donate supplies/materials in exchange for having their logo permanently on display? Kind of like how business sponsor sections of the highway to clean them up, and in exchange, they get to show off their logo.

      Victoria's policy mentions that they will only use private land if the owner agrees to let it go for x-number of years. I can see that as being a bit of an obstacle for most landowners. Regarding your scenario, I would prefer that community garden members complete the tear down/removal as opposed to city workers. Ideally, perhaps the proposed development could be coordinated to occur after the growing season. That way the gardening efforts are not wasted, and food production can be maximized.

      Let me be clear. I'm not proposing that the City divert additional funding or resources to cover off private land. Rather, I'm simply suggesting that the proposed policy be extended to cover off private land as well. Even if we can only find one land owner to agree to do this for one growing season, just think of the benefits. And again, the way things have been going on this stretch of Princess Street, I'm guessing that it will be quite some time before we'll see progress on any of these properties.

  • Harvey,

    My intention certainly wasn't to come across as the Grinch; Something like this would certainly be an aesthetic improvement over what is there now. If a way could be found that it didn't cost the taxpayer anything, I would be all for it. I would certainly be willing to buy their produce and other goods if they were for sale.

    Perhaps part of the plan could be a mini-market, like the one at Market Square, but on a smaller scale. I would certainly welcome that; I enjoy the downtown market, but rarely go as parking is such a PITA. I suspect many people like myself who live away from downtown would feel the same.

  • Harvey is right, these groups are usually self-sufficient. They set up, operate, fund, and clean up their sites. An example of one of these which unfortunately shut down recently was the New Frills garden which was located on the site of the old No Frills store (Bagot St). After years of use the garden was asked to vacate the land last year. Loblaws (who owns the land) asked the garden to vacate the site when the demolition of the store was planned.

    This garden was organized and operated by volunteers. Fees were paid by users, and sometimes goods and services were donated by local businesses. The garden is now in limbo, with their supplies (including a shed built by members) being housed at the Boys and Girls Club.

    This was a great example of a community garden that could have benefited from this type of proposal. Loblaws certainly had the right to ask the garden to leave, it is just an unfortunate situation as the land will likely not be developed for many years due to zoning (land is zoned for a grocery store/storage/parking lot). This is a similar situation as to what we have in Midtown where land has been empty for years, with little prospect for development in the near future. These sites are an eyesore on our main road into the downtown core and would look a lot nicer if community gardens were established on them. If the city is willing to donate funds for gardens on city-owned property, it should consider the great impact these funds could have for the city if they were given for gardens on private lots.

    On a similar note, it would be fantastic to have the New Frills garden stay in the neighbourhood. There is plenty of land behind Rideaucrest along the water which could be used, sadly it appears this beautiful park will be destroyed with the extension of Wellington St.

  • There was a community garden on Block D prior to the construction of the condos and hotel. I am not sure if it was set up before or after we sold the land, but it serve as a good precedent for how something like this would work.

  • I think this is a great idea…In the now, community gardens have a very positive ability to bring friends and neighbours together with common goals – at no cost to taxpayers. For the future, a push to beautify the 'Brownfields' in midtown Kingston could only help lure businesses back into the community. DJB.

  • As several people have remarked, the ethos of community gardening is autonomous, collective and communal. However I wonder why people get so worked up about the idea of their tax dollars funding something so positive and beneficial. Surely there are far worse things that are already money-pits for city funds. It would a nice change if the city started putting money into things that provide a combination of food, positive activity and delight and stopped putting it into vanity projects and poorly-run services.

  • I always thought we could turn at least one of those abandoned parking lots into the new streetcar terminal ;-)

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