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Urban Planning + Architecture

Vancouver Gardens Railroaded By Mean Tactics

CP Rail removes plots, pressuring the city to pay more for its private land.

Bill Tieleman 19 Aug

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at [email protected] or visit his blog.

Canadian Pacific Railway is just plain mean, destroying people's harmless gardens in order to pressure Vancouver to buy its railway line land.

Last week, the company began tearing out the plots tended by local gardeners along its disused line, which will eventually include near Burrard and West 6th.

The garden removals began after CP Rail rejected an offer from the City to buy the land for $20 million, calling it unfair. The company then said the plots had to be removed to make way for train traffic, even though it has sent a single locomotive down the track since 2001.

Let me say that I respect private property rights, and I believe the CP Rail corridor must be retained as a potential future transportation line, not for housing development.

What I don't respect is the deliberate devastation of up to 350 permitted community gardens along an 11-kilometre ribbon of land through the city. The company reportedly wants $100 million for the land.

CP spokesperson Breanne Feigel said on the day the removals began: "We're not seeing negotiations have progressed in a positive manner... we need to utilize these assets and unfortunately that's the work we're doing today."

But it's obvious that CP Rail has no plans to run locomotives, or anything else, on the tracks. The company is slashing and burning in order to railroad Vancouver into raising its offer.

An urban oasis

Since CP Rail's last train ran through the corridor in 2001, countless Vancouver residents took over the neglected tracks and turned it into an urban oasis.

No one can walk along the abandoned lines without admiring the fig trees, pumpkins, rhubarb and flowers, making that part of the city even more beautiful. And you don't have to be harvesting the bountiful crops to appreciate the efforts that have gone into them.

At a minimum, the corporation should have left gardeners to finish the season and start reclaiming their property in the late fall.

In comparison, the company was happy to sell Richmond 14.7 acres of CP Rail land along a 3.6 kilometre stretch of old railway track in 2010 for $5 million for public use.

But its Vancouver strategy is based on intimidation, not accommodation with city residents.

Real neighbourly!

Aside from needlessly bulldozing gardens to try and meet their goal, CP Rail is also making another mistake.

It's called public relations. Most companies around the world try to improve their image, donating to charities, sponsoring cancer fundraisers and ensuring residents and politicians see them as good corporate citizens.

Astonishingly, CP Rail claims on its website that: "We do our best to be a reasonable neighbour."

Really? How is bulldozing a neighbour's garden reasonable?

CP Rail continues: "Just as you take care of the things you own, such as your home and yard, CP does the same for our property. We take special care in maintaining our right-of-way -- the area on both sides of our tracks -- and work hard to quickly address any concerns regarding its appearance."

Is cutting the grass and pulling the weeds after 13 years CP Rail's idea of taking special care of its appearance?

Who'll stand up?

Led by cost-cutter American Hunter Harrison, CP Rail's three largest investors are big U.S. hedge funds or financial institutions. Not one of its board of directors comes from B.C.

So don't expect the company to care much about what happens in Vancouver or even Canada.

The fourth largest institutional investor, however, is the Royal Bank of Canada. It spends millions in advertising to keep and win customers here.

It's time for RBC to publicly say that CP Rail should stop railroading Vancouver and clear-cutting people's gardens.  [Tyee]

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