Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rumble in the Jungle: An unmitigated Success!

"Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone"

Last night, after attending an exhibition of art work by doctors and medical students organized in part by my daughter Georgia, Sally and I headed over to the "rumble in the jungle" fund raising gala that was organized by 'the Friends of Bloedel' in a bid to save the 40-year-old Bloedel Conservatory at Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver.

As noted in a good story by Vancouver Sun columnist Steve Whysall, the Friends of Bloedel group was formed to raise awareness and funds to keep the conservatory open after the Vancouver park board decided in November that it needed to close the conservatory because of a $3-million budget shortfall.

The park board has subsequently agreed to keep the conservatory operating as normal to allow "expressions of interest" concerning the future of the facility to be submitted until April 30, and will remain open, even after the April 30 deadline, to give the park board time to review all its options.

While it was expected that 200 to 300 people might attend at $125 a person or $200 a couple, in fact there were closer to 400 in attendance at the sold out event. One of the organizers, Bill McCreery told me they could have easily sold another 200 tickets.

One well known observer of the Vancouver social and political scenes was going around saying there were three groups in attendance: those who have been close to the Bloedel Conservatory for years; those who are a part of the Vancouver/Southlands Nursery gardening world; and people of all political stripes who wanted to publicly show their disapproval with the Vision led Park Board's unfortunate decision to close the facility.

I thought there was a fourth group....those who had enjoyed the Conservatory in the past, but had almost forgotten about it. However, with the threat that it might be closed down, they wanted to show their support for one of Vancouver's few institutions.

I included a reference to the ill-advised decision to close the Bloedel Conservatory in my 2009 Holiday Greeting e-card since I thought it was a terrible decision by people who were perhaps too young, and with too little Vancouver life experience, to appreciate how inappropriate a decision it was.

For me, the answers to the funding shortfalls were obvious. There was a need to embark on a proper marketing campaign and explore new public private partnerships to keep it operating. I agree with Ian Robertson that these approaches should have been undertaken long before the announcement that the facility would be closing.

As evidenced by the attendance at last night's rumble, and the following statistics in Whysall's story, there is already a renewed interest in the facility....

Attendance at the conservatory has soared significantly since the controversy began in November....attendance in December totalled more than 8,000, compared to about 2,500 for the same period the previous year, despite the fact that there was also a free-entry day during that period. Attendance during the first two weeks of January was 5,000...also a record for the time of year....

"People are coming back to the conservatory in droves. They have become aware because of all the publicity that this is a treasure worth keeping.

"They are finding that the place is beautifully maintained and far more interesting than they ever imagined."

The geodesic domed conservatory was a mult-million-dollar gift from lumber baron Prentice Bloedel in 1969. His gift also included the cost of covering the reservoir at QE Park and a piece of sculpture by artist Henry Moore called Knife Edge -- Two Piece.

I do not believe the facility will close. I mean, how can it...a very green jungle of plants, fish, and birds in a city that the Mayor wants to be the 'greenest city in the world'. Indeed, a new story in the Vancouver Sun reports that on the eve of the fundraiser, the Mayor made a new statement about exploring public-private opportunities to keep the facility open. While I'm pleased to hear this, it is a shame that he and his colleagues did not have the judgment to come up with a long term solution before announcing the pending closure.

Of course there's always the possibility that like the message in Joni Mitchell's song, the closure announcement was part of a carefully crafted strategy to generate community support and funding for the somewhat forgotten facility. However, somehow I don't think this was the case.


Bill McCreery said...

Astute observations Michael. Their decision was not thought, through &, exhibits a lack of awareness of what makes Vancouver the special place it is as you said. The newly minted Vision Commissioners decision was in part their inexperience but as well, they may not have received the best advice & unfortunately seem to have been muzzled by City Hall. They bear the ultimate responsibility for their decision, but not all, the blame. My hope is they learn from this experience & will be more independent from Council & able to make better informed decisions in the future. That's one of the reasons we have an independently elected Parks Board.

Yvonne of the Yukon said...

Exellent comments on what has turned out to be confusing and contradictory changes to the OCP. I sat through the Sat am meeting and could not believe they were making such signicant changes in an ad hoc manner. I very much support the infill developments that we proposed working on the Affordable Housing Committee. That has now been lost along with any attempt at reasonble development in Port Moody.
Yvonne Harris Former land use planner in Yukon and Prince George