Friday, January 21, 2011

New community garden coming to Gladstone & Bronson

[Note: this site will not be used for a community garden. I jumped the gun and accidentally got the local media into a frenzy. Oops. There are still opportunities for a community garden in this area, including one that has been approved at McNabb Park - September 2012.]

Here's a view of Bronson Avenue looking south at Gladstone, from the Images of Bronson post from last March. Straight ahead is a bus stop at the corner for OC Transpo route 85, and to the left is a vacant lot. Behind that is the building containing re-Cycles community bicycle shop and George Brown & Sons memorials.

This has been flagged as a Rescue Bronson Avenue problem intersection, and will at least be getting pedestrian countdown signals in 2011 (PDF), but the crossing time is still very long, with five lanes on Bronson and a very wide three lanes on Gladstone.

Here's a view looking out the window of the re-Cycles shop. You can see that there's a fair amount of space between the sidewalk and the fence. This has led many people to wonder why isn't there a bus shelter at this stop, when all three other directions have one?

The answer, quite simply, is that it's not City property. Even though it's outside the fence, the property line goes right out to the sidewalk, as denoted by the black line in this screenshot from the City's eMap application, with the aerial view overlaid.

[Edit: Dave Weatherall tweets that he spoke with OC Transpo who will look into a temporary shelter and contacting the property owner about a more permanent one.]
[Subsequent edit: The City is negotiating with Imperial Oil to use the land for a bus stop with some landscaping as part of the Bronson Avenue reconstruction.]

Also visible are the two trees in planters on the site that were added in the last decade to make the site slightly less unappealing, and the rhomboid crosswalk pattern.

So what is the site, and why has it been left vacant for so long? Well, like so many other corner sites, it used to be a gas station. This one was an Esso gas station run by Norman Egan, and is still owned by one of Imperial Oil's real estate arms. Here's a promotional magazine sent out a few decades ago, found in a stash of memorabilia uncovered when re-Cycles moved into George Brown's old digs.

Here's the back cover, showing the five-digit phone number and postal-code-absent address label. It cost two cents to mail. One of the calendars in the stash (also visible in the picture) is from 1946.

So why hasn't anybody done anything with the site? Well, for one it needs soil remediation, adding cost to any development. And second, like so many other vacant lots on Gladstone, it's waiting for a buyer with the right price to come along, and Gladstone Avenue lots just aren't worth that price yet. However, as the Central (Metropolitan Bible Church) and Centropolis (Stinson & Son/Main Garage) are built in the east, as well as the Bella Towns development replacing the former Yellow House to the west, these lots will become more attractive to developers.

In the meantime, though, two activists from Just Food are working with the property owner and the City to establish a new community garden on the site.

Thanks to the Centretown Community Garden at Lyon and Lisgar, new gardening groups have a framework to get the City to support community-led gardens on private property. Bonnie Mabee, chair of the CCCA's Trees & Greenspace Committee, has been giving them pointers on the raised beds used at Lyon and Lisgar. Bonnie says this new garden will relieve pressure on the waiting lists on other downtown gardens, and will be an excellent community-building exercise.

I agree. It's great to see more activity happen in this corner of Centretown—and on Bronson Avenue, no less!


  1. This is great news!

    I wonder what kind of barrier needs to be in place between the raised garden beds and contaminated soil, since both contaminants and roots can travel.

    I work on Bronson (same building as Just Food), am involved with re-Cycles, and live in the area, so I often pass by/think about this lot. There was talk of using it for bike polo at one point!

  2. I heard that the gas station lot contamination has spread under adjacent properties. All properties must be remediated at once, to prevent the pollution from just spreading out again. But one property owner doesn't want his driveway dug up and so refuses to permit the remediation to the whole lot remains unclean and unsellable.
    As for the garden beds, have the promoters of that considered those large oval bins used for watering cattle and horses? They are cheap, easy to relocate, good looking, and can be put in place in just days. Ask the neighbors to dump their compost in for a while, then top up with topsoil. Or fill them completely with bales of hay, plant in the hay (works great!) and let the hay rot over the year while the plants grow.
    -Eric Darwin, WestSideAction

  3. I've certainly joked about having bike polo next to the re-Cycles shop (I'm the Coordinator there). Since we sell used parts I surmised that if bike polo happened on the vacant lot we could just open a pick-up window for replacement parts to be sold on the fly. ;)

    As for the soil issue, I would not doubt that some has leaked under our building. And the basement (which we do not use) has a bare soil floor... The driveway has some sort of pipe sticking out of it, and the landlord said it was from long ago and connected to the gas station (473 Bronson was built in 1925). I've been told that Imperial spent almost $700,000 removing the old station, and perhaps someone can find out what that entailed in terms of the soil.