In response to a decade-old plan to develop a piece of greenspace coming back to life, locals are rallying to preserve what some consider their own backyard.
In 2007 the City of Vancouver identified a piece of land at Southeast False Creek as a possible location for an elementary school. Three years later during the 2010 Olympics, the surrounding area was transformed into the Olympic Village and the land became part of Hinge Park. In February 2021, Vancouver city council and the Vancouver School Board (VSB) approved entering into a 99-year lease for the site, referencing the 2007 South East False Creek Development Plans for the school.
In the 14 years since the site was identified for possible development, residents of the surrounding neighbourhood say demographics and density have changed substantially. This change, they believe, should warrant some reconsideration.
One of the most fundamental relationships in the creation of livable, lovable urban neighborhoods — the relationship between density and amenities like playgrounds & parks. Hinge Park in Vancouver’s #OlympicVillage is a powerful magnet for kids & families, by design. pic.twitter.com/YXuodfyH7h— Brent Toderian (@BrentToderian) May 2, 2021
Myrna Leslie has lived in the apartments looking over Hinge Park for the last nine years and represents a small group of other concerned residents in the area. The active senior often rides her bike through the area and says many others also take advantage of the undeveloped land.
"The park is just full of people," Leslie said. "The density is getting to the point where this is the backyard for everybody so we're meeting a lot of people and just about all of them come out of their condos and want to experience the green space."
Leslie has taken the issue to the city, writing a letter to Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart outlining her concerns and offering alternate suggestions on where a school could be built in the area.
Great news. @CityofVancouver & @VSB39 have finalized a 99-year lease for long-awaited #OlympicVillage school adjacent to Hinge Park. Now site deal done, VSB applies to Province for capital funding to construct. Props to families for unyielding advocacy. #bcpoli #vanpoli pic.twitter.com/JNWiikCjQ5— Sarah Kirby-Yung 楊瑞蘭 (@sarahkirby_yung) February 24, 2021
Unbeknownst to Leslie at the time, a petition called “Save Hinge Park - Our Community Gathering and Breathing Space” was created. With over 1,000 signatures the petition shares many of the same concerns.
“Our ‘backyard’ plays a vital role in the well-being of families and community seniors who benefit from it. The need for green space has never been more evident than during the pandemic, but is not an isolated need as citizens move forward in embracing a more healthy and active lifestyle post-pandemic,” the petition’s description states.
“While we are fully supportive and understand the desperate need for a new school and daycare in Olympic Village, we believe the proposed location of Hinge Park is not optimal from either a city planning or a local community perspective. We propose there are far more suitable and appropriate locations than the small waterfront green space our local community of all ages and walks of life enjoys every day - and have enjoyed for the past 10 years.”
There’s a chill jazz band playing in Hinge Park, it’s wonderfully pleasant, don’t tell the park board of course. pic.twitter.com/zNpua1BGCE— Greg A (@gregeh) July 16, 2020
The creator of the petition and Leslie have since joined forces and are working to create a resident’s association to make their voices louder when speaking to city council. The association should be formed in the next few weeks Leslie says.
Suggestions for where else an elementary school could be established include the first few floors of nearby office buildings, utilizing the educational spaces of Science World just a few blocks away or just west of Hinge Park with an entrance off 1st Avenue.
In February's lease announcement, it was stated that the VSB would be applying to the Ministry of Education for capital funding for the construction of the school. Under the proposed terms of the lease agreement with the city, funding must be obtained and construction must start no later than January 31, 2024.
Under the proposed agreement, the VSB would sublease a childcare centre back to the City for a 99-year term. Future city council approval will be required for funding and for the authority to enter into a development management agreement for the site.