Rethinking the CP lawn bowling green

March 20, 2008 at 4:48 am 19 comments

In November, 2007, the Times Colonist ran a story on how the City had pulled the plug on the CP lawn bowling green on Belleville Street. An off the cuff remark by Mayor Lowe at the time seemed to indicate the City had some sort of public plaza planned for the 78 year old expanse of closely-cropped grass. Knowing Victoria’s dismal track record of creating vibrant public space, I was quoted in the article thusly:

Robert Randall, president of the Downtown Residents Association, and an advocate of more development downtown, said he likes having the bowlers in the city’s core. “Here’s this kind of crazy random idea of a bunch of old folks rolling a ball along the field. It’s not contrived. And it’s what we want to see: genuine experiences.

“If they replace one vibrant green space with a dead green space, what are we accomplishing here except to evict people with a healthy pastime?”

Although I knew full well that the long-term prospects for the viability of a lawn bowling green on prime downtown real estate is dismal, I held out hope that the bowlers could eke out another couple of years. I’m really fond of this quirky, anachronistic activity, although admittedly not enough to sign up as a member.

What was unknown to me and the rest of the general public at that time was that City planner Chris Gower had the Crystal Block portfolio on his desk for several months, and that he was brainstorming a variety of possible uses for the site.

(Right-click and open this picture in a new window to see the full version):

Gower's Crystal Garden block concept

Here’s one of the Planning Department’s concept sketches. Note the lawn bowling green is replaced by some sort of public open space as well as a civic building. There seemed to be a lot of interest in having a children’s museum and a satellite gallery for the AGGV on the site.

This is a project I support whole-heartedly. Victoria is one of a few major cities without a civic art gallery in its downtown core. The present Cridge Park is unused and unloved, compared to nearby St. Ann’s and Beacon Hill Park. I think this mix of uses will add vitality to the area and is a fine replacement for the historic bowling green.

More pictures here.

Entry filed under: architecture, media, urban design.

The Janion building, 1979 The Ellice St. shelter

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marilyn Welch  |  March 24, 2008 at 4:54 am

    Hi Rob,

    I’m glad you like quirky lawn bowling for a few privileged and exclusive people in a public park. I don’t like it, I’d rather see some restoration of the original Garry Oak meadow with camas and other native plants. AND I would not call that ‘dead green space.’

  • 2. robertrandall  |  March 24, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Hi Marilyn, good to hear from you.

    I’m not sure how lawn bowling can realistically be called exclusive or intended for the priviliged. The CP lawn bowling club facing eviction charges $125 annually–that is cheaper than the six month student/senior pass at any local recreation centre. And the clubs are actively recruiting anyone from any demographic. Is lawn bowling more elitist than pilates, yoga or tennis?

    And by “dead green space”, I was thinking of the dreadful public plazas Victoria produces in the wistful hope that one day they might magically become vibrant and welcoming, like Centennial Square and the Rothingham courtyard.

    Your comment about the Garry oak meadow makes me think you may in fact be referring to the Beacon Hill Park lawn bowling green, not the CP green. If that’s the case, that’s a whole other worthy discussion.

    To sum up, I think lawn bowling is indeed a “quirky” sight to see in Downtown–perfectly reflective of Victoria’s odd beginnings and uncertain future. However, it must not stand in the way of providing residents and visitors alike of a fine arts facility worth of a capital city.

  • 3. Yule Heibel  |  March 24, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Re. Garry Oak meadows & camas lilies in a downtown greenspace: I think that would be a very unsuccessful violation of what Andres Duany calls the transect. (See also this SFU video, and a commentary on the SFU presentation by Stephen Rees, here.)

  • 4. Roominant  |  March 24, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    I’m pretty sure the bowling green site was never Garry Oak meadow. It sits smack in the middle of what used to be the mud flats of James Bay:

  • 5. robertrandall  |  March 24, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks for reminding me of the mud flats, Roominant. Here’s another view of mud flats on the lawn bowling site from a century ago:

  • 6. Marilyn  |  March 30, 2008 at 7:41 am

    Yes Rob, I was thinking of the Beacon Hill Park Lawn Bowling Green. I used to live almost across from it and knew someone who worked there.

    So my comment was misdirected, sorry.

    But good to hear from you too!

  • 7. Kris  |  May 22, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    I’m the vice president of the lawn bowling club, who have been the good stewards of the green for many decades. As you may know, we have been working with the community since January to come up with a strategic plan for the active green space, as well as Cridge park, that the entire community can be proud of as a long-term vision.
    We welcome you to join our visioning sessions, as well as anyone reading this. You can contact us through our website.
    As we’ve been working with all of our neighbours in the community since January, you are the first person to backup the plans of city council and the children’s museum. I say both of them, as city council is on the advisory board of the Children’s museum.
    Every other person and organization who has spoken with us has been on board with participating and supporting our long-term vision that we’ve built together. Before you write your feelings in concrete, please come and join us before we present our plan to city council next month.
    We look forward to continue working with yourself and the community to create long-term strategic visions, not knee-jerk reactions for our own personal projects.

  • 8. Lorne  |  May 22, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Robert, do you know who’s going to be on the hook for these new arts facilities? Do any of the potential groups have the money to build and maintain them… or are they going to be expecting the City or Province to cough up the cash?

  • 9. robertrandall  |  May 22, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    The Times Colonist asked me for a knee-jerk opinion and I complied. At the time I had only read about the leaked plan in the paper like the rest of you. My second quote came after examining City Planner Chris Gower’s extensive concept sketches for the site.

    Both the Children’s Museum and the AGGV claim to have sound business plans. The Children’s Museum is a bit of an unknown quantity but the Gallery has a proven track record of good management and other cities have reported an increase in revenue and visitors after relocating in new urban digs. The Province last wek announced a gift of $50 million to a brand new Vancouver Art Gallery–we trust that British Columbia’s capital city also deserves consideration.

  • 10. Lorne  |  May 22, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Were the bowling club or Church of Our Lord also invited by the City Planner to submit plans for this space?

    Do you know if the business plans for the Children’s Museum or AGGV specifically identify Cridge Park as the best spot for their facilities?

  • 11. robertrandall  |  May 22, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    A Request For Proposals doesn’t really work that way. Individuals aren’t invited; the City announces the availability of a site and interested parties then present proposals. No-one is specifically excluded from submitting but as I said, the City stacks the deck by only allowing developers who have done similar projects in the past.

    I’ve been in contact with the AGGV and the Children’s Museum representative over the last year or two and they have been searching all over Downtown for a suitable location.

  • 12. Yule Heibel  |  May 22, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    I sympathize with wanting to keep the lawn bowling green where it is, as I recognize that it brings a really wonderful point of contrast to the urban core. At the same time, I’ll defend the free market — and at some point, things change because change is a constant and development is inevitable in a growing, living city.

    I get the sense from Kris’s as well as Lorne’s comments that perhaps they believe in dark forces behind the scene — perhaps dark enough even to subvert the workings of what they might consider my naive belief in a free market.

    But consider Kris’s comment: “I say both of them, as city council is on the advisory board of the Children’s museum.” To my mind, that’s really a stretch: just because Helen Hughes (who has made children’s issues as well as lifelong learning two of her trademark concerns throughout her terms on council) and Chris Coleman are on the Children’s Museum’s board of advisors (hardly string-pullers) doesn’t mean that “city council” is on that advisory board. (See the Children’s Museum webpage for its board of advisors here; you’ll note that Chris Causton [Oak Bay] is also on board in an advisory role. The proposed museum’s board of directors, meanwhile, has no affiliation with the city at all.

    While I understand where Kris is coming from, I have to say that when I read something like his comment, which skews the facts ever so slightly to suggest some weird conspiracy, I think to myself: You know what, this is polarizing. this gets us nowhere.

    Could the city have handled this whole thing differently — and more importantly: better? You betcha.

    But the people who have nurtured a vision for a children’s museum have been in Victoria literally for decades — this is not some brand-new concocted scheme — so their supporters would be quite surprised to hear that only a handful of people think this is a good idea. The same thing goes for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Talk to someone like Pat Bovey (former director of the AGGV), if you get the chance, and learn about the decades of work that has gone into securing a downtown site for the art gallery. Yet at every turn AGGV have gotten slapped down because there’s always someone there who says, “not my piece of turf” or “there’s no money for it” (meaning, “it’s not politically expedient”).

    As for being “on the hook” for funding: I’m struck by how the wording alone speaks volumes about how the writer rejects the idea that art should be funded at all. There is no hook. There are operating budgets already in place for facilities like the art gallery, and if the gallery were finally(!) to secure a downtown space, the business plan is in place that the facility would generate revenue to earn its keep. There are long-term fund-raising activities, with donors already lined up, ready to match funding for a new facility. And there is support from citizens like me that it behooves a capital city to toss at least a bit of support to the gallery, perhaps by contributing a bit of land or lending a hand in arranging a partnership for completing the building.

    Why, in the 21st century, we should act like a Wild West frontier town where art is a “frill,” vs. seeing culture as another aspect of the creative economy that can keep this city going, baffles me.

  • 13. Lorne  |  May 23, 2008 at 12:47 am

    Perhaps I should have mentioned that I am an art school graduate (ACA 1980) and support the notion of a downtown art gallery. In fact I consider the bowlers in their white outfits the ultimate in performance art…. whom appear free every day. The tourists seem to love them.

    I just don’t think it’s very progressive to kick an historic user out of Cridge Park without first giving them a chance to make a case for staying. Change happens… but it should be considered out in the open. While this may not be a case of dark forces, the process used to get here sure smells of hidden agenda.

    I agree with your view that the City has done a poor job of presenting this concept and have only succeeded in pitting these community groups against one another. Whether by design or accident, they should have seen it coming.

    Ultimately the City will judge the merit of any proposal based on their business plan. It would seem in that regard the tables have been stacked against those whom might wish to see Cridge Park remain an active green space.

  • 14. robertrandall  |  May 23, 2008 at 1:14 am

    I think the City decided to pull the plug when membership began dwindling to unsustainable levels. The bowlers are great to watch but unfortunately it’s only a couple of hours a day during the warm weather months.

    Changing tastes and demographics have already cost Victoria two once-popular sporting attractions in its history (horse racing and six-day bike racing). Ten years ago there were around 100 CP members. Last year when news of the redevelopment plan broke, they were down to 40 members. I would like nothing more than to see the CP green active 10 hours a day with a waiting list of people wanting to join. I hope this membership drive is successful but I fear they simply waited too long.

  • 15. Lorne  |  May 23, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Sorry, but I beg to disagree. If the City was really concerned about utilization Royal Athletic park should have been paved over long ago. They’ve lost all their paying tenants to Langford and it costs buckets of money to keep up.

    Most of the local playing fields and ball diamonds in Victoria are used by only a few as well. Staff must be paid big bucks to maintain these facilities while the rent collected is token. This is an accepted cost of a healthy community however.

    As far as I know the bowling club is self sufficient and doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. They’re doing the City a service… exactly how many members do they require to justify their existence?

    You’re right about changing demographics however. A silver tsunami is headed straight for us. Most will want to stay active. I suspect a good number will be buying into the new high density neighbourhoods you represent. Should we force these people into their cars and have them drive out to the burbs to play?

  • 16. Willow  |  May 23, 2008 at 8:34 am

    I disagree with the comment “Most of the local playing fields and ball diamonds in Victoria are used by only a few as well.” Drive by any field during the afternoons or weekends and they are completely packed. There are far more soccer and baseball players than lawn bowlers.

  • 17. Yule Heibel  |  May 23, 2008 at 9:09 am

    @Willow: agreed, the fields are used. But don’t discount the lawn bowlers — during the season, the Beacon Hill Park on on Cook is typically teeming with players.

    Open space, parks, as well as sports and cultural facilities are necessary amenities. By necessary I mean literally necessary, if you want to create density (call it sustainable density, eco-density, whatever — I call it a successful city). Density without amenity is hateful to most people, and wears them down.

    Density with amenity, on the other hand, is pleasurable and stimulating. Amenities include those “delivered” by the private sector, such as full service grocery stores within easy walking distance; generally good retail that works for residents (vs. only tourist shops, for example); good “third places” like coffee shops, restaurants; interesting range of night life/ entertainment. Most of those amenities we expect from good planning and the private market place.

    But there are other amenities that are supported as infrastructure by taxes, and those include parks and open space, as well as recreational facilities. Quite a few of the cultural institutions are now expected to be hybrid — like so much in eco-thinking, whether eco-logy or eco-nomy, we’re all about hybrid these days, aren’t we? So you find those entities trying to engage private partnerships (beyond begging for money from private donors, which they’ve always done). Nothing wrong with that, and just because something is hybrid, doesn’t mean it’s not an amenity. It might not be clear-cut as to how much of it is public and how much is private, but amenity is amenity.

    And if we want a successful city that delivers on density to curb sprawl, we need amenities of all shapes and sizes.

  • 18. Lorne  |  May 23, 2008 at 9:40 am

    To Willows comment…. I happen to be a heavy user of field space and am well aware of how these facilities are valued.

    My point was that the red herring of utilization has been thrown up as justification for booting an historic user off a public park space… but there’s no criteria out there for judging what is acceptable.

    Should Victoria be calculating the number of participants vs size of space vs hours booked vs cost to maintain? Should a huge cricket pitch used by 20 people for six hours a week for five months a year be judged less valuable than a 60’x 60′ putting green used year round by thousands of people, 8 – 10 hours a day?

    In this case I think the City simply saw a bunch of old people whom they figured wouldn’t put up a fight.

  • 19. Yule Heibel  |  May 23, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I have to disagree with this conclusion:

    In this case I think the City simply saw a bunch of old people whom they figured wouldn’t put up a fight.

    It sounds too much like identity politics to my ears, and after a career as an academic marxist professor, I’ve had enough identity politics to last a lifetime. In this case, the “old people” are the identified victims; if it were a baseball diamond, it would be young people; if a playground, children; a clinic, the sick; and so on.

    There’s always a group ready to be identified …as victim. And the further splitting into specialized groups can go on seemingly forever. After a while, when you have a dozen or so identified groups/ victims all jumping up and down vying for First Place in the Victims Sweepstakes, you don’t move forward at all anymore, because you’re doomed to inertia.

    That doesn’t mean you steamroller people, of course, just as I’m not saying that the “old people” aren’t suffering by being booted off that piece of land (and by the way, I do realize there are quite a few young people who lawn bowl). I just question why sharpening the debate into an identity politics ax helps untangle the knottier question of what is good for the city as a whole.


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