U.K. garden founder urges Gregor Robertson to save Bloedel Conservatory

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      The issue of the looming closure of Vancouver’s iconic Bloedel Conservatory has gone international.

      It has caught the attention of Tim Smit, cofounder and CEO of the Eden Project, a popular botanical and conservation garden in the U.K.

      It was John Coupar, a member of the executive of the Vancouver-based Friends of the Bloedel, who called up and briefed Smit about the situation.

      “He’s very concerned about it because basically our project was the forerunner of his project,” Coupar told the Straight. “His project was built 10 years ago; ours was built 40 years ago.”

      Coupar’s late father Charlie was the first administrator of the Bloedel Conservatory.

      Smit, according to Coupar, e-mailed Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, and has authorized him to circulate Smit’s message:

      Dear Mayor Robertson,

      Your presence and words at the Copenhagen Climate Conference were a credit to Vancouver and for Canada. Your obvious passion to be both a real leader and a thought leader in grasping the issue of climate change and creating a vision of what a better future might look like are hugely important.

      I am writing to you in my capacity as Co Founder and Chief Executive of The Eden Project, the world’s largest conservatories set in a former derelict clay mine in the middle of the County of Cornwall in Britain. The Eden Project is Europe’s leading environmental institution and has attracted more than 11 million visitors since opening in March 2001. 70,000 young people a year come through our gates and Eden is rated the 39th most recognized brand in the UK. We hosted Live 8 “Africa Calling” from here and have developed a range of environmental projects that have captured the public imagination from “The Sexy Green Car Show”, Europe’s first environmentally focussed transport show, to “The Big Lunch” an event which is now on the annual calendar which encourages people to get out into the streets and have lunch with their neighbours.

      I have visited Vancouver many times in my life as I have relatives there. There is no more beautiful city in the world.

      I am writing to you because in the midst of the important decisions you and your colleagues must take to ensure the viability of the city, it can happen that a decision taken in good faith can have an effect that is unintended. I understand that in the latest round of “belt tightening” the famous Bloedel Conservatory has come under the shadow of the axe. The economic reasoning is, on the face of it sound, but I fear a jewel is about to be lost and I write to urge you to reconsider the decision. While at first site, visitor numbers have fallen and the future financial support of it looks to be a significant burden on your City finances, it is my contention that this beautiful and iconic building has within itself a new narrative that will make it relevant once more. Every child at school today is learning afresh that without plants there is no life on earth. They also learn that we are all of us dependent on them in so many other ways for our lives and livelihoods. With the REDD programme about to come on stream and the dawning awareness globally that up to 25% of all CO2 emissions come from rainforest destruction it would be a massive irony that the Bloedel Conservatory, at the very moment that the world starts to appreciate the real importance of the conservation of the rainforests, should itself be under threat.

      Yes, the Bloedel may have been built and designed at a time when the rainforest was seen as a place of exotica and entertainment and may not have been designed to tell the story of the majesty of it, in a spiritual sense that perhaps it would were it being built today, but its transformation into a hugely relevant modern institution that draws out the themes discussed above, is but a small move for the excellent horticulturists it has willing to support it. BC is the temperate rainforest capital of the world. The Bloedel provides a magnificent and symbolic counterpoint where the appreciation and education of both can be brought to a powerful head.

      It is my belief that an act of faith by the City will be repaid many times over as a new audience comes to appreciate it. The commercial support an institution like this needs from retail and catering can be made to work, its educational impact can be enhanced tenfold if you will give it the time to reinvent itself. Eden is profitable and has won a place in the affections of millions of people. The Bloedel will win its audience back and in your faith in it would make a powerful statement of your and your beloved City’s respect and love for the natural world, itself the mark of a civilised and civilising society.

      Your environmental credentials are not under question and I would never be so impertinent as to suggest it. I ask only that you pause for a moment and reflect on the loss of a legacy that in time will leave a bittersweet taste of regret behind. Please may I ask you to reconsider your decision.

      With kind regards

      Tim Smit

      CEO Eden Project

      Comments

      4 Comments

      Janine

      Jan 19, 2010 at 9:09pm

      What an excellent statement. I hope the Mayor thinks deeply on this.

      Oldtimer

      Jan 20, 2010 at 11:37am

      Mr.Smit provides a very eloquent argument for continued funding of a world class facility that Vancouverites should be proud of. Perhaps some of the Olympic Legacy $(is their going to be such a creature?) could be directed towards a perpetual trust fund to subsidize money losing public facilities such as the Bloedel Conservatory.
      The Bloedel Cons. could probably also use a bit of a facelift and some proper marketing to our international visitors let alone more support from locals both in terms of attendance and donations.
      I hope the citizens of our fair city rally to keep such a remarkable facility alive and give it the funding for a healthy future. Emails to the mayors office and to Council as a whole is one way of letting public officials know how important an issue it is.

      16 7Rating: +9

      Bill McCreery

      Jan 20, 2010 at 6:38pm

      Mr. Smit & Oldtimer are right on. But, be aware that Bloedel has generally made money & not required subsidy throughout its 40 year history except for the period from 2003 to the present when the Canada Line & reservoir redecking construction was being done. With some updating, improved management & marketing it c an be once more. It's to important to lose.

      John Coupar

      Jan 21, 2010 at 7:40am

      It is wonderful to have international support for the continued opperation of our magnificent Conservatory,Mr Smit is a world renowned expert in his field. I hope that everyone in Vancouver takes the time to contact the mayorandcouncil@vancover.ca to voice thier support for this horticultural,architectural and natural jewel at the pinacle of our city.Please keep up the pressure on elected officials.I have not lost faith in our City it is my hope that with a continued demonstration of support from citizens we will prevail.The Bloedel has served us well for 40 years its time for all of us to support it now go to www.friendsofthebloedel.ca to find out how