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Vancouver's slice of paradise is worth saving

Perched atop Queen Elizabeth Park is the Bloedel Conservatory, one of Vancouver’s best-kept secrets.

Perched atop Queen Elizabeth Park is the Bloedel Conservatory, one of Vancouver’s best-kept secrets.

For the price of a latté you enter a geodesic dome and are transported to a tropical paradise of trees and flowers, as 100 species of birds fly freely around the dome and exotic koi swim in tranquil pools. The air inside the dome feels and smells magical.

Paradise is conveniently located at 33rd and Cambie, which makes it easy to take a tropical vacation and escape the dreariness of November in the rain forest over lunch.

This year, the conservatory is celebrating its 40th anniversary. To celebrate, the Vancouver park board wants to shut it down.

That’s right. Faced with a $2.8-million budget shortfall, the board has the conservatory in its sights, as well as the Stanley Park petting zoo, another stupefying penny-wise, pound-foolish decision. The board figures to save $100,000 a year on the zoo and only $23,000 on the conservatory. That’s peanuts in a town where we’re about to spend $450 million on a roof for B.C. Place.

The board has deferred the decision by a week, but the future looks grim. The conservatory needs structural repairs, which could get pricey, and attendance is declining. The park board website calls it one of the most popular attractions in Vancouver, but I wonder how many Vancouverites have actually been there, and the park board must be reluctant to bear the cost of a revitalization and marketing campaign.

As for the petting zoo, I suspect its fate was sealed after 13 people came down with E. coli infections after visiting the petting zoo at the PNE last summer. With our current sky-is-falling phobia about germs-disease-infection, I’m surprised they don’t make you wear gloves and masks to pat the bunnies. Instead, they just want to shut it down.

In this increasingly concrete jungle, the petting zoo and conservatory are endangered species — places where families can go and get close to the gentle side of nature. Not everyone can go hurtling down the side of a mountain — not everyone can afford it, either.

These are the kinds of experiences that little kids thrive on, that stoke their sense of wonder and joy. If you shut them down, you save a few bucks, but at what cost? There is still time for the park board to include the kids’ future in its budget calculations.

Save the bunnies, dammit.

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