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Maybe we can cool it on the park stuff for a while

This week's Market Squared thinks there's much bigger problems than parkland and maybe we can spare some of that energy for other issues
20210514 City of Guelph Parks Staff KA 10
Parks staff transport weeds to be composted at Riverside Park. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday file photo

What kind of person would be against parks, and obtaining more land for parks in Guelph? You’re reading something by one of those people right now.

Cool your jets, park fans, I’m not literally saying I’m against parks. At the same time though, I think that park hysteria has hit such a fever pitch that I dread seeing anything tangentially connected to parks, or parkland, or parkland acquisition listed on a city council agenda.

The Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan is coming to council on May 16. I may have to hurt myself badly enough to go to the emergency room so that I have an excuse not to be there.

My aggravation begins with the fact that no one is against more parks. There’s no organized anti-park lobby. No one’s looking to turn a portion of Exhibition Park or Margaret Greene Park into a mini mall.

At this week’s council meeting, no less than six people had to delegate in favour of the park plan passed at committee of the whole. Excuse me, I meant to be specific: Passed unanimously at committee of the whole!

Did I miss some social media or blog post where one of our city councillors was going to actively come out against the park plan?

And what about the plan itself? In its pdf pages were lavish details about how the cost of land, the reticence of developers to donate land, and the dwindling amount of property within the city’s borders were all a threat to Guelph’s people-to-park ratio. About 92 per cent of us live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and yes, that’s a number in danger of losing ground.

That’s all the report said. More people in Guelph, plus less land, equals a danger of less parkland per capita unless we act, which is why city staff were doing this work in the first place. They’re acting! In the midst of the tremendous, and sometimes existential problems facing us, city staff are making sure there’s always a place nearby where you can kick a ball. Or whatever.

Yet, we forget parks are a luxury of those of us that have the time to enjoy them. It’s hard to find the energy to run and play when you’re working 60 hours a week to put a roof over your head in our exorbitantly expensive real estate market.

On the other hand, the park is a nice place to pop a tent after you’re evicted for missing one rent payment when your landlord jacks it up past the point of affordability. Just kidding! Police and bylaw will move swiftly to remove anyone with no place else to go from an official city park. We can’t ruin people’s good time with the sight of society’s failures.

But failure is in the eye of the beholder, which is why the business owners in the plaza along Wellington Street East better watch their back. Our park-happy cabal is coming for you because at some point in the last 60 years someone put a strip mall where a park should be and you’re about to pay the price for it.

Forget the fact that Guelph is awash in empty storefronts, so by all means let’s wipe out a successful commercial node. I get that 'Wellington Park' is in the Downtown Secondary Plan, and if that plaza was nearly empty, I would say “Go for it, make it park,” but that plaza is full. Are the park fans ready to justify the cost, and likely legal expense, of moving two dozen businesses to get their river view?

Chances are that they don’t care. People’s lives don’t matter in Guelph as much as building immaculate park amenities and trails do, because environmentalism here is about virtue signalling and not taking actual steps to make the environment better.

Talking points about self-care, mental health and physical action are also similarly self-serving because you can only enjoy those things if you’re not working yourself to death in order to live in one of the most expensive places in Canada. Your mental health isn’t going to be solved by a neighbourhood park if your paycheque’s not up to snuff, and you’re probably too tired from labouring to go for a walk anyway.

If this analysis seems overly harsh, it is, but I hope anyone reading this can appreciate the truthy nugget in the centre: No one at the City of Guelph is anti-park, and we don’t have to lobby like there’s a bunch of concrete mixers on the outskirts of town waiting for the parks advocates to let their guard down so they can pave paradise.

I said a few weeks ago that I wish a fraction of the passion for active transportation in Guelph could be redirected to transit. Perhaps we can say the same for parks.

Perhaps we can redirect some of that passion for parks to more economic equality. Or a higher minimum wage. Or expanded employment benefits like mandatory vacation days. It’s probably the only way some of us will ever be able to enjoy one of these parks we’ve heard so much about.