Tuesday, 26 October 2010

My Park is My Life

We have a plague in our city, attacking the greenspace and grass, and eradicating it. It’s called “interlocking brickweed.”

There are a few great parks in the city, and my park – Rotary Park – ranks top of my favourites list. I used to try and define what it meant to be a “great park.” Included in the list: big trees, nice grass, lots of puppies, a nice playground, pretty to look at, and a place to kick a ball.

But a great park is more than just a list of the stuff in it. A great park has a great ambiance, and a place where simply walking into it, you somehow feel different. I feel that way when I enter the gates in Banff, or drive past the Spray Lakes Dam on Hwy 742, and I have never understood why.

Pearce Estate Park is another of my favourite city parks. Situated on the river, in a remote corner of Inglewood, it just strikes me as being a special place the moment I step out of my car. Interestingly, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary just a little way away doesn’t have the same effect on me. Pearce has a wonderful riparian habitat, access to the weir, dramatic sweeps and turns in the bike path system, and a peaceful little stream running out of the fish hatchery. How unlike Rotary Park – and yet somehow they share the same feel for me.

Unfortunately, like many green spaces in the city, Rotary Park and Pearce Estate are under pressure from the deadly spreading interlocking brickweed.

Pearce estate was "improved" by the construction of a wetland, and is being further "improved" with a whitewater paddling channel around the weir. It's still a nice place, but the brickweed is invading.

I don’t know why, but our City seems to dislike greenspace – at least, greenspace in a natural setting. I remember when Prince’s Island was on my “favourites” list. Then the City “improved” it. The first improvement was to destroy the riverbank behind what was the Hard Rock Café and some condos, and pave it. This was subsequently “improved” even further with the aforementioned interlocking brickweed. Here was a lovely riparian riverbank in the heart of the city that was cut down. Then the City did the same on the island side, replacing part of what was grass with more brickweed and a big promenade. For a while, they twinned the bike paths on the south side, effectively and safely separating the joggers and bikers from the strollers and walkers. Then after turning some of that space into condos, they added yet more interlocking brickweed, putting everyone back on the same path. Then they tore out the east end of the island (which was ostensibly doing nothing to hurt anyone) and built a demonstration stormwater retention pond (which they freely admit in their signage doesn't handle much of the downtown runoff) and surrounded it with brickweed paths.

So Prince’s Island is choking in a sea of interlocking brickweed. That same deadly brickweed is spreading and can be found covering the greenspace in Olympic Plaza, Barclay Mall, around Lindsay Park, in areas of Riley Park, around the Louise Bridge, and numerous other greenspaces which are under pressure in our poor city.

So pervasive is the spread of the interlocking brickweed that I am no longer aware of greenspace in downtown yet to be affected. Lost in the last few years was that lovely spot of grass behind the courthouse. My favourite pocket park in the city – on 6th Ave in Bow Valley Square – was full of brickweed. Now it's gone, a construction zone.

Brickweed is bad. Having brickweed show up as an “improvement” means that old trees will be cut down to make space for new runty saplings to be planted. Take a look at the spread of brickweed east of Centre Street on the banks of the Bow. Mature trees? Gone! Pathway? "Upgrading" in progress!

Brickweed means your playground will be “upgraded” with less playground equipment, and buried in a sea of pea gravel.

I have played in my park for 20 years. I have written poetry because of swinging on the swings (no, you can’t hear it – and you should be thankful). I have met more puppies, seen more sunsets, watched more traffic, and showed off the view more times than I can remember.

A few years ago, you could tell the spread of brickweed was happening in my park. First, some red shale showed up. This actually seemed a good idea, as they finally created formal pathways where people walked anyway. Then they painted the stairs – a seemingly pointless proposition, since the paint lasted less than 2 years, the grafitti goons got it, and the stairs still need to be replaced. But that same year, the brickweed attacked the curling club area of Prince’s Island, and Crescent Heights West got a set of megasteps. Paint didn’t seem like a bad idea.

The curse of the brickweed then came in force in 1999. My daughter watched horrified as her favourite swings in the whole city were ripped out. Seven big swings were replaced by two little swings and a tire. The concrete sewer pipes, home to numerous hide and seek games, were torn out. Pea gravel replaced grass. Trees went bye-bye, including the big majestic one, biggest in the park, which shaded the pool. Other trees were given haircuts within an inch of their lives, and some suffered the ill effects for it. Trees were replaced by some poor “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” saplings. Twenty plus years later, the trees are still runty nothings.

At the behest of my daughter, and because of my own indignation, I wrote and complained to the City. They said the swings were removed because they were painted with lead paint (Parents: How many of you let your kids chew on pipe? Those with your hands up, please get your heads examined). They said the sewer pipes were too dangerous. They said they cut the big tree because it was dying (it’s sure dead now, and while I am not a tree expert, it was one of the few trees in the park that really did appear healthy). They said we should be thankful we got the new playground equipment we did. They said pea gravel was safer than hard ground.

Ain’t brickweed grand?

Then more brickweed came to cover up more of my park. They built a fancy city overlook complete with placarded benches and a brickweed promenade. Well, I could see the city just fine right without an overlook. The overlook attracted the dreaded “traffic” to come see the view. It resulted in the eradication of some trees (amazing how those pesky trees get in the way of the view). At the time of the overlook development, we also got a fancy interlocking brickweed pathway to our interlocking brickweed overlook, eradicating even more grass and trees. It was lined with runty trees that are still runty after 10 years, and about of third of them are dead.

And I never understood why we needed an overlook anyway. Maybe it’s me – had anyone noticed there was already an overlook and proper parking on Crescent Road? In fact, there’s less parking at that overlook than there used to be, because residents there complained about 18 years ago that too may people were coming to look at the view.

Last week, they started tearing out the wading pool in my park. You know the one: it used to have the "Wonder Water Word" art installation painted on its bottom. Apparantly, the pool was (gasp!) dangerous. Thirty years ago, when I moved into the neighborhood, they filled and emptied the pool every few days. Then they started emptying the pool and refilling it every day. Then they started draining it at 4 PM. Now the pool is being removed and a water park with no standing water is being installed.

All because the current pool has no water filter. Now don't get me wrong -- pools should be sanitary. But I'm not aware of any kids who got sick from the pool in the last 30 years. The same way the swings were bad because they were painted with lead paint, we have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading the pool because the City desn't want to take on the liability from irresponsible parents. And with the "improved" water park will come more brickweed, I bet.

My park is dying under a sea of “improvements”, just like Prince’s Island died, and just like they are trying to kill off Pearce Estate. Brickweed is in Kananaskis, it’s in Banff – paradise is being paved. Here come the parking lots.

I like greenspace. It looks like the older I get, the farther I have to go to find it.

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