The Park That Isn’t
From the Nest, Issue 6
by Maggie Martineau
It was a bitterly cold February day when we moved into our new home. It would be a month or so before I would start seriously walking the area and getting a sense of our new neighbourhood. The first discovery was the park just over from our street. It was called, ironically, Central Park and offered no resemblance to its iconic namesake.
It did not feature a lake on which to paddle a boat, no lovely gardens or mature landscape. This Central Park was surrounded by worker cottages nestled close together with new builds and solid brick houses with their pronounced front porches — looming in the near distance, the ubiquitous high-rise buildings. In truth, the name simply stated its location. Central Park, a place in the middle of the downtown core of a mid-sized industrial city situated on the Hamilton harbour.
For years I walked through the park on a daily basis. On my way to work and back and on the weekend to the market and library. My relationship deepened with this unobtrusive green gem. I loved walking underneath the allee of trees that led to Mulberry Street.
The fragrant scent of linden blossoms was an absolute delight in early spring. On more difficult days, when I was stressed and weary from the working day, the entrance to the park became a demarcation between my public persona and my personal and home life.
This gently rolling green space offered a welcome open-air respite for people living in cramped apartments and a relaxing space where young mothers could socialize while their toddlers frolicked and gamboled in the playground. The tennis courts were always in use and the older kids played soccer or baseball on the pitch; whichever game was popular. In the heat of summer, people would stroll through the park in the coolness of the evening.
In 2015, the renovation of Central Park was included in the Barton-Tiffany Urban Design Plan. The design showed a greenspace with an emphasis on new builds strategically placed along the perimeter. Throughout the years, changes were spoken of, however, nothing came to fruition. It stayed a vague and uncertain design for the future.
Then, on April 10, 2018, the City Planning Department held a community information session.
The meeting was standing room only and could be described as a “lively event”.
Many of the changes were met with concern and one aspect was particularly contentious (and since tentatively resolved). Nonetheless, it is a telling example of how the Planning Department functions. When asked why there was no additional lighting in the design, the response was that the police do not want any “activity” at night in the park. For further clarification it was noted that Central Park is designated a neighbourhood park, and as such, is not eligible for additional lighting.
When I mentioned that it gets dark at in the later afternoon for a good part of the year and that many children use the park to return home from school, I was met with silence.
What became apparent was that the redevelopment of the park had more to do with complying with specific, and I might add odd, regulations rather than the actual design of a park for the needs of the residents in the community.
In response to the meeting by the Planning Department, the Central Neighbourhood Association prepared a community survey. The results were sent to the city planning department with a request that the documents be published as a matter of record.
This is where it gets interesting.
In the Spring of 2018, an environmental report and other analyses were underway. Deadlines were extended and residents were advised that access to the documents could only be obtained by filing a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Finally, in October 2019, Central Park was bulldozed into oblivion.
Massive mounds of dirt appeared on what once was the sports field. On the top of these hills were craters filled with rainwater, deep enough to drown a child.
Complaints were made and only after many months was the area fenced off. The barrier was flimsy and accessible, serving no real purpose.
Soon after, truckloads of dirt filled with detritus began to appear throughout the south eastern portion of the park.
Councilor Farr maintained it was “clean fill” from Churchill Park, yet it was clear to anyone walking through the area that it was anything but.
As the pandemic hit, all work on the park stopped. An understandable situation, until it became obvious that other park developments were not at a standstill.
Now when I walk through Central Park, three and a half years later, it is as if I inhabit a dystopic wasteland.
Instead of low-rise residential builds dotting the perimeter, there are the tents of the homeless and disenfranchised. Children ride their bikes on York Boulevard in the midst of traffic. Parents sit on concrete and watch their children play in the Hess schoolground, since there is nowhere else for them to go.
Ironically, the turnaround circles at the ends of the streets abutting the south and west portions of the park have been completed, built high enough so that the police can monitor the park without even getting out of their cruisers.
I know this won’t last forever.
The optimist in me realizes the park will eventually be completed, the pessimist believes the timing will coincide with the next municipal election.
Maggie Martineau lives in the Central neighbourhood, is an avid gardener, committed community activist, and an occasional writer; she has an interest in philosophy, namely Henri Bergson and Simone Weil, parallel universes, and seventeenth century botanical illustration