It’s happened again. In less than two years, major changes have been or are about to be made to three public parks in Ottawa without any widespread public notification.
The first was Hampton Park, where about 400 diseased ash trees needed to go. No one disputes that the trees had to be felled, but notification within the park would have been nice. For those not glued to the city’s Twitter feed, a walk through Hampton Park last January was a bit of a shock.
The second was Mooney’s Bay where a secret deal was signed between the city and a TV production company without any public consultation. Not one sign appeared at Mooney’s Bay Park that such a proposal had even been received.
The third is Carlington Hill. A proposal by the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association was advertised on the city’s website in 2013 but there were no signs alerting community members of its existence in and around the Hill itself.
In every single case, there was zero effort to alert those community members who use these spaces—these public parks—of proposed changes. No effort to engage people where they are. Every time this happens, public trust is eroded just a little more and @cynicism gets more followers.
Does the City of Ottawa get its jollies by shooting itself in the foot time after time? For a few dollars, signs would at least address one of the most common complaints, voiced on any number of local issues, of the inadequacy (or outright) lack of public notification.
When it comes to tree removal, we all know it must, in some cases, be done from time to time. Because it’s a reasonably frequent occurrence, “Tree Removal” signs would need to be reusable.
In the case of Hampton Park, it was the National Capital Commission (which is responsible for part of the park) who took out the old and replanted new trees. The city manages the ball diamonds and the wading pool and is responsible for maintenance, and knew the tree removal would be happening. Reusable signs could have been set up a few days before, inside the two main entrance areas of the park, giving pedestrians and dog walkers and other park users time to plan an alternate route for that day. Hell, if the NCC had played its cards right, it probably could have asked the locals to sponsor the new trees planted and saved some money on its forestry budget.
But that didn’t happen. Public parks are not even afforded anywhere near the same respect as roadways or buildings.
Every time major road construction occurs, electronic signs appear on those roadways alerting drivers of the coming delays and giving them time to change their travel plans if necessary. These alerts aren’t only posted on a website or tweeted out by the city; in some cases, those signs go up months in advance.
Every time a house or building is about to be demolished, the city is required to post a sign, for a set amount of time, that provides enough information so that people around that area are informed and have time to consider the idea and respond. The sign isn’t erected five kilometres away; it’s right on the very site where the change is to occur.
For the cost of a few dollars, why aren’t proposals that have major impacts on public parks not given the same rights as other public spaces?
Things might not have turned out any differently, but had signs inside Mooney’s Bay and Carlington parks been erected—for at least as long as a development permit sign must stay up—no one could have accused the city of a lack of notification. But who knows? Things might have. Funny things happen when people get the right information at the right time in the right place.