StobbePark NIMFYGarden 25Jan23

- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

How do we decide what is done with, or on, public land?

We've encouraged you, more than once, to attend committee and council meetings, write letters and respond to City surveys.

Right now, we're asking you to comment on the Community Garden policy that is currently being considered for revision.

So let's look at how that citizen engagement has worked in one particular instance.

Eight raised beds – that was the plan of the Stobbe Park Community Garden Collective.

Just eight raised beds for people to garden in. At least one wanted to grow veggies for O'SHaRE and food programs, but there was no stipulation that they grow food – maybe flowers would be more to the grower's taste.

The collective (created to meet the requirements of the City) sought the guidance of the City's parks department, and followed the existing Community Garden Policy.

The policy was written in 2011, based on the strategic initiatives of marketing “our agricultural assets and opportunities” and the “principles of sustainable development and planned growth in retaining long-term lifestyle opportunities”.

It promotes anticipated gains such as “mental and physical health promotion through the activity of food production” and “contribution to civic enrichment and beautification” and one of its policy objectives is to “provide every citizen the opportunity to access healthy food and a healthy lifestyle”.

In this spirit, the Collective formed and proceeded to follow the policy for 22 months.

From the moment the idea was suggested, there were detractors.

Some of them were also opposed to the addition of playground equipment years ago. They contacted city staff and councillors, wrote letters and answered surveys. When people immediately neighbouring the park were surveyed, 7 out of 10 were in favour of the garden project.

One neighbour attempted to enlist the Owen Sound Hub in promoting what we identified as a clearly NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) effort that is contrary to our mandate.

The comments from the neighbours who were not in favour of the garden included concerns that could be addressed – like compost (no different from home composting, except with a committee overseeing it), parking (again – there were only eight raised boxes planned), and an imagined port-a-potty (which was not part of anyone's plan).

One person was concerned about birds being attracted to the park (?) but most disturbingly, people did not want “outsiders”, specifically “apartment dwellers” coming to the neighbourhood.

tammingstobbeWhat Mr. Tamming is holding up in the picture here on the day that a Community Services committee recommendation to approve the garden was killed ity City Council, is a hand-drawn map showing the immediate vicinity of the park.  

No attempt was made to hide the fact that no one from the City had  verified the information on the map, or followed up with the residents of the red-marked homes someone is claiming rejected the gardens. At least one of those residents, who has since died, stated that they were in fact in favour of the gardens, and no one had come to ask them anything before adding them to the “map” delivered to Mr. Tamming.

Discussion at that meeting was about a fractured neighbourhood and a new policy - not about how public property best serves its public.

It distinctly appeared that opponents saw Stobbe Park not as a public resource on commonly-held land, but as some kind of private reserve for their exclusive enjoyment.

Now Stobbe Park has been removed from the list of parks suitable for community gardens – “in perpetuity”.

Those neighbours, describing themselves often as seniors, will not themselves be living beside this park “in perpetuity”. Our Owen Sound zoning by-law now allows for up to three dwelling units on every property in the city, including those in formerly exclusive single-family R1 zones like this one. We can expect changing demographics in our neighbourhoods.

We often refer to these “accessory dwelling units” as “granny flats”, but in fact they are just as likely to be rented out to younger people, some with children, who may not have the use of the back gardens these homeowners now enjoy. They may want to play in the playground, or plant flowers or vegetables with their children. Why would we make decisions today for an unforseeable future?

Would we allow neighbours a veto over Summerfolk, or the seniors in the new homes by Duncan McLellan to determine whether there are ball tournaments? The neighbours of the amusingly named “Parkview Park” - should they alone determine whether or not there is a walking path into Harrison Park there?  Those liviing by the former Ryerson Park were invited to public meetings about the redevelopment of that space, along with the rest of our community. If some of them had not wanted a playground that attracts families from apartment building and other neighbourhoods, how would we have dealt with their concerns, or would the plans have been cancelled?

The Gitche Namewikwedong Reconciliation Garden with its sacred fire and public gatherings large and small is close to a condominium and a retirement home. Did we ask them to weigh in on its creation, and would we ... should we ... have allowed them to stop it?

Perhaps the most painful thing to read in the comments about a possible community garden in Stobbe Park was the desire to “save our park”.

Save it from what?  Save it from our fellow Owen Sound citizens?  The park wasn't going anywhere. At Stoney Orchard Park, a buyer wanted to purchase a piece of parkland for private development "in perpetuity" and the broader community spoke out and was heard. At Stobbe Park there was a request for a small public investment in the use of a corner of a quiet park for gardening - a reversible, one-growing season at a time, use of community-owned space for the benefit of the community.

Together we need to consider how we will decide how to share this park and all the other public, communal spaces with which our geography and ancestors have blessed this little city of ours.




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