OPINION – The Manifestation of People’s Park

Rick Burrowes

Located between Springhurst Park and the Lees Avenue apartment towers, People’s Park hosts thousands of user-hours per week. More than a dozen formal sports and event teams and hundreds of casual users engage in dog-walking, frisbee, spike ball, sparring, martial arts, sunning, kite flying, soccer, quidditch, Movies in People’s Park Nights, and much more.

Yet, incredibly enough, this beautiful oasis, unique to the City’s centre, has been under threat of imminent destruction since the 1950s from forces seeking to build a freeway through its greenspace. Yes, the Alta Vista Transportation Corridor (AVTC) continues to rear its ugly asphalt head! For those of you blissfully ignorant of its existence, the AVTC has been recently reborn, in a gush of greenwash rather than amniotic fluid, as the “Green Transportation and Utility Corridor”. It’s sad – but I’m not making this up.

Less and less sense

With every passing year, the concept of a new freeway to downtown Ottawa makes less and less sense, what with billions of tax dollars already spent on LRT, City Council’s 2019 climate emergency declaration and Highway 417’s expansion, which facilitates access for commuters from Riverside Drive to Nicholas Street. Moreover, in the post-COVID era, fewer people are making daily commutes to and from the city core.

A father and son take advantage of the wide expnase of green space and blue sky at People's Park to enjoy some kite-flying. Phote by Lorne Abugov

A father and son take advantage of the wide expnase of green space and blue sky at People’s Park to enjoy some kite-flying. Phote by Lorne Abugov

A Google Maps search comparing the existing Riverside Drive to Nicholas Street route to the route of the proposed AVTC, shows that the AVTC route cuts the commute by only 1.4 kilometres and all of one to two minutes of driving time. Nonetheless, the City’s Transportation Department plods on with this mid-20th century concept of facilitating private automobiles driving downtown.

Our Old Ottawa East community is frustrated, angry and fed up with the City’s decades-long threat to pave over People’s Park, which is known to City Hall bureaucrats as “160 Lees Avenue”. City staff refuse to designate or recognize People’s Park as an official city park because the Transportation Department appears bent on destroying the greenspace to construct a freeway in its place.

Old Ottawa East volunteers have spent countless hours advocating to have the City remove this outdated freeway plan from Ottawa’s Official Plan once and for all, but so far to little avail. However, community residents – who have done and continue to do more than their share of advocacy – have succeeded at least in forestalling the Council’s adoption of the project. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

The idea is simple

It is timely now for all of us, as a community, to do what we can. An idea has recently surfaced that has been most enthusiastically received and already adopted by hundreds of residents of Old Ottawa East. Starting now, in our conversations and in our thoughts, in our written correspondence with each other and with the City, let’s all refer to this field of green as “People’s Park”.

The idea is that, through our collective belief in People’s Park, we “manifest” this wonderful green space to become an official City of Ottawa park. This community-wide channeling of our willpower may be more powerful than we realize – and it doesn’t hurt to try. We also reinforce, in the minds of People’s Park users’, that this is an official park (“reinforce” because they already believe it to be a park). We will have help along the way. Lee Jacobs of the Communities Activity Group of Old Ottawa East managed to get a Google Maps “pin” dropped on People’s Park, and signs announcing People’s Park will soon appear on the grounds. To see is to believe.

To this end, we will be asking the many teams and clubs that use the park to refer to it as “People’s Park” in communications with their members and “People’s Park (160 Lees)” in correspondence with the City.

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