The oasis at the end of the street

Pam
Pam Frampton
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"But I would ask one question, Your Worship, and I will leave it at this: how do you create a revenue stream from a green space?"

- former St. John's councillor Kevin Breen, Aug. 8, 2005

Growing up out around the bay, the need for "green space" was a foreign concept.



Green space? Sure the place was full of it. Blue space, too. Water. Trees. Fresh air. Room to roam. Things we were privileged enough to take for granted. So privileged, we didn't know we were privileged, if you know what I mean.



In the early 1990s, living in a rowhouse apartment in downtown St. John's, all of a sudden green space meant something.



When you're surrounded by asphalt and faded clapboard, drowning in street noise, living cheek by jowl with your neighbours with not a patch of weedy grass to call your own, green space is like gold.



So, if you're lucky enough to move into a neighbourhood that has a park, well, it's like striking it rich.



There's a small park in the east end of St. John's like that. It's tucked away in the close-knit neighbourhood that Quidi Vidi Road runs through - so tucked away, in fact, that most people outside the area don't even know it exists.



It's at the base of Signal Hill, near the Miller Centre, and you can get to it at the end of Cavell Avenue, which is why it's called Cavell Avenue Playground.



There's a swing set, a slide and some teeter-totters. A bench and a trash can. Nothing fancy. An expanse of grass dotted with wildflowers.



Ravens like to hang out in the trees. The odd stray cat strolls through. Or you might see a dog, rolling luxuriously on his back.



And the people in the neighbourhood like it, too, which is why Joan Fowler of Quidi Vidi Road was taken aback to find an officious-looking man there recently, sizing things up.



It turns out some businesses in the area are squeezed for parking space and are looking for a swath of land to pave.



Joan walks in the park every day with her adult daughter, who has Down's syndrome, and they both love the tranquility and the open space.



Her daughter's smile speaks eloquently for her when you see them enjoying their daily constitutional.



Joan doesn't want to lose any of the park, and she doesn't appreciate the fact that neighbours weren't notified about the proposed parking lot expansion.



"The tractors could have been up there tearing things up and we wouldn't have known about it until it was too late," she said.



"This little park is wild, and some people would say it's scruffy, but it's very beautiful. I feed birds up there summer and winter. They had a very good summer program up there for kids for years."



The land is owned by the provincial government but the park is maintained by the City of St. John's.



Paul Mackey, the city's director of public works and parks, said last week the city had no problem with the request to use a piece of the land for parking spaces.



"My understanding is that this involves a very small piece of property that is owned by the province," he wrote in an e-mail message. "Our Parks Division has reviewed the proposal and concluded that it will not have any significant impact on the playground and therefore has no objections to the proposed transfer."



But some residents have objections, and they've expressed them to their ward councillors, who have conveyed those concerns to the province.



As a result, the provincial government is reviewing the matter and hopes to come to some sort of resolution that will keep all parties happy.



Here's hoping they succeed.



Because while this may seem like a squabble over a patch of grass in a park tucked away in one small neighbourhood, it's indicative of a larger problem.



When cities and towns are developed without fully considering the needs of the people who live there, then quality of life for those people is diminished.



And neighbourhoods are made up of people, not buildings or parking lots.



The neighbourhood that is home to Cavell Avenue Playground has unique features, including Signal Hill, the Battery and the stately Forest Road cemetery, and yet it is constantly under the threat of new development. Another condo project. Proposed office towers. Road realignment. Big-box supermarkets.



The former church is now an office building. The baseball diamond has been paved for parking. The former military hospital property is being redeveloped into townhouses and condos. The school is gone and there's a hotel and upscale brownstones in its place. The stadium is now a massive supermarket, flanked by a statue that I have dubbed "All Hail the Revenue Stream." It features a family circle, with everyone's hands raised in the air (they are presumably ecstatic at the great deals in the latest flyer).



So, the residents have seen their share of change.



Which is perhaps why they just want to see something stay the same, like Cavell Avenue Playground.



Incidentally, the park and nearby street are thought to have been named for the British war hero, Nurse Edith Cavell, who helped wounded Allied soldiers find freedom when she worked at a Red Cross Hospital in Brussels.



Edith Cavell believed some things were worth fighting for.



Joan Fowler does, too.



"I've shed tears over this," she said last week. "I'm emotional about it, I can't help it."



I hope she wins.



Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Miller Centre, Red Cross Hospital

Geographic location: St. John's, Quidi Vidi Road, Signal Hill Cavell Avenue Edith Cavell Forest Road Brussels

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Recent comments

  • Chris
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    Here in Paradise, we dont have to worry about losing green space its already gone. The mayor pays lip service when he suggests that the new developments will have plenty of green space and parks. Well, its too late for those who have been living here for over 20 years and now have panoramic views of high density subdivisions.

    The water shortage doesnt affect us as much as it does in other municipalities. Thanks to the mayor and council, we have little green space to water. Perhaps, he was thinking outside the box when he suggested that lawns should be small because mowing them contributes to green house gases. With progressive thinking like that, we cant go wrong.

    As Breen suggests in his quote on generating tax revenue, it really boils down to a tax grab. Our town motto should be: If its green, it aint green.

  • Chris
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    Here in Paradise, we dont have to worry about losing green space its already gone. The mayor pays lip service when he suggests that the new developments will have plenty of green space and parks. Well, its too late for those who have been living here for over 20 years and now have panoramic views of high density subdivisions.

    The water shortage doesnt affect us as much as it does in other municipalities. Thanks to the mayor and council, we have little green space to water. Perhaps, he was thinking outside the box when he suggested that lawns should be small because mowing them contributes to green house gases. With progressive thinking like that, we cant go wrong.

    As Breen suggests in his quote on generating tax revenue, it really boils down to a tax grab. Our town motto should be: If its green, it aint green.