I have had a city park near to me pretty well all my life and because they have always been there I have rather taken it for granted that they always would be. Some parks have been wide open with trees and grass and sometimes a lake. While others have been more formal parks with paths and flower beds and often a glasshouse with exotic plants … but they have all offered somewhere to walk and take exercise and smell the smells of nature. All very important when you live an urban or suburban life.

In England …

Roundhay Park in Leeds (my first when very young) – top right photo,

The Canal Gardens in Leeds

West Park in Wolverhampton – centre right,

Kelsey-Kerridge Park in Beckenham,

The amazing Portholme Meadow in Godmanchester (largest meadow in England) – lower right

In Quebec …

The several small and medium sized parks in Baie-D’Urfé, Québec where I now live.

Why the sudden interest in parks? Because all of a sudden we have learned that a segment of one of our town parks is probably going to be built on. The building that they plan to put there will be a childcare centre, undoubtedly an asset to the community, but the location … well, simply not acceptable for so many reasons, some of which I have outlined below. This is a park/green space that everyone had hitherto understood to be sacrosanct and unthreatened by development. Indeed the Mayor who has voted for the development is on record in the past as having made “over my dead body” statements about the importance of maintaining our parks. In a short segment about this issue on a local TV station last night she again confirmed that parks and green spaces are very important to her.

Of course, there is a lot of enthusiasm for a child care facility expansion, that’s understandable but it is important that this does not allow the site selection to just roll over uncontested. Sadly we have heard of people, including at least one councillor, saying that they think we have enough parks and there is space to spare. Really? I am not opposed in any way to the facility being built, but not at any price. Parks are important. Period.

Consequently a lot of people in town are starting to say “hold on a moment. Let’s slow down and think about this”.

Let’s look at some of the benefits that parks and green spaces bring to our community.

Here are the main benefits that green space brings to a community. The sources I have quoted from follow if you want to know more:

Parks are emerging as important public health solutions in urban communities. Nearly 40 years of research evidence confirms that nearby nature, including parks, gardens, the urban forest and green spaces, support human health and wellness … Creating small parks can be a productive public and private joint venture that introduces the spaces for nature encounters that benefit everyone.

The ability of green spaces to significantly improve the physical and mental health of its citizens is a cornerstone by which communities improve their quality of life.

The mere presence of landscape or trees appears to promote community connections. Views of green space from homes are linked to greater perceptions of well-being and neighbourhood satisfaction. Public housing residents reported feeling more safe if their development had well-maintained landscaping, including trees and grass. Greener public housing neighbourhoods tend to be safer, with fewer incivilities and less reported crimes. Active involvement in community greening and nature restoration projects also produces social benefits, including strengthening of intergenerational ties and organizational empowerment.

Views or brief experiences of nearby nature help to restore the mind from mental fatigue, as natural settings provide respite from the highly focused attention needed for most tasks in school or at work. Visual exposure to nature, in the form of trees, grass and flowers, can effectively reduce stress, particularly if initial stress levels are high.

Protecting trees is especially important as they clean the air we breathe and provide shade. It is estimated that U.S. urban trees alone remove 75,000 tons of air pollutants annually. Conservation needs to be done by humans to prevent damage caused by humans. Conservation means a lot to the local and global community because without it, ecosystems would fall apart due to short-sighted development while animals could become endangered or extinct like jellyfish, Monarch butterflies, etc.

Public parks increase property value of residential properties immediately adjacent to parks by as much as 20% of the properties’ marginal value – especially if the park is a natural area.

Just as growing communities need to upgrade and expand their built infrastructure of roads, sewers, and utilities, they also need to upgrade and expand their green infrastructure, the interconnected system of green spaces that conserves natural ecosystem values and functions, sustains clear air and water, and provides a wide array of benefits to people and wildlife. Green infrastructure is a community’s natural life support system, the ecological framework needed for environmental and economic sustainability.

In other words, just having green spaces around us, even if we only see them through the window or drive past, is highly beneficial to the health and well being of communities and individuals.

Losing our small park on Stafford and Westchester will throw away most of those benefits for ever.

Even if you rarely wander in our parks you do walk or drive past them. They are perhaps the most commonly quoted reason that people are attracted to live here. Almost everyone will agree that they are a major reason why residents of Baie-D’Urfé find living in our exceptionally favoured town to be such a joy. You almost cannot attend a town meeting without someone speaking of the pleasure and importance of our trees, of the “country feel” they bring to our community.

Yes, the site in question is just a small portion of the green inheritance we have been bequeathed by earlier generations in town and so it is easy to think nobody will miss it if is built on. Couldn’t be more wrong. To let this attractive corner of our park system be lost, however worthy the cause is to accept a precedent that gradually, but by bit, can lead to more and more parcels of our town’s open spaces being lost to development. Thin end of the wedge.

Time to stand together and say that we must look at alternative sites and make it clear that “No, we will not hand over our grass and trees and flowers and birds and all the benefits they bring to our community without a very convincing reason being offered”.  The town has to find alternative locations. There must be buy-in from all the residents of Baie-DUrfé. That’s the democratic way.

It would help if Council stepped back and the study done at the beginning of the year by the planning committee (TPAC) – which concluded there was no feasible location for the development – be reconsidered. An open consultation with residents having all the facts and options laid out on the table is important to transparency and fairness. So far decisions have been taken with no apparent effort to consult the people who live here and who will be affected, one way or the other, by the outcome of this process.

The park in winter

The butterfly garden in the park on Stafford

Sources of texts quoted above: