Perhaps it was pent-up community energy or perhaps a growing awareness of the importance of urban green spaces, but, as though a pied piper were in the lead, children, dogs, parents, grandparents, neighbours, and friends magically materialized on the bluff above the Rideau River known as Besserer Park on September 9. Though it was a perfect September early evening, treats and entertainment awaited, and neighbours were delighted to meet and greet, they were there to save the park.
Developer TCU has plans, despite community protest and appeals, to erect an apartment building on Fountain Place at the Rideau River level that would intrude on the park above. Their last application would oblige the City to pave part of the park as an extension of Besserer Street to access three parking spaces for that apartment building. Not only would public park space be paved but the pavement would serve only one private interest and would oblige taxpayers to maintain that street extension in all seasons.
Spearheaded by Besserer Street resident Michael Barnes, all formal ways to appeal have been exhausted.
For over thirty years some of us have been protecting this “small green gem” through several previous development proposals. During that time trees have grown to shelter and shade, cyclists and pedestrians appreciate the alternative to the chaos on Rideau Street, and dogs may frolic.
On September 9, protest was enthusiastic banners in French and English decried the possibility that any part of Besserer Park could be lost to private interests. Our very limited urban green space is more valued than ever, not only because of increased appreciation and use during the pandemic, but because of the recent and ongoing development of so many residential units on Rideau Street.
As Hilary Duff, organizer and spokesperson for Action Sandy Hill (ASH), said “we need to defend public parks this is a breakdown between public good and private interest.” She pointed out that the developer could provide parking on the Fountain Place site simply by building 19 instead of 20 units. Besserer Park is the backyard for neighbours who may have none she said. Iola Price of the Greenspace Alliance spoke passionately about the need for green spaces not only for human well-being but to mitigate the effects of climate change. Such spaces “improve our sense of well-being, offer shelter for wildlife, provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide and pollutants, and slow or prevent water runoff.” The retaining wall for this development will result in the loss of 20 or more trees on the south slope. Glenys Egan, a Sandy Hill resident and Ottawa Horizon organizer, spoke of the grassroots effort to make a “better Ottawa for all to put people before profit.”
Horizon Ottawa and ASH arranged the event. Aside from the snacks, banners and banter, the inspiration of the speakers, the over 600 signatures on a petition, and the size of the crowd (ASH reports 100), the event was elevated by musicians Ronney Abramson and Jerry Golland.
We were treated to great versions of a couple of original and several familiar folk tunes; not surprisingly Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi (aka “Paved Paradise”) was the favourite. Ronney Abramson sang her new verse which expressed the sentiment of the event:
Hey Mr Paver,
Take those big machines away now
We want our green grass
And a place for all the people to play now
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone
DON’T pave BESSERER,
WE DON’T WANT NO PARKING LOT
Though Councillor Fleury reported that TCU would withdraw the application to extend Besserer Street, that has not been confirmed as we go to press. City planner Kimberley Baldwin says “the applicant is considering a revised concept with a reduced number of residential units and two parking spaces off of Fountain Place only.” The protest and the petition may persuade Council to deny what would set a precedent for the private appropriation of greenspace. We must hope that Councillor Fleury will convince his colleagues that park space is sacred.