Resistance called for when change isn’t for the better

Things weren’t going well for Woolwich officials even before the real reason for developing a portion of Victoria Glen park – funding the spate of township construction projects – slipped out. Council chambers hadn’t seen this kind of turnout since the raceway and Wal-Mart debates. All of the speakers Tuesday night were critical of plans to declare as surplus parts of the green space, paving the way for the potential construction of some new homes.

“Potential” looked a whole lot more like “certain” at the revelation Woolwich is counting on the development of the land to pay for its aggressive capital spending.

Feelings of misrepresentations aside, there are plenty of reasons for residents to be upset with their elected officials on this file. The largest objection centers on selling off shared assets for a one-time cash fix. It’s the kind of move we’ve seen from the likes of Mike Harris and Stephen Harper, though their motivation was more ideologically driven and tied to a desire to reward friends by putting public goodies into private hands.

The Woolwich situation matches the recent attempt by the City of Kitchener to sell off some of its land, including parks, for development. There, too, a massive public outcry against selling off public property for private gain eventually forced council to back down from the shortsighted proposal.

Local supporters of the Victoria Glen park are hoping for the same result here. I can certainly sympathize with their position.

Growing up in a suburb of Montreal, I lived in a community with an abundance of green spaces, including a network of paths seemingly ahead of its time: these paved routes that ran at the rear of many of the original homes were perfectly suited for kids to travel around town by foot or by bike. Within sight of my home, I could see a large bush area much larger than Victoria Glen. It was home to wild raspberries, blackberries and plum trees. A pond provided many an unfortunate toad or bottle full of tadpoles. The undergrowth was a great place to build a secret hideout.

Within easy walking distance was another prime area, home to farmer’s hill, the place for tobagganing in the winter, and turtles’ creek, an ideal spot for tree forts. A series of well-worn footpaths set the stage for overzealous stunt riding on bicycles and motorized mini-bikes, the latter once enabling me to get off the beaten track and right into a bad case of poison oak.

Such was the state of the green spaces all through my childhood, and into my adult years before I left town. Subsequent visits, however, revealed changes. The forests and creek-side growth of turtles’ creek became Condo Rivière de la Tortue – when I first heard about it, I thought it was a joke, simply because of the name. But, sure enough, I got to see the residential project for myself.

Farmer’s hill, too, was deemed an ideal condo site, though vestiges of it remain. The place is diminished, though some of that may have to do with the fact I’m no longer hauling a toboggan up what seemed like Mt. Everest to an eight-year-old.

The bush within sight of my home – always referred to as “across the tracks,” as the CN line separated it from the developed side – went later on. Rumours about development stretch as far back as I can remember – a mall was the most common suggestion – but nothing happened for years. Only recently have a couple of roads broached the tracks, paving the way for some new residential subdivisions. A new highway interchange was introduced on the land, though closer to the western end of town.

I have no doubt when I’m back there next weekend that there will be more buildings and fewer vestiges of my childhood and the childhoods of many more besides.

Unlike those Elmira residents fighting against a similar fate for Victoria Glen, however, I haven’t faced losing something that is still part of my daily life. Certainly, as I walk around my old hometown every time I visit, I can’t help but think about the changes, but I don’t have to live with the loss; I don’t have to explain to the next generation about how it used to be such a great place to be a kid. Somebody, of course, has done just that: those of my friends and acquaintances who stayed on, and remember as clearly as I do the way things were, but are no longer.

Some would say that’s simply progress, that change is inevitable. Some might even say I’m being overly sentimental. But not all change is for the better, and there’s nothing wrong with nostalgia in good measure. The people who realize those facts are the ones lined up to oppose Woolwich’s plans for Victoria Glen.

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