On Public Space

april-12th-2008-0171Now, last night a small miracle happened in Parkdale.

Usually, when it gets rowdy here, individuals just hide behind their doors and do nothing.

There was a woman screaming in the parking lot and glass smashing.

Parkdalians don’t call the cops because well, they usually don’t show up until there’s a body.

Last night I stuck my head off the balcony and there were all kinds of people with their heads over their railings yelling, “Are you okay? What’s going on? Do you need the police?”

I was thunderstruck. That never happens.

Now, one of my pet Parkdalian peeves is that they took all the public benches off the streets and hauled ’em up to some toney neighbourhood north of here, a few years ago.

Then, all the homeowners blocked off the alleyways so no one could ride through them on their bikes and avoid the treacherous roads. Nor did the kids have anywhere to play street hockey and such. The elderly and disabled were forced to walk all the way around instead of taking short cuts.

Supposedly this would cut down on crime.

Well, none of those manoeuvrings lessened the homelessness problem and it certainly didn’t lessen the crime rate. Having spent years in Little India at Coxwell and Gerrard,  where folks gather on the benches and socialize right on the street until 11pm or later,  I thought this isolationist gentrifying was the most idiotic attempt I’d ever seen to isolate the crime factor in public space.

If “normal” people aren’t riding through the alleys to get home, having barbecues and sitting around on garden furniture chatting, and regular citizens can’t sit down for a rest while shopping, it is going to increase the amount of violence and general mayhem in a neighbourhood, not decrease it.

Having good cycling areas, accepting cyclists and pedestrians instead of isolating people behind walls of brick, steel and glass where they don’t know their neighbours or what’s going on ten feet outside their door, makes a neighbourhood more dangerous.

If we know all the financially disadvantaged folks, the people with mental health conditions, the disabled, the sex trade workers, the drug users, and those that struggle and we wave a cheery “hello” or include them in every daily life then we stop thinking of “us vs. them”. They are no longer “other”–they are Parkdalians, too.

Cycling is part of a street-based, public space culture.

The sooner we move that direction, the better we off our whole community will be.

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2 Comments

  1. 2 thumbs up!

    • @Sven
      Glad you liked it. I was inspired by the few bits of The Yellow Bike I actually saw through the window. It showed how all those ideas are actually intertwined for the public good.

      Plus I’ve been kvetching about the benches for years!


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