By Jamie Swift
Q: Who would want to ram an arterial road through the only waterfront green space that’s close to downtown and north of Princess Street?
A: People who have yet to realize that the world – and its climate — is changing.
This was a subject of some hot words (“Madness!”) at a meeting last summer. At issue was the proposed Wellington Street Extension.
The gathering, held in the social room of an Anglin Bay condo building, brought together some 40 people, mostly of the grey-haired variety. Their concern was that the long-planned road would devastate Doug Fluhrer Park, a leafy sanctuary for people living in the Near North End. The park is a favourite haunt for joggers, dog walkers, anglers, picnickers and people who simply savour a quiet stroll along the water.
Kingston, like Toronto, has a woeful record of waterfront planning. A slab wall of private apartments and hotels separates the city centre from its shoreline. Still, refugees from big city traffic woes are attracted to Kingston by its attractive scale and waterfront situation.
“Why would we want to make Kingston more like Toronto?” asked Sydenham District Councillor Bill Glover who attended the meeting.
Along with her husband Edward, Mary Farrar is the moving force behind a proposal for an imaginative Great Cataraqui River Trail that would start in the Inner Harbour area near Anglin Bay. She speaks with unabashed enthusiasm of a new way of using Kingston’s waterfront by building a scenic walking and cycling riverside trail.
The Trail would allow residents and visitors to get a look at the fascinating natural world that still exists along a shoreline where factories and rail yards once employed the North End working class. If the Wellington Extension proceeds, that part of Trail would become a sidewalk for a road carrying 800 vehicles an hour at peak periods.
Mary is savvy enough to realize that opposition to the Wellington Extension folly needs to be married with a positive vision that the Trail represents. Wondering where in the world the traffic will go once it hits the end of the Wellington Extension, she also exhibits a practical understanding of the first law of ecology – everything is connected to everything else.
“Space in the North Block is needed for affordable housing, not parking,” she explained to the meeting.
The North Block refers to the area of vacant land that includes the site of the former Ontario Street police station and the city-owned parking lots in the area around Barrack and Wellington Streets. Promoting population density and street level retail in the area is good planning, something Councillor Rob Hutchison has been pushing for in the North Block. It is in his King’s Town District.
Hutchison told the meeting that although the Wellington Extension is not yet a top City Hall priority, a report on the scheme will be appearing this summer. He urged people who see the new road as an expensive mistake to get organized and speak with one voice. Hutchison realized that the Extension was a big issue for the people he represents soon after he was elected in 2006. Having looked at it from all angles, he does not see how it an be made to work without doing irreparable damage to Doug Fluhrer park, so he is now completely opposed to the road.
The majority on Kingston’s recently elected Council, together with the upper levels of the civil service, do not seem to share that sentiment. City Hall has historically been either sympathetic or directly beholden to property developers. Bill Glover, a longtime supporter of public transit, told the meeting that Council’s recently adopted “strategic priorities” have nothing to so with long-term strategic thinking or planning. Rather, he said that they were simply a wish list of projects – all of which depend to some extent on money from outside the city. He added with a shrug that “This council has tossed public transit in the garbage.”
From a planning perspective that prioritizes environmentally friendly city living, encouraging residential density in the North Block makes good sense. Downtown densification means more people walking and cycling. Kingston’s new Official Plan is clear on this. And, as one person at the meeting pointed out, residents of any new North Block neighborhood would require parkland nearby. But the adjacent Doug Fluhrer park is precisely the green space threatened by proposed road that would dump traffic into the very area that would be designed for non-automotive use.
Mike Cole-Hamilton lives in the Inner Harbour area and has studied the massive, opaque 2006 Wellington Extension plan closely. He wonders why the City of Kingston did not do the right thing and build a wheelchair ramp down to Doug Fluhrer Park when its built its Rideaucrest seniors’ home overlooking the waterfront. He hopes this oversight might still be corrected but has noticed that the road plan would make it more difficult.
Another unforeseen headache is the way that the Wellington Extension would affect people living at Town Homes Kingston’s 39-unit property on Rideau Street just north of Rideaucrest. Residents of these rent-geared-to-income townhouses can now easily saunter down to the park. If the Wellington Extension were built, they would find their access cut off by a busy, noisy road designed for trucks. Kingston has little enough affordable housing. Why make life unpleasant for low-income folks lucky enough to live in what we do provide?
Local writer Jamie Swift has lived in the Skeleton Park neighborhood for over twenty years