On Friday, several residents and activists teamed-up to stop work for the day at the Lafarge site in the city's west end. After years of threatened development and negotiations, the land owners were taking the plunge and cutting down nearly 2,000 trees for a project to be named later, but it was was not to be on this day. Why? The neighbourhood wants the developer to be more neighbourly.
"It's really about getting our message out there," said Annie Corbin, one of the organizers and spokesperson for the one day work stoppage. "Wild spaces need to be valued, that nature has a value far beyond monetary, and that we're inviting the people at Fieldgate Commercial and Mayor Cam Guthrie to come and talk to us about what's going on, and to call on the developers to be good neighbours and stop the cutting."
To recap, the City put out a press release just before the close of business on Friday July 14 that a permit to destroy or injury a large number of trees on the Lafarge property had been issued. According to that release, the trees were supposed to start coming down before the end of July, but the machinery didn't arrive until this past week. According to Corbin, workers have been trying to start the clear-cut on the down low.
"They did some cutting [Thursday] evening," Corbin explained. "[Wednesday] night, I was here and no cutting had been done yet, but by 8 am the next day there was a bunch of cutting and nobody here still, so they were cutting late night."
On Friday, Corbin said, the big equipment started arriving as the protestors were gathering. It looked like the contractors were going to be less shy about about cutting down trees by doing so in broad daylight, but they likely weren't expecting a reception that morning. "There's been lots of music and cheering, so we let them know there's a work stoppage and they consented to that," Corbin added. "We successfully have another day of no cutting."
That will likely change on Tuesday when the workers return to continue the work, but Corbin is hoping the pause will prompt City government to take action, especially the mayor who recently talked about a similar dilemma in his own neighbourhood on his blog.
"We're saying let's see some action put to those words," Corbin said. "We think [Mayor Guthrie] is taking a really safe stance, saying he's sympathetic but his hands are tied, and I don't really think that's the case."
"Just accepting, 'That's the way it goes these days' is not good enough," Corbin continued. "What's gotten me active in this personally is that I was here with my children and some neighbourhood kids the first day they were putting up fencing and they cut down a couple of trees that day, and the reaction of the kids was so strong. They were outraged, and kids have no filter."
What particularly is making people angry is that the trees are being cut down, and there's no plan on the books to build anything on the site; it's a little like putting the cart before the horse in the opinion of area residents.
"That's what people are outraged about," Corbin said. "Everybody, my neighbours, thinks it's ridiculous to cut it down before there's an application for development. Why destroy a habitat that has so many amazing benefits just to keep it barren for an unknown length of time? It's needless."
So what happens on Tuesday? "They'll be back," Corbin said. "Unless Fieldgate Commercial stops the destruction. They have the power to do that, and that is what we're calling on them for. We'll see what the response is."
Corbin concedes that the moment was inevitable, but the situation's been handled poorly. "What's happening happened so quickly, we weren't given any advanced notice," she explained. "There's the underpass issue, the key stores that wanted to come here were lost during the battle with the neighbourhood group, and I think everyone really held out hope that it wouldn't happen."
"Even though this land is privately owned, they've allowed the community to become attached to it," she continued. "The community has adopted this space, it's been decades of people using this land. It is a park, it's not just a piece of land."