You’ve probably already heard, but a TV show has decided that it’s going to build the biggest playground in Canada, and they’re doing it at Mooney’s Bay. The plans have been in the works for a while, but we just heard about it the last few days, when someone (the NCC, the city, the production company) had a bunch of mature trees chopped down.
There had been rumblings in the neighbourhood that something was afoot, but no one knew exactly what (well, some people did, including the local councillor, but that’ll be a topic for another post, probably). It seems that our politicians, planners and TV producers wanted to break ground before anyone broke the news.
Understandably, this has caused a bit of an uproar in the city. While some (including our disingenuous and contemptuous mayor) have pushed back bemoaning Ottawans’ supposed unwillingness to embrace fun, this development is severely flawed and could be a giant setback for the city.
(And, really, how was Mooney’s Bay not already a wonderful, thoroughly enjoyed park?)
So, let’s look at all the problems, shall we?
It’s not the playground, it’s the process
Anyone defending this development is defending government activity that places the desires of a reality TV show over the interests of city residents. The process is anti-democratic, and the public officials who have come out strongly in favour of it have shown utter contempt for the public, the people who will actually have to live with the decision.
Maybe the playground will be nice, we don’t really know. There are some rudimentary sketches online of a Canada-shaped play structure (which seems to put Parliament Hill in Northern Ontario, perfect for an Ottawa park!), and there is talk of the World’s Longest Monkey Bars. No matter how good or bad it turns out, I’m sure kids will be able to find a way to make it fun; that’s kind of the great thing about kids. But at this point, it’s just a big gimmicky play structure that seems to be designed more for the gimmick than the kids.
Which is in keeping with the whole project. It’s being considered a 2017 legacy project. But a legacy project in this spot should be built for the community, not for the spectacle. So far, this is all spectacle.
The site was chosen for the benefit of the TV show. Apparently, producers were offered Mooney’s Bay, Britannia Beach and Andy Haydon Park. They liked Mooney’s Bay, so Mooney’s Bay it is.
This is key: Mooney’s Bay was chosen for the benefit of the project; the project was not planned for the benefit of Mooney’s Bay.
An aside: this is akin to all the talk about the Senators moving to Lebreton Flats. The team and supporters talked about how great the Lebreton Flats location would be for the team. But that shouldn’t really matter. We shouldn’t be worried about how Lebreton Flats could help a hockey team, we should be worried about whether a hockey arena will be good for Lebreton Flats.
Basically, the NCC (who is behind the Mooney’s Bay thing, but has worked in conjunction with the city) is using our home to benefit private businesses.
But, hey, maybe this is the right place for the development. The problem is that there is no way of knowing. The city, NCC and TV folk have done all the planning in private. There have been no consultations, no studies, no surveys, no feedback mechanisms.
Another aside: city bureaucrat claimed that because there was some sort of study done in a decade and a half ago, it’s ok for them to do whatever they want without telling the public.
There’s also been no public discussion about location (or locations) for building a new playground. No talk of where we might really need it, or what communities are starved for park capacity. No discussion about whether we could be spending that million bucks somewhere else.
Oh, sorry, did I forget to mention the price tag?
It’s not the playground, it’s price
The mayor and others who back this like to point out that the TV company is pitching in about $1M for this. Why would we turn down free money or a free park?
The answer, of course, is that it’ll cost us $1M. We’re splitting the development cost of this playground (yes, it’s a $2M playground). You’d think a responsible government (both pols and bureaucrats) would think a bit of public consultation would make sense for such an expense. But they don’t, apparently.
Apparently, the TV peeps have started a GoFundMe campaign for this, so they might not even have their share of the dough, yet we’re already chopping down trees.
City planners are arguing that they don’t have to go to council for this. It’s coming out of the city’s cash-in-lieu funds, and those funds are discretionary.
These planners would seem to need a listen in the difference between what they can do and what they should do. These funds aren’t there for fun vanity projects; they exist to ensure that the city has the park capacity it needs (in the spots it needs it).
Further, the concern should be that this will be a continuing drain on our cash-in-lieu funds. Last year, the city made the cynical move of allowing cash-in-lieu funds to be used for regular maintenance (which could lead to neighbourhoods being starved of needed park capacity). So in coming years when this monstrosity starts to wear out (as all playgrounds do), the city will be able to just tap into these funds to fix the thing. These could be big outlays that will prevent other parks from being built.
Or they could just let it fall into disrepair
But it’s still kind of the playground
Don’t let anyone say that the objections to this playground means Ottawa can’t have nice things. Mooney’s Bay is already a nice thing! The question comes down to whether this is the right thing to add to Mooney’s Bay, or if it will actually make it a little worse.
(And we’re putting aside that they’re going to wait until summer to hit before they start really building the thing. It’s better TV, you see. It doesn’t matter that it’s about the worst time to start cordoning off and digging up a major, popular park.)
This is a massive undertaking. It’ll use up a ton of (already in use) green space. It’s costing us trees. And it is contributing to the removal of an adult fitness structure (which, the city says, is at the end of its lifecycle…but surely could be fixed up or replaced for less than a million). For the amount of work they’re planning to do on the park, we should be pressing the developers to really make their case, not just offering up some prime park space for a little PR.
And maybe they can make that case! Maybe this’ll be the best playground every. Maybe it will really improve this (already super-popular and really busy) park. But if they want to build a playground of this magnitude, they really must show their work.
But whatever happens, this won’t be the biggest playground in Ottawa. As we’ve seen with Lebreton Flats, the Experimental Farm and now Mooey’s Bay, the city, itself, is the biggest playground in Canada–a giant play area for developers, bureaucrats, politicians and federal agencies to do what they want with little concern for the city or its residents.