Ownership of Public Space

No, no, I’m not going to talk about private ownership of public space. Hell, I’m not even going to talk about public ownership of public space. I want to talk about the individual sense of ownership of public space.

I took my kids to the RedBlacks’ fan appreciation day on Sunday. We watched a bit of scrimmage, ate some popcorn, played jumbo-sized jenga and the girls went in the bouncy castle (pretty sure I’m too big for that).

As it was time to go, we started walking along the south side concourse from the west endzone (where everything was happening) towards the east end zone. The kids wanted to see if anything else was going, and we were planning to hit the Farmers’ Market, so we had to go in that direction anyway.

One thing I like about the stadium is the way much of it has been integrated with the grounds, including the way the paths lead up to the back of the south side stands.

My eldest asked if we could go back there to get to the paths, and so we did. The back concourse was pretty empty, and all the exits were gated off…but they weren’t really. We walked along a bit, and then I just decided to move one of the barricades slightly so we could exit, and then moved it back.

The kids proceeded to run along the pathway around the hill and towards the play structure. From there, they ran through the little forested area between Lansdowne and the driveway (it’s a shame that a bunch of the trees and brush have been cleared; it used to be more of a secret place).

And then I got to thinking.

My kids–especially my eldest–have a real sense of ownership over Lansdowne, and especially the public greenspace at the back. They go and explore. They don’t hesitate to enter unconventional spaces.

And so I thought about when I was a kid, and how there were always these areas that we would claim–a short-cut through a schoolyard, a bushy area along a bike path, a fountain downtown. These were our places. We felt completely at home there, and we felt completely entitled to using those spaces.

And just as importantly, we cared about those spaces. We wanted to preserve them. We wanted to use them. We never wanted to damage them or prevent people from accessing them (save for the occasional fort we might build, but that’s different).

This is so very important. We should feel ownership over our public spaces…and not in some technical, governance sense, but in a real, living sense. We own these places because we use these places; we take care of these places; we enjoy these places; we value these places.

A lot of people think I hate Lansdowne Park because I have a lot of criticisms of it (because there’s a lot worthy of criticism), but, in fact, I love Lansdowne. I have a fondness, based mostly in nostalgia, sure, about the place.

To me, Lansdowne is Rough Rider games and the Ex. It’s going to 67s games and playing minor football on the field. Now, it’s RedBlacks games and the Farmers’ Market. It’s taking the kids to splash pad and going skating in the winter. There is meaning to that place for me, and that’s why I hate that we aren’t letting it be all it could be.

My kids have spent a lot of time at Lansdowne, too. And it’s clear that they are developing a similar fondness for it. There are hurdles (we lost an entire year of sledding because the hill wasn’t properly maintained during and after the Grey Cup and NHL outdoor game), but there’s still the places and activities to enjoy.

Honestly, it doesn’t appear that everyone who “enjoys” Lansdowne feels the same way. Speeding, driving in pedestrian-only areas, littering…these are not the things you do if you have that sense of ownership. If you did, you’d want to take care of it. You’d want it to be lovely for everyone, everyday.

We need to foster this love, this sense of ownership, this stewardship of our public spaces. We need to build them for just such interactions, and we must cater to the people who will actually engage the spaces in that way.

Too often, we have a transient class of visitors, there for a day or an hour, for a specific, one-time thing. They’re not there to take part in the Park, to be a part of it. They’re there to use it, and (metaphorically) discard it once they leave.

This is a bad way to live and it’s a bad way to function. Anytime we find groups of people demonstrating a real love and ownership over a public space, we need allow it, and we need to let it flourish.

We need to focus less on disposable experiences and focus more on enduring city life.

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