People think some of us are upset about the dismantling of the PopUp park because of an unwarranted attachment to it. Not so. We are attached to the intent behind it which is why its abrupt removal with little consultation was so upsetting.
There is no doubt that there were some unpleasant activities there, drunkenness, fighting, yelling. It got to all of us, but it was a place where people who usually congregate in other public places such as the mall could gather and where more outreach was possible.
Since its removal, the park’s users have spread throughout the downtown core and into Somba K’e Park making it uncomfortable there, too.
The park was installed as a joint project between Ecology North and the City of Yellowknife two years ago. It’s intention was to be a gathering spot for everyone – bridging the gap between the have and have-nots. It has worked well elsewhere revitalizing dying inner cities.
The first year, 2018, saw a mobile library, painted backdrop, gardens, and a slide which attracted family users. These structures were removed last year by the city because of concerns around liability. It was the beginning of the end.
Last year, Ecology North ran into roadblocks with new initiatives because of the city’s cumbersome review process.
I worked on painting the platform but because the approval took so long, it could not be finished before winter. While working there, I noticed the frequent visits by workers from the Day Shelter, the Street Outreach van and RCMP. A great place for outreach.
Park users also asked for tools to work in the garden and a Christmas tree which Ecology North provided. They wanted to take ownership – an underlying intention.
Though alone, I never felt threatened while working. My biggest concern was that I did not have enough paint brushes to give to those offering help. Not once did I return to find footsteps on the fresh paint.
People have criticized the materials used but one of the main sponsors is all about using recycled material so they don’t end up at the landfill – a reminder to us all.
While I too had been a skeptic, the more I volunteered with Ecology North, the more I understood the underlying goal was to make Yellowknife more inclusive for the marginalized. It became a driving force behind the park.
During the few days since its disappearance, I have seen things I have never seen before, likely because the regular tenants are now scattered throughout the downtown core. I saw an elderly woman sitting on her walker beside the Gold Range in a pile of dirt and wondered, if she was not coloured, would we allow it? I saw other Indigenous people sitting on the concrete dividers and wondered whether those would be removed, too. One man sat alone in the dirt. On a positive note, maybe the site will be cleaned more often.
Most of all, the dismantling made me think about the many ways systemic racism rears its ugly head. People do not end up in that condition or treat themselves that way unless something traumatic has happened. We are not born hating or disrespecting ourselves. it is a reaction to something that has gone on before.
In the stories that followed the park’s removal, there were many expressions of relief; some bordering on cruelty, but there were also comments such as these:
“Last year Makerspace tried to use the pop-up park to run workshops. We gave up after several months and many meetings with the City. We tried again to offer to maintain the space this year and didn’t receive a response to our offer. While I’m sure it’s a complicated situation, I sympathize with Ecology North not being able to maintain the park,” Cat McGurk wrote of her futile attempts to access city land.
Just because one group can’t make it work doesn’t mean that there are not others who can.
Issues around racism are front and center right now. If there are people willing to try and do something to improve the life situations for the hurt and walking wounded, they should be allowed to try.
The loss of the park and the way it was handled is a sad commentary on our actions.
At the very least the park should not have been removed until something else was put in place.
I hope we have learned valuable lessons about inclusivity and where we stand on it.
In this case, we failed our homeless population.
Nancy, I live in North Carolina but I love your paper and your and Walt Humphries column’s. How in the world can Yellowknife have a homeless population with those wintertime temperatures? Also is everyone there watching the History Channel series “Alone” about those 10 survival experts, now 6, camped around Great Slave Lake hoping to earn 1 million dollars if they last 100 days? I still watch reruns of Ice Lake Rebels.