We have a new City Council in Kingston. And it doesn’t seem to me that there is anyone around that glossy table eager to push ahead with the long-discussed Wellington Street Extension. We should be grateful. But rather than just shoving the idea to the bottom of the pile for four years, a place from where it will surely rise again, like some municipal Loch Ness Monster, we should perhaps use this moment to say once and for all: This is a road we don’t want to go down.
I live a stone’s throw from the route such a road would take – I’m on Charles St, just above Rideau. I can wheel my kayak on its wobbly trailer down to the docks behind the Woolen Mill in about five minutes. Or I can take some stale bread down there and let the kids feed the ducks. I can walk downtown along the waterfront in about twenty minutes. Those are usually the best twenty minutes of the day, it should be said. And occasionally, when the rigours of real estate loom too large, I escape down there with a book, or just stare off into the middle distance, or watch carp roll about in the not very clean water.
It’s a lovely and still somewhat scruffy few hundred yards, this Doug Fluhrer Park. Kingston’s industrial roots so obvious at both ends of the park, and even in the twists of rusted steel out in the weedy shallows. The concrete retaining wall at the eastern limit of the Rideaucrest property aint exactly pretty. And yes, the thought of swimming out there is enough to give me nightmares. But you know what? The thought of losing most or all of this park is every bit as alarming.
Because it’s madness, isn’t it, to be considering such butchery of our downtown waterfront? To dissemble such rare green space in order to provide another, perhaps quicker route into the core for the future hordes anticipated by our wise planners of the last decade. I read somewhere in one of the studies that such a road would provide a more pleasant route into the city for tourists. Yes, I thought, that’s what we should do: destroy rare waterfront parkland in order to create a road for tourists. Give that man a raise.
I lived in Toronto for a few years, and I can still bring to mind, in grim detail, the experience of careening down the Don Valley Parkway from the 401 and then rattling up onto the Gardiner Expressway just before reaching Lake Ontario. It’s often a fast route into the city, I’ll grant you that, and I’m sure the arguments for its construction were similar to those being bandied about in Kingston now, but you’d likely be hard pressed to find a Gardiner enthusiast these days. As the Wikipedia page says:
"When the Gardiner was built, it passed through industrial lands, now mostly grassy fields or parking lots, but urban renewal developments have commenced starting in the 2000s. Extensive repairs became necessary in the early 1990s, and since then the Gardiner has been the subject of several proposals to demolish it or move it underground as part of downtown waterfront revitalization efforts."
The first half of that sounds mighty familiar – it could be a description of Kingston. The second – full of regret and expense -- is the future that might well await us if we go ahead with the Extension.
I was invited, a few weeks back, to sit in on a meeting with a couple of people much involved in educating the citizenry on this issue. They were meeting with a city councilor at a downtown coffee shop, and thought as a realtor I might be a decent addition to the group. My suspicion is that they went away disappointed with me, and perhaps even wondered where I stand on the issue.
Because truth is, I was rendered nearly mute in the face of all the arguments they reeled off frantically against the Extension, and then all the alternate futures they envision. There was something desperate (and moving) in the need to lay it all on the table as quickly as possible. It was as if the road might be started before supper that day, or as if the councilor might up and leave at any minute (he was actually very attentive, and not unsympathetic).
And I get the urgency, I really do. But in the days and weeks since then I have become certain that what’s important right now is just to stop the road. We need only to decide as a community that construction of an Extension is the wrong move; we don’t need to know what will come next. For now it’s enough to say, We don’t want it. We don’t need it. There are better ways to spend $35 Million. There are better ways to move people in and out of the city. And there are no worse ways to treat our waterfront.