Much more often than not city councillor Jim Neill and I are camped on the same side of the political fence. I quite like running into Jim, he’s a smart, passionate man, a tireless advocate for Kingston and his Williamsville district. He had me list his house a couple of years ago and he probably won’t mind if I describe him as a friend rather than an acquaintance. But I’ve got to say, I didn’t much enjoy Jim’s opinion piece in the Whig recently. He weighed in (again) on the question of whether the Memorial Centre grounds should be reconsidered as a site for the new high school. He says, No, it shouldn't, and I think Jim has got it wrong. What’s worse, I think he’s stopped really listening to the good people of this city, however loudly he protests the opposite, and however many self-generated statistics he drags out to bolster his position.
I don’t want to bore you with a line by line reading of Jim’s arguments, and I concede that his understanding of municipal due process in these matters is light years beyond my own, but I do think that when a man introduces his own argument as something both “logical and elegant” you should probably strap in for a rough ride.
What Jim would most like, it seems, is for the “committed, well-meaning and highly vocal group” that would like to see reconsideration of the site’s appropriateness to just hush. More than once Jim draws attention to how “vocal” his opponents are. He implies throughout his article that their volume is not reflective of their numbers. Don’t take them seriously, that’s the message. In other words: I’ve done the math and it’s just a few loudmouths drowning out the majority. Well that’s pretty rich, isn't it, coming from the most vocal voice on council? I really think that Jim knows better than most that sometimes you’ve got to yell to be heard.
His casual assumption that the Memorial Centre grounds is a brownfield site is also interesting. The Cook Brothers site off of Bagot street was removed from the list of possible sites for a school for this very reason, so I get why he’d put the argument forward. Thing is, the contaminated parts of that area have been fenced off until remediation can take place. But it seems Jim, despite his suspicions, is happy for families to continue frolicking at the M Centre. The kids can play there, and their dogs can track the lead-rich mud home, he’s good with that, just don’t send them to school there.
Jim campaigned on a platform that promised to preserve parkland and he’s fulfilling his promise. Good for him. I understand. But I just don’t see that the creation of a school means that all the publicly accessible green space will disappear. Or that all the money spent on limestone walls, and walkways, and trees, and fencing, will be wasted. Our schools don’t have to be fortresses, and our playing fields don’t have to be ringed with barbed wire. We can all benefit from the evolution of that good space.
What I mostly want to say is that I’m saddened to have such an influential voice, and one normally so committed to preserving the city centre, fight so hard to prevent a high school from being built close to the downtown core. Our children should, whenever possible, walk to school, that’s what I believe. And when they need to be driven or bussed they should ideally be brought into the heart of the city, not ferried out to its edges. Because that’s how we raise a generation to love the city, and this is how our children come to experience first-hand its history and its geography, its beauty and also, sure, the issues it faces. This is how we raise kids who will want to explore the urban life and lifestyle rather than drive out to a big-box for a new TV set, or for a slice of pizza with a twenty-year half-life. This is how kids get to really know the city they live in, and to respect the community of people around them. This really is how we save our vibrant downtown, how we set things up nicely for the future. It’s that or we hollow out the city’s core, isn’t it? I mean, that’s the real choice and, like many others, I think that’s worth getting vocal about.