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Kids protesting
The protest was a family affair as the paving of Besserer Park will affect people of all generations. Photo: Hailey Otten/Fulcrum. Photo: Hailey Otten/Fulcrum
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Organizers showcase the reduction of green spaces around Ottawa, in protest against turning Besserer Park into road opening

On Sept. 10, over 100 people attended a local protest held at Besserer Park organized by community organization Action Sandy Hill. Organizers, speakers, and local citizens came together to speak against a proposal to turn Besserer Park into a road. The proposed road opening would lead to three private parking places for yet-to-be-built apartment complexes next to the park. The protest had speeches by various members of the community and Action Sandy Hill, and live music. 

A "Parks not Parking" poster at the protest
A “Parks not Parking” poster at the protest. Photo: Hailey Otten/Fulcrum

Hilary Duff a board member for Action Sandy Hill, was the organizer for this week’s protest. A citizen of Sandy Hill, Duff has been involved with Action Sandy Hill for over a year. 

“Action Sandy Hill has been following this development since 2016, when it was first proposed. And through that time, we’ve participated in community consultations, we’ve provided feedback to the city, we’ve even put forward an appeal to the local planning appeal tribunal,” said Duff in an interview. 

“We’ve pretty much exhausted all of the formal processes and avenues that we can go to, to protest this development and now the road opening. So the goal of this event is to raise awareness about this issue and try and get something done outside of just writing letters to the city that keep getting ignored.” 

Duff and Action Sandy Hill want the city to deny the road opening. “The application is currently under review by the city, which means they have the chance to approve it or deny it. And I think it’s pretty clear from the turnout that there’s a lot of folks here in the neighborhood and elsewhere that want it denied,” said Duff.

Duff pointed out the forest next to the park: “That’s private property owned by TCU, which is a local development company. They have proposed building a three-storey, 20-unit apartment building there. And that apartment building was approved by the City Planning Committee and Ottawa City Council in 2020. So that’s a done deal. What is not a done deal is the road that they have proposed to cut through this front part of the park to serve three private parking spaces at the back of the apartment,” said Duff.

Duff said that as a neighborhood, apartments are necessary and parking is necessary as well.  What she questioned was why TCU as a development corporation “could not put parking spots inside its property rather than requesting that it pave over part of this public green space in order to serve the parking lot.” 

Duff believes this is a city-wide issue affecting green spaces all over Ottawa. 

“There was a BMW [dealership] down in South Ottawa, they had proposed to expand a parking lot into Hunt Club Forest. There’s the new Civic Hospital location, which will be on the Experimental Farm. There’s Embassy Row in Mechanicsville. So again, and again, we see these times where private interest is sort of winning out over public green space. And that’s an alarming trend that we can’t allow to continue. So this is really a protest against all of that,” stated Duff. 

“If you look at the city’s own official plan and the language around the type of city that they want to build, you see words like livable, equitable, green space. And at the same time, behind closed doors, they’re either considering or approving requests that are doing the exact opposite of that. So I think what we really want to do is avoid lip service from the city and actually have them stand by those values.”

The message that Duff wants to emphasize is that this issue goes beyond Besserer Park, and even Sandy Hill. “Unless community members come together and protest and talk about the importance of these spaces it will continue happening. What we’ve learned is that mature trees are really important for the environment for carbon sequestration,” said Duff. 

Duff also outlined the importance of parks for our physical and mental well-being, especially during the pandemic. “This is a space where people who don’t have a backyard can come to walk their dogs or get a breath of fresh air. The benefits we get from parks and public green spaces are countless. We can’t allow those places to be reduced and reduced further to aid with private parking. It’s just not acceptable,” said Duff. 

Glennys Egan from Horizon Ottawa was also an attendee of the protest. Egan reiterated many of the same issues illustrated by Duff. “I was inspired to come today because I live in Sandy Hill myself, and I think the issue of protecting green space and making sure that developer influence in Ottawa is not valued over community interest is a general issue beyond Sandy Hill,” said Egan.

“I think we need green spaces for the community. We need it for the environment, we’re in a climate crisis right now. I think it’s really important to come out here and let people know at the city and let developers know what we value in our community. It’s not parking, it’s moving towards greener, more inclusive cities,” said Egan.

Getting involved in the community and voting are some ways in which Egan believes people, especially youth, can make an impact on issues surrounding development and the environment. 

“Getting people involved and excited about municipal politics is difficult but really necessary. I think we do have the power to vote out this government that is held hostage by a lot of developers and seemingly endless desire for urban sprawl,” said Egan. “I think municipal politics often gets ignored. And we have a voice that can stand up and say what we value.”

Action Sandy Hill has created a petition for this cause, which now has over 450 signatures in support of keeping Besserer Park untouched.