“It looked good on paper.” “It was a nice idea.”
Retrospective comments like these seemed to echo from one councillor to another last week, after members voted to convert a narrow, would-be parking lot – designed to facilitate 12 angled spots – in front of the new rec centre into a temporary greenspace.
Like the French Invasion into Russia or New Coke, not everything translates from theory to practice, and with some councillors calling the planned lot – flanked by a power box, traffic light, sidewalk and busy intersection – inaccessible, dangerous and even “impossible,” it’s clear the lot’s design is no exception.
But one wonders, how did a flawed design get from paper to almost-pavement? By recognizing beforehand the inherent risks of the pre-existing sidewalk and intersection, surely some time, money and effort could have been saved by pursuing different avenues for parking in the area.
The greenspace will stay green until a “full assessment” of parking space – including whether or not more spots are needed on top of the combined 105 in the rear and front – on the premises is completed by administration. The assessment includes a look at the “suitability” of the undeveloped stretch intended for parking.
If it’s deemed accessible, something both Mayor Brad Mapes and Deputy Mayor Donna Lee Jungkind have said they doubt, Town Hall would move ahead with the project sometime next year – uprooting the greenspace in the process.
According to administration’s report to council, the parking probe will also assess whether or not “mitigating measures,” like concrete stops, are needed in the lot. Instead of applying band-aid solutions and throwing more money at a risky, poorly-thought out parking area, why not kill two birds with one stone: avoid potential accidents and damage to the new building by going green for good. Make the greenspace permanent.
Make no mistake, downtown parking woes and the ripple effect a lack of spaces has on businesses – addressed valiantly by Councillor Vince McKay – are very real. But McKay, the lone councillor to vote against establishing a short-term greenspace on the planned lot, misses the mark in his call to forego the low-cost planters and picnic tables to play the waiting game instead.
McKay wants to keep the undeveloped area as is until the assessment is completed, citing a tendency for “temporary” projects in Hay River to become permanent either by default, apathy or both.
But the councillor’s qualms with snail-paced bureaucracy are not an excuse to deny his constituents a much-needed greenspace.
The facts are clear.
Not only is life expectancy elevated the presence of plant life – as found in a 2017 University of New Brunswick study – but greenspaces in urban settings have also been linked to reducing stress and depression, while boosting productivity and improving job satisfaction.
And, of course, the spaces offer residents an area to gather and build a sense of community.
Let’s hope Town administration follows its current course in acknowledging the dangers of the lot, as the risks outweigh the rewards of improved parking.
Due diligence is necessary and important, but let’s not try to make the unworkable work at the risk of residents and property when we can be beautifying the downtown. The fact that the area has been prepped for paving is irrelevant when other risks – and green benefits – are considered.
Design and intent doesn’t supersede the effect, and in this case the effect could lead to unwanted consequences.
It’s time to lead by example, plant the seeds of change, and have neighbouring townships say, “hey, maybe the grass really is greener in Hay River.”