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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered



  1. Hi Alannah, I am a member of the conseil d’adminstration (CA) for les Amis du Champ des Possibles, and I am sorry you had a frustrating experience dealing with us. But, I do think you are being a little too hard on us.

    First of all, all of the members of the CA were extremely interested in your project, and there was a great deal of discussion around it. Most of us also know who you are, and have followed your walking the city trips in the past (via spacing), and I personally remember discussing many of the issues of the field with you during the citizen forum of 2009 when the momentum for the field was really picking up steam. So please know we didn’t decide not to support your event lightly.

    However, when your request came in, we also had three other large requests for events in the field, we had our Annual General Meeting, and we had a press conference to plan and attend for the announcement of the new zonage and co-management agreement. That is a lot for a small group of citizen volunteers. But that is just a bit of context.

    The real issue for us, as a group trying to safeguard a very special (and still magical to many) space in the middle of a dense urban landscape, is to ensure that we are doing the best thing for the field, and for the residents and citizens who have consistently raised their voices in defense of this little oasis. Since I have been involved in this project, the primary goal has always been to protect the wild and non-programmed nature of the field, and to acknowledge, protect and improve the environmental qualities of the site. At the end of the day, that is really what we are trying to do, while always ensuring that the space remains open to everyone, and that we all treat it is a shared community space.

    Since spring, you and others have approached us with requests for special events in the field, and in most cases the requests have been fairly urgent. Which means we need to make decisions quickly. But as a new co-manager of the site with the borough, there are still a lot of unanswered questions we need to discuss. What kinds of events could the field host, and what kinds of events should it not host? How many people would be too much, given the fact that we don’t want to trample too many plants, and we don’t want to disturb our neighbours.

    It shouldn’t be forgotten that les Carmelites (the convent right next door) have a special status in the neighbourhood, and the fact that there are not supposed to be activities that disturb the convent is one of the primary reasons we still have the field the way it is. For example, when it was suggested that the field also become a public space for the Mile-End, to host events for the neighbourhood, this was quickly rejected because that would infringe on the tranquility of the Carmelites. So the field is meant to be a space of tranquility and quiet. That doesn’t mean we can’t have events, just that we have to be selective about what kinds of events. Last year when we (with the borough) approached the convent to ask if they would mind if we put one of the borough’s street pianos in the field, and hold a few small concerts there, they asked that we not do that. So we moved the piano out onto the street (Casgrain and St-Viateur). It might seem like a bit of a hassle, but they are our neighbours, and they are a big reason for the fact that this zone of biodiversity still exists. So we really don’t mind the extra effort it takes on our part sometimes.

    In terms of your specific request, we couldn’t help but notice it and the other requests we received at the same time were raising more and more questions, and we just couldn’t give a positive response right away. We decided we needed more time to discuss and create a guiding document that would clarify what types of activities seem appropriate for the field, including specifics like how many people, how much infrastructure, how much noise, etc. For example, one of the requests wanted to welcome about 300 people, put up a stage, play music, fence off the field for guests only, have trucks in support (beer truck, food truck, gear truck, etc.). While that one might seem like an easy decision, your request raised a bunch of questions too.

    For example, from the people we talked to, it seemed like there was no permit for camping in the city. I did figure you should know given the history of your walks, but on our end it seemed there would need to be more investigation. And of course, we have no say in city by-laws. The city and borough really have the final say. But even if there was a permit, what about logistics? What would the campers do for toilets, and water? What about garbage, since there are still no real garbage cans in the field. How many tents could the field hold and where would they go to not have negative impacts on the vegetation? What if someone got hurt in the night going pee (i.e., the issue of contamination, but even just getting hurt), and we need to cover them on our insurance (because it is endorsed by the Amis)?

    Moreover, it is such a fun idea to camp in the field, what if others want to camp in the field? Does the field become a bit of a campground? How many campouts could we support in a summer? How many people? Is this something that contributes to the long-term project of the field?

    …and there were even more questions. In the end, we decided to say we couldn’t “support” your event, even though we thought it sounded fun. I believe we did communicate to you that we would investigate more for next year, which we will do.

    On a personal note, and as a big fan of spacing, I think it is a little unfortunate your article seems borne more of frustration than real journalistic interest in this project. Because, in terms of urban issues in Canada (and the world), I think this project remains very inspiring and magical. For citizens to stand up and safeguard a site destined for condos and parking lots, and to turn it into a urban biodiversity reserve co-managed by citizens is a really amazing thing! And we do believe other cities will start looking at more wild, natural spaces like the field in coming years. The day of the press conference, there were Tennessee Warblers, a Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow Warblers, and a falcon in the field. The space is already more biologically diverse than it was in 2009 when you came to our citizen forum (in large part because we convinced the borough to stop cutting the grass every few weeks).

    But more importantly, given your knowledge of urban issues, I would hope you would have a bit more patience and understanding for a group of well-meaning citizens that are working their hearts out on a volunteer basis to protect a still magical space for the benefit of everyone, and in the long-term. And that they are just settling into their new role and relationship with the borough.

    If you would like to talk more about our decision, or the field, or anything else, please feel free to be in touch with us. I hope your walk across the city is a great success this year.

    Ami du Champ

  2. Well said Marke. Thanks for taking the time to outline all that, and for all your continued work!!

  3. I love the article, but have to agree with Marke, that this is a HUGE feat to preserve this green space in such an innovative way… and that the comite has to be very careful moving forward, to assure the preservation of the biodiversity and of precedents they set… which takes time (with undoubtedly a small number of volunteers who juggle this passion with other work/families in their lives). I went to the Creative Mornings event yesterday and walked through the entire Agora des possibles and Champ des possibles space at sunset… it WAS magical!! There were people laughing and conversing in a semi hidden cluster of trees, an elderly woman walking her small dog and humming… honey bees busy going back and forth from their ruches… the swaying grass and unexpected tranquility, and of course the mysterious wall of the Carmelites. I, too, have a very special event I would love to hold in this sacred space next year, but understand it requires patience and respect of the core values and mission of Les Amis — and of the neighbours as well. I look forward to speaking with Marke and the rest of the committee very soon… and in the meantime I am going back today with my 11 year old daughter to play hide and seek in the Magical wilds of notre Champ des possibles!

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