Venturing forward to express support of a waterfront proposal that was battered hour-upon-hour offered a test of emotional fortitude I wouldn’t have taken.
Remarkably, four out of the 200-plus who crammed into Kelowna council chambers were up to the challenge Tuesday night. Among their ranks was a 20-something who trundled up to the mic at the public hearing to chip in a relatively simple comment about the Cedar Avenue project being scrutinized: “I like it,” he started.
Crickets chirped as the crowd fell silent, obviously spent from hours of erratic clapping, hooting and sign waving.
Then he followed up with something a bit more substantial. Concerned with the job market, he said he thought the commercial space in a potential development “could create hundreds” of new positions.
Cue an audience 200-strong scoffing in unison. This, of course, is understandable too—at least half of those wheezing in derision hadn’t worked in a decade or more.
Finally, he said, “those parks we have are empty most of the time anyway” and the crowd started popping joints and snorting like a pack of wild boars.
Smugly chortling they tried to dismiss his heresy, but there was a whiff of something in the air that showed they knew full-well he was on to something. Seven months of the year, not even the most ardent tree hugger bothers to commune with nature in city owned parks, but for some reason that’s a verboten topic when it’s time to sing the praises for large swaths of grass. Not surprisingly, the tension in the air squeezed him out of the room after he spoke.
It was a shameful moment and quite frankly I felt compelled to swaddle him in a pink, anti-bullying T-shirt on his way out because it was quite clear, there was only one opinion welcomed from the crowd. The vast majority at the public hearing phase of the proposal to rezone seven Cedar Avenue city-owned properties to accommodate a development, boardwalk and park were looking for a throw down.
If they’d spent time to make a poster, it would have read, Big Bad City vs. Park Loving Public. Sounds good, but this heavyweight battle would have been a lot easier to get excited about if that was an honest depiction of the issues at play.
Fact is, this space is currently used in a residential capacity—a common mistake among waterfront communities. In an attempt to right that wrong, the city purchased the land and set it aside for parkland. Then, a decade or so ago, they devised a plan that would allow it to have a commercial and residential element as well.
It slots into a system of parks that will allow residents to keep walking from expanses of green to areas where you can take a dip and, if city council stays with the direction set out decades ago, areas to get a bite to eat.
All of this movement will be possible while soaking in the beauty of Okanagan Lake.
Doesn’t sound so big and bad to me.