westmount-park221_westmountmag

Westmounters discuss
the future of Westmount Park

What exactly is in store for the city’s largest and most beloved park?

As reported by Patricia Dumais

The City of Westmount tendered a contract for a Feasibility Study – Westmount Park Rehabilitation (Étude de faisabilité – réfection du parc Westmount) to Stantec Experts-Conseils on April 1, 2019. The city has yet to specify the exact nature of the rehabilitation, except that it was mentioned at a recent council meeting that the ponds’ membranes are leaking.

With the announcement of an upcoming Public Consultation on Westmount Park on Wednesday, November 13, WestmountMag.ca invited long-time Westmount residents Brigitte St-Laurent (BSL), Marilynn Gillies (MG) and Patrick Barnard (PB) to discuss their concerns. All three live in close proximity to Westmount Park and have been passionate users over the years.

Westmount Park erosion -WestmountMag.ca

Muddy bare areas

PB – There is something that has struck me over the last months, going to Westmount City Council meetings and observing the way the idea of future work on Westmount Park has been handled. During the entire time, citizens have had to question, prod and demand in order to get the very basic information about what Westmount seeks to do in what council calls the “restoration” of the park.

The Stantec engineering firm has been awarded a $206, 470.96 contract for a “feasibility study” for “the restoration of Westmount Park.” I had to file a formal access to information request in order to get the tender document. And despite frequent questions at council, very few details of the tender document – work paid for by citizens – have been clearly described by sitting councillors.

… citizens have had to question, prod and demand in order to get the very basic information about what Westmount seeks to do in what Council calls the “restoration” of the park.

MG – The city is being very unclear about what it wants to do with Westmount Park. They must have an idea of what they are aiming for. Is this a major park renewal? Or are we just fixing water problems and doing only necessary aesthetic repairs? What is the ballpark budget for this project? As taxpayers, we are entitled to know how much the city plans to spend.

Westmount Park bare patches and weeds -WestmountMag.ca

Bare spots and weeds

PB – Again, citizens should get information and not have to dig for essentials, like investigative reporters. Marilynn, through a direct question at council, got the information that the work would proceed in distinct stages – probably at least three – and she was told by councillor Cynthia Lulham “we don’t want to tear up the park all at once.” Hardly a reassuring thought…

BSL – The park has an aesthetic in the spirit of the Olmstead School. That must be maintained. It is a very well designed park that has been neglected over the years. Will this rehabilitation be in line with the Olmstead spirit or will it be drastically different?

I have very fond memories of the park but have noticed its gradual deterioration. Now when I go there I feel depressed – there are dead trees, broken paths, overgrown bushes, flower beds lacking flowers, the grass is in poor condition, there are weeds… it needs some serious TLC.

We would like a clear picture of what the city has in mind. You do not go to tender without something in mind.

‘The park has an aesthetic in the spirit of the Olmstead School. That must be maintained. It is a very well designed park that has been neglected over the years.’

PB – The tender is called Request for Professional Services for the Restoration of Westmount Park. One veteran Westmount observer has said that the actual tender document gives Stantec “a blank cheque to do what it wants with the park.”

If you look at the document, it is clear that envisaged work will start at the pond area and move to the northeast through the children’s playground area to the wading pool at the corner of Sherbrooke and Melville. There is a clear danger that the drive to bring “salvation” to the park will further erode its aesthetic.

Westmount Park overgrown bushes -WestmountMag.ca

Overgrown and dead bushes

The most striking portion of the document is at the beginning, calling for “eventual construction of new infrastructure and the repair of existing installations”. But the park has been very poorly maintained, and many Westmount residents have said that the maintenance – or “repair” – of the park should be the prime concern and should not come AFTER the construction of new infrastructure. That priority of giving fundamental care first priority is reversed in the tender document.

MG – The city also mentions it is looking at the naturalisation of the ponds – what exactly do they mean by this? Of course, if the ponds have water leakage issues, they must be dealt with but drastically changing the design of the ponds must be carefully considered.

PB – There is a broad feeling among Westmounters that the park has deteriorated. Is restoration needed? Definitely not, if it means a continuation of the present pattern which is why many residents fear what this council will do.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that former and present mayors and councillors see the park as a sort of service area. What they do not understand is that the majority of Westmounters see it as a living thing, just like a relative they know and love, and they are sad that that relative is in such bad shape. People view the park as a whole, they see the aesthetic of it, not a service area where you put this here and that there. This is very misguided and it’s certainly not how Olmstead saw it, nor the other architects who participated in the changes throughout the years – they were all thinking of the park as a whole.

‘Part of the problem… is that former and present mayors and councillors see the park as a sort of service area. What they do not understand is that the majority of Westmounters see it as a living thing…’

The Dog Run, for example, is in direct conflict with the original purpose of the park. In fact, there is a 100-year-old letter from Olmstead Brothers to city officials warning against unnecessary installations leading to over-use. And back in 2009, the Fauteux report, a thorough park study commissioned by Westmount, stated that the park has reached a saturation point and that introducing more services would lead to further deterioration. There is a brutal failure to plan the park in view of protecting the living organism that it is.

BSL – I am in total agreement with Patrick. I recently visited Chicago where I was amazed by the beauty of the city’s public parks, which are impeccably maintained. Closer to home the Borough of Outremont has very well maintained parks.

Description Westmount Park dead branches - WestmountMag.ca Copy Link https://www.westmountmag.ca/wp-content/uploads/westmount-park_branches_westmountmag.jpg Required fields are marked * Video URL Here you can link a video. Only YouTube or Vimeo! ATTACHMENT DISPLAY SETTINGS Alignment Link To Size 1 selected Clear

Dead trees and branches

There seems to be a general lack of civic pride on the part of the city. There is shabbiness everywhere you look – crumbling, unsafe sidewalks, roads full of bumps, potholes and cracks. Could it be that the city has been so preoccupied with large-scale projects such as the Rec Centre that it neglected the rest?

PB – The Fauteux report of 2009 also recommended some serious upkeep, about $300,000 worth, which unfortunately Westmount did not implement. Why did the city not follow through on these recommendations?

MG – The Park has been going downhill for some time. We three did a tour of the park with neighbours, listing and photographing everything wrong with it, and we published our findings on the WMA web site – 50 Things Wrong in Westmount Park.

A neighbour noticed the lack of flower plantings in some areas and suggested that it would be easier on maintenance and less costly if more perennials were planted. These provide constant blooms throughout the spring, summer and fall.

‘… back in 2009 the Fauteux report, a thorough park study commissioned by Westmount, stated that the park has reached a saturation point and that introducing more services would lead to further deterioration.’

PB – I personally got involved with protecting Westmount Park back in 2006-2007 when there were talks of installing synthetic turf in the soccer fields. The citizenry rose up against it. Synthetic turf creates a heat island effect. It can never replace the multi-use properties of grass. People take pleasure in spreading a blanket on natural grass, watching the children play while enjoying a thermos of coffee. That led me to work over a decade for the environment as I realized that in our very advanced society there is a deep hostility to nature.

Westmount Park many stumps - WestmountMag.ca

Many stumps, and fewer trees, throughout the park

What Brigitte has seen in Chicago and Outremont is attention and care. What we have seen here in Westmount is neglect.

BSL – I have concerns for the seniors who would love to enjoy the park but have to avoid the broken and badly drained paths. In winter, snow clearing on the paths has not been efficient, leading some people to use the often-cleaner bike path to cross the park, to the detriment of their safety.

PB – The multi-purpose vocation of the park was highlighted in that correspondence between Olmstead and city officials. One of the great things about the park is that people can play sports, hang out with friends or be quiet in a natural setting, but it is a delicate balance to maintain all those activities and the park that supports them.

The Mayor and council should think about the real park and what it gives to people. Another of the Fauteux Report’s recommendations, one of the eight priorities, was to install $20,000 worth of comfortable benches for older people. Again, this was not done.

‘One of the great things about the park is that people can play sports, hang out with friends or be quiet in a natural setting, but it is a delicate balance to maintain all those activities and the park that supports them.’

A recent study demonstrates that people who live near trees and vegetation live five years longer than those who don’t. As the Fauteux Report stated, Westmount’s parks are saturated, thus the need to protect them. And if any opportunities arise, create more parks. Even more so with Westmount and its surroundings’ urban density ever-increasing with upward development, putting a strain on neighbourhoods. Every decision must be assessed in terms of quality of life.

Westmount Park poorly maintained comfort station - WestmountMag.ca

Poorly maintained comfort station

MG – Many of the Westmounters I speak to care deeply about the park, as well as many people who live outside Westmount. It is after all one of the larger historical public parks in the west end of Montreal.

BSL – It’s a strange state of affairs. A feasibility study, after all, examines whether something concrete is practicable. The question here is, what is the “something concrete”?

PB – Through our own interventions we have learned a number of things: the work will be done in discrete, separate stages; we have been told that there will be no new lights installed; Mayor Smith and councillor Lulham have both said that synthetic turf will not be installed in Westmount Park.

Long ago the Olmsted firm warned Westmount against unnecessary installations in Westmount Park, and Marc Fauteux, in his 2009 report also warned that the park had gone beyond “saturation point” for use. So citizens are going to have to watch this process very carefully to ensure that any new work will not destroy the aesthetic of the park.

Westmount Park dangerous path -WestmountMag.ca

Dangerous poorly drained broken paths

MG – No major design change. Repair what must be repaired and provide ongoing maintenance. Avoid introducing extra uses that contribute to saturation and deterioration.

‘At the last election, we were promised more transparency. Transparency means that information is forthcoming and gladly conveyed, not pried with difficulty from council.’

PB – The City of Westmount must be honest about its plans for the park and stop beating around the bush. At the last election, we were promised more transparency. Transparency means that information is forthcoming and gladly conveyed, not pried with difficulty from council.

Now is the time for the city to present a straightforward situational analysis to residents in view of ultimately letting THEM decide the future of THEIR Park.

Survey on Westmount Park

Visit engagewestmount.org or the Westmount Public Library for a printed version of the Feasibility Study.
The survey began on October 28 and will end on November 18, 2019.

Public consultation on Westmount Park

Wednesday, November 13 from 6 pm to 8:30 pm
Victoria Hall, 4626 Sherbrooke West.

Feature image: Andrew Burlone
Other images: Brigitte St-Laurent

Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.ca

Read: other articles on the environment


Marilynn Gillies - WestmountMag.caMarilynn Gillies, a former nursing teacher at Dawson College, has lived in Westmount for 35 years. She has played outdoor hockey and soccer in Westmount Park. She is a member of the Association of Pedestrians and Cyclists Westmount (APCW) and a former board member of the Westmount Municipal Association.

 

Patrick Barnard - WestmountMag.caPatrick Barnard is a board member of The Green Coalition, a non-partisan, Montreal environmental group. He also is a board member of Montreal’s Legacy Fund for the Environment, an organization that gives legal aid to fight for the environment. He taught English literature at Dawson College and was a radio documentary maker for CBC radio.

 

Patricia Dumais - WestmountMag.caPatricia Dumais has lived in Westmount for almost 30 years. She walks through Westmount Park at least once a week and enjoys Shakespeare-in-the-Park, Family Day and other park activities. She is a former Westmount Healthy City Environment Committee member (2005-2016) and is a founding board member of the Association of Pedestrians and Cyclists of Westmount (APCW).

 

white image placeholder - WestmountMag.caBrigitte St-Laurent is a former university administrator who worked at both Concordia and McGill universities. She lived abroad for several years and developed a keen interest in urban design and the preservation of nature. She has been a frequent visitor of Westmount Park as well as other parks in Westmount for over thirty years.

 




There are 11 comments

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  1. Michael Walsh

    Spot on! The park’s neglect started in the 1970s when, faced with a budget shortfall, council diverted most funding from the park. This continued into the 1980s when retiring park staff were replaced by seasonal contractors. The neglect continues, to this day, with no council member solely accountable (as there was in the past) for the park’s condition. In addition, the collective mind-set that the city “owns” the park rather than being “custodians”, for future generations, puts us where we are today.

    Finally, in a city where (approx) 25 percent of the population is over 65 years old – who will learn to use the cloud based “BangTheTable” software to voice their opinions on yet another social media platform? To me, it’s one more account I need to create plus, another privacy concern (it’s not apparent in which country the data is stored, for how long and to whom it is shared). Plus the authentication process doesn’t offer 2FA which poses another security issue.

    Just my 2 cents!

    Michael Walsh

  2. Suzanne Arbour

    I assure you that one major issue with parks not being maintained is lack of staff in the public works department. They have an enormous work load and not enough staff to carry out the work that needs to be done. They are also poorly managed. I know many employees who work there and are frustrated by the decisions made by their superiors. I always hear them say ” things are not what they used to be”
    Many people over look the individuals who are hands on everyday, on the ground working around Westmount. The blue collars understand first hand many of the problems Westmount faces, especially the veterans, and their insights could be very helpful if only people did not overlook them and took the time to ask.

  3. Anthony Moffat

    The on-line questionnaire is essentially unusable, at least on my laptop. I went round in circles trying to figure out how to fill it in and finally gave up. I hope I am the only one with this problem, since it may be a deterrent to providing enough good input from citizens. BTW, what will be done with this information once collected? I will now fill out and submit the less-green paper version of the survey.

  4. Stephen Chin

    The extension of Westmount Park towards the swimming pool and Mouton Noir Café has white sandy paths that are a pleasure to stroll on or cycle by. A few trees would give welcome shade in the summer. Westmount Park is crisscrossed by concrete paths. Westmount Park has a concrete heart that even ‘smells’ of death. There is just too much concrete in Westmount Park. And concrete is a ‘deader than dead’ material. Unbelievably, a few contemporary architects are even beginning to build high rises entirely of wood.

    Westmount Park is bounded on one side by a long cycle path. Why are cyclists forbidden to ride in the park? Of course speeding cyclists should be reported, arrested and, heftily fined. Parks in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Canadian cities and in New York’s Central Park are graced by numerous cyclists. Cyclists do not pollute our cities. They do not run over inhabitants to injure or kill them. Speeding car drivers pollute our cities 24/12/365 and, run over pedestrians to injure or kill them.

    Just think of a decorative playing fountain in heart of Westmount Park. An ideal location is the middle of the large round flower plot. Surrounded by wooden benches not anchored in concrete. Fountains define cities in Europe. The mere mention of Rome brings to mind Three Coins in the Fountain. Fountains are celebrated in music by Liszt and Ravel and water and the sea Handel and Debussy. A decorative playing fountain will replace Westmount Park’s dead concrete heart with living, throbbing heart that will be its very soul.

  5. Sylvia Oljemark

    Thank you for this frank discussion on the future of Westmount Park! Far too often it appears that towns and cities rely on costly professional studies to decide how to look after their public parks and natural spaces.
    A real step in such decision-making is consulting the public and acting on their recommendations. Bravo to the level-headed Westmounters who are standing up for one of Canada’s best-loved parks – Westmount Park.

  6. Michael Walsh

    I just finished reading a historical (academic) article that emphasized Westmount’s unique micro-climate (“the best in Quebec”) well suited for growing fruit trees. (In the past, the town boasted scores of fruit and melon farms). Wouldn’t it be nice if we capitalized on that strength and reclaimed one of the (too many) soccer fields and turned one into a proper orchard? (Yes it will cost money and staff – but isn’t that what this exercise is about?) We need to think beyond our lifetimes and concentrate on the future of the park we inherited. Historically, the suggestion makes perfect sense. As a bonus, we could out rival most Canadian cities with an annual cherry and apple blossom festival!

  7. Maya

    I wish to thank all those who have come out, once again, in defence of Westmount Park. It’s a pity that it needs champions. A park should be as natural a space as possible and this one in particular needs tender loving care, not the expertise of paid outsiders, paid, by the way, from our taxes. Use that money to take care of fungus-infested trees, for strategic pruning, for perennials, for grass watering during draught and so forth. Stop privatizing sections of the park for special, paid users and just look after it the way it has been done in times past.


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