The last week I've been tracking a bizarre discussion on the 59 Carden St. blog about, of all things, the newly opened splash pad in Market Square in front of City Hall. Three of the first five posts were critical saying things like:
- I see the new down town pissiors are back in operation with a new twist.
- These eco-nuts are just that - No Eco - just PLAIN NUTS!!
- In the end it is just another feel good waste of money by the Council that loves to spend on the wrong stuff.
To which I responded:
What is it with this town where even a splash pad becomes a lightning rod of controversy?
I have yet to get a satisfactory response from the "Serious Cynics" of the world, but I would, however, like to expand on my observation.
First let's put to rest one thing: the splash pad, and its off-season cousin the skating rink, were created through the combined efforts of public funds and private fundraising. Of the $2.1 million in total construction costs for Market Square, $1.1 million was raised through the efforts of the Market Square Fundraising Committee, or “Rink Rats.”
Secondly, the matter seems to come down to a recurrent theme I've noticed the decade I've spent in Guelph, "The Two Guelphs." One that wants Guelph to be its own city with unique culture and amenities, and another that wants Guelph to be an appendage to the GTA, a place where your bed and TV is and maybe a Costo or Wal-Mart to go to on the weekend. One of these opinions belongs to groups like the Rink Rats, the other belongs to a lot of loud mouth opinionators on the Carden St blog.
The prevailing attitude on that blog, at least with those posting comments, is that the City of Guelph spends too much time and money on things like museums, ice rinks, heritage areas, and tree canopies, and not enough on lower taxes, more roads and more malls. This may be over simplifying things, but it's not like a lot of the people that post angrily on the internet can be accused of a lot of depth.
Let me tell you a story. It's the story of a town in southern Ontario, a small town that grew by leaps and bounds, but not in a balanced way. The people who moved there didn't care about the town's culture, or even the accessibility to various amenities like a rec centre, or movie theatre, or even decent shopping options. Why? Because people didn't live there. They liked the idea of owning a big house in a low tax bracket. Anything else, they could get in cities a sort drive away in their cars, or else picked up on the way to or from the office in places like Toronto, Mississauga or Oakville.
This place I talk about is called Georgetown, and it's a short 40 minute drive down Highway 7. In this berg you'll find no night life to speak of, not even a movie theatre. There was once one, an independently owned outfit that always teetered on being closed due to lack of business, but even the kindly old man that owned and operated it had to admit that he couldn't play ball with the Famous Players and the Galaxy Cinemas of the world. The only movie theatre in Georgetown is now a Dollarama, and if there isn't a metaphor in there somewhere I don't know where else to look next.
On the flip side, you'll be bereft to find such high end restaurants as Burger King, Wendy's or Kentucky Fried Chicken. There are however plenty of take-out pizza and Chinese places that deliver. As for grocery stores, plan where you live carefully because otherwise it might be as much as a 10-15 minute drive to the closest one. Hope you have a car by the way, because there are two taxi companies with maybe two cars on duty at a time and no public transit, which is the way people in Georgetown like it (because is keeps out poor people and people of colour. Not that anyone would admit that). About three grocery stores furnish a population of over 20,000 people, and they're all more or less cloistered in the same end of town.
As for culture, well, there's the library. One branch. There's a live performance venue where you can catch the local Little Theatre's production of whatever. Did I mention that the only art gallery is in the library too? The town also has two arenas, one the historic Memorial Arena that will be closed and probably then be torn down. No big deal, it was only once home to the Little NHL. Did I mention that the town's only outdoor pool sits next to the Memorial Arena. It's been closed for years.
Street festivals? Not really. There's a Farmer's Market every Saturday, but is there anywhere that doesn't have a Farmer's Market anymore. I mean, Guelph's just started opening an extra evening a week. And when roof concerns threatened to shut the market down for a couple of months, public reaction made it sound like the sky was falling. In Georgetown though it was par for the course. They don't have a Farmer's Market in the winter months, since their's is held outdoors in the downtown, where there's only boutiques since all the stores that people frequent regularly are at the same end of town with the grocery stores.
As you may have guessed, I'm from Georgetown, and as you may have guessed from this article's tone I'm glad not to be there anymore. I'm glad to be somewhere that has a culture, an identity. You may not like it, and you may not like having splash pads in front of City Hall, or a state-of-the-art museum, or a city council that at least tries to make big dreams a reality. But I'd rather all that that than a council that let's their town slide more and more into banal suburbia - a bedroom community - where you have to leave town to find anything worth doing, or having.
If having a splash pad is too twisted and liberal and must be abhorred, than may I humbling suggest the quiet living in Georgetown, where literally nothing will offend you. Ever.