Monday, 10 June 2013

Gordon Bell's Field of Reality

Monday June 10 at 10:30am, there were be an official unveiling of the new "Field of Dreams" for Gordon Bell High School.

I wrote a few blog posts about this particular project back when it was starting, and I have to admit that I was not entirely supportive. Much of that has to do with the way in which the project came about. This piece of real estate on the edge of downtown was vacated by a car dealership in February of 2007. Canada Post bought the land over half a year later, in November of 2007, and had already designed a facility to fit the unique area when the movement to turn the area into green space began in September of 2008 with this Free Press editorial by Nancy Chippendale.

In the wake of the Upper Fort Garry debacle, where a highrise apartment development was toppled very late in the game by the 'Friends of Upper Fort Garry' to make room for an expensive and unnecessary interpretive centre, I was not sympathetic to additional efforts to replace in-progress development with supposed green space.

However, I have slowly come around and I'm willing to acknowledge that this Field of Dreams concept is mostly a good thing. After all, there are several important differences between this project and the Upper Fort Garry SNAFU.

  1. The land was vacant for a much shorter period of time. There was a year and a half between the closure of the dealership and the start of the movement to build a recreation field on the site. It takes a bit of time for people to recognize an opportunity and get organized, so this is not unreasonable. By contrast, the area on which the UFG interpretive centre is supposed to be built was a little-used parking lot for as long as I can remember. It was only when a developer saw the value of the land and decided to make use of it that the "Friends" jumped in to "save" it.
  2. The Field of Dreams movement was a grass roots movement, driven by the community to fulfill an actual need in the community. By contrast, the UFG project is the work of an elite, wealthy cabal to build something that is not needed by anyone.
  3. The Field of Dreams is achievable and affordable. It wasn't cheap -- the bill will reach close to $7 million or perhaps more, including land purchase -- but with fundraising by students, an actual desire for the project and will to make it happen, things eventually fell into place. By contrast, the Upper Fort Garry project is unaffordable, and will probably never be completed as planned. A park on the foot print of the old fort will indeed be built, but it would have been built in any event, in some form or another, with or without the Friends of Upper Fort Garry. However the elaborate plans that the Friends have cooked up for the park still require an extra $3 million to finish, and then they have to raise another $5 million or so for the interpretive centre which is the specific part of the project that the residential development was killed for. That money will be very hard to come by, when there are so many other causes that provide community benefit or greater exposure for donors. That is why the site is still a parking lot, and it will remain a parking lot for the foreseeable future.
So I guess I was wrong to look at the Field of Dreams project in the same light as Upper Fort Garry, and it's nice to see it actually come about.


The design of the actual site is quite nice, and fairly true to the original diagram by Scatliff Miller Murray (h/t MrC):
The field is not unidirectional as shown above, but a compact soccer-type field with two goal lines. Otherwise it comes pretty much as advertised.

It should be noted that although a standard high school soccer field could fit in this space, as I showed in that previous post, they chose not to do that. Instead they opted for a north-south orientation in the middle of the space, which is an elegant design with the circular track around it, but it necessitates a smaller field.

About that track ... it is quite narrow, so there will be no racing around it. It also merges with the sidewalk at one point which is certainly less than ideal.

This is a park where, to some degree, function was sacrificed for form.

However this is mostly nit-picking. Compared to what the students of Gordon Bell had before (i.e. nothing), this is a fabulous facility. I hope they get good use out of it, and I hope that my car insurance premiums don't go up too much because of soccer balls flying onto Portage Avenue and causing accidents.

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