A Natural Benefit of an Extended Municipal Strike

Originally published on Torontoist on July 16, 2009.

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“Naturalized Area” sign erected in Windsor. Photo courtesy of Broken City Lab.

 

We’ve heard a fair bit about the state of Toronto’s parks during the current municipal strike. Most tales have tended toward the negative, from fears of contamination stemming from temporary garbage depots to the unattractive aesthetic state that some green spaces have fallen into. But what if the withholding of certain services led to a positive effect on the local environment?
Over the course of the fourteen-week CUPE strike in Windsor, the lack of grooming at many of the city’s parks has resulted in new swaths of grassland meadows, where wildflowers, birds, and insects have quickly settled. While the initial stages of the transformation drew angry responses from Windsor residents, both the city and the local media are receiving positive feedback about the naturalization effect. Birdwatchers are enjoying the opportunity to observe grassland species like bobolinks that have rarely been seen in Windsor in recent years, while other residents have praised the experience of walking by and hearing the hissing of tall grasses.
Broken City Lab, a group of artists/community activists, took a look at several of the naturalized sites and developed signage to highlight the new wilderness areas, as signs seem to formalize the presence of these locations. The first, shown above, was erected this week near the approach to the Ambassador Bridge. According to Broken City Lab Research Director Justin Langlois, the group hopes that placing these signs “might encourage someone walking by to look at these accidental meadows for what they are—a wonderful addition to the landscape—rather than such a politically charged issue.”
As for the fate of the signs once the strike ends? According to Langlois,

It’d be great for them to come down and for areas just to remain in their current state, but I’m not sure how well that would be read in the city. The University of Windsor had a similar problem where they created a berm around their football field stadium and planted trees on the berm. The grounds maintenance crew didn’t want to try to cut the berm, due to the incline, much less while zipping around trees, so they inadvertently created a naturalized area. The community responded with a number of comments to the effect of, “It looks messy,” so the University erected a large green sign that reads in white letters, Naturalized Area. It’s kind of funny that it takes a sign to make it all okay, but that’s part of what made us do this project, this question about would a simple 8.5″ x11″ sign make this naturalized area acceptable, would it momentarily diffuse whatever is politically charged when looking at it otherwise?

Windsor residents may continue to enjoy several of the naturalized areas in the long run. The city parks department has announced that once the strike ends, the city is considering leaving up to two hundred acres in large, open parks in their newfound state.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Long term, the 2009 municipal strike in Toronto helped pave the way for Rob Ford to become mayor. Polling afterwards showed a majority of Torontonians felt Miller mishandled the strike, a sentiment which may have played a role in his decision not to run for a third term in 2010.

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