There are too few public spaces in Toronto and a deficit of monuments, sculptures and artwork to punctuate those we do have.
Which, in a counter-intuitive sort of way, serves to extend congratulations to the High Park Advisory Group for rejecting a recent proposal to erect a monument in Toronto’s greatest urban green space.
A bit of background, first.
The advisory group is a body of non-elected residents and representatives of local neighbourhood associations living in the vicinity of High Park. They have no legislative authority and can only make recommendations to the city. But, as adjacent citizens, they have a direct stake in the wellbeing, attractiveness and sustainability of Toronto’s greenest jewel.
Besides, more than others in the GTA, they are privileged to have easy and quick access to the park. Those who most frequent High Park are those who, in fact, live closest to it. They deserve to be heard.
A while back, the advisory group was asked by Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette to consider a proposal from the Toronto chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress to erect a remembrance monument to the several million victims of the 1932–1933 Holodomor — the forced starvation of millions of Ukrainian peasants and others in the name of Soviet agricultural collectivization and anti-nationalism that the international community has rightfully condemned as a genocide.
The Ukrainian group stepped into the batter’s box with three strikes already against it.
First, there is a moratorium on any new monuments in city parks.
Second, there are other public memorial remembrances to the Holodomor in the GTA. Legitimately, the advisory group pondered what additional significance is brought to High Park by erecting one more tribute to this historic atrocity.
Third, High Park already hosts a monument to the Ukrainian poet and writer, Lesia Ukrainyka. In a city as cosmopolitan as Toronto, one might ask if any one single ethnic group should be entitled to multiple sculptures when other minority groups are lined up to erect their first on behalf of their own national or cultural icons.
In the end, the High Park Advisory Group turned thumbs down to the request. With a moratorium in place, it’s unlikely the Ukrainian campaign would enjoy much traction were it to take the proposal directly to a full committee of council.
But the issue of where commemorative monuments or artwork should be displayed opens up a larger question of the appropriate uses of public spaces and green spaces.
Green space is akin to urban parkland, like High Park. Public spaces, on the other hand, are smaller and more compact. They are concentrated spaces that welcome pedestrian traffic and, more often than not, can be found in neighbourhoods of the city centre where public space is often muscled-out by private development interests.
In short, public spaces — not parkland green spaces — are more appropriate for monuments, sculptures and artwork.
With this distinction in mind, the Ukrainian community should re-calibrate its plans and look at an area like Trinity Bellwoods near Bathurst and Queen Streets as an appropriate location to erect a commemorative monument that celebrates the arrival to Toronto — and to that neighbourhood in particular — of the first Ukrainian immigrants almost a century ago.
It would be a choice that keeps our green spaces verdant and draws attention to an historic location that marks one immigrant community’s contribution to the multicultural city we’ve become.
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