How could you not love a town like Guelph where the top front page story last week was the dispute over an “illegal” skating rink on the edge of a south end subdivision. There are no Boko Haram militants hiding in the shadows here, waiting to steal away your daughters. This is not Kobane, a city half the size of ours laid to waste by war with ISIS militants. No one is likely to get shot for anything they might draw in a cartoon or write in a blog. We get wound up about safe things. You got a parking ticket. Somebody did something dumb ass in the Tim Hortons line. The neighbour got a rooster by mistake and it’s driving everybody nuts. People are playing hockey where they technically shouldn’t be. In the scheme of things, this is Mayberry.
A bunch of neighbours getting together to create and maintain something collectively for everyone’s benefit is an excellent example of how the concept of The Commons works. The property where the rebel rink was created is “city owned” and a group of citizens decided to make use of that land for recreation without the input of bureaucrats, a legal team, permits or any other means other than their own free will and cooperation. There was no single entity responsible for it’s creation and the people care for it in common. Someone even took the time to wire up floodlights, a significant investment. Without realizing it, these ice enthusiasts are making use of a very lefty concept. They have also managed to gain the support of Mayor Guthrie, who could very well be Sherriff Andy Taylor walking to the fishing hole (or in this case, the scofflaw ice rink) with his family in tow. It’s a lovely scene.
A few years ago, also in the south end of town, a less than lovely scene unfolded. Tension was in the air at the official groundbreaking for the Hanlon Creek Business Park in the fall of ’09 with protesters heckling those present and delivering a fist pounding to a bus full of officials. It was their last stand, for the development was going ahead as was initially planned from the early 90s. In this case, the city – led by a council that was widely perceived to be of the Guelph Factor left – served these rebels with an injunction and a five million dollar lawsuit jointly with an equity firm. This was subsequently dropped but by then it was clear the development was going to happen regardless of resistance, as it always does. Seems if you occupy city owned land with hockey sticks, you get a pat on the back and support from the mayor but if you do it in the name of environmental preservation, the full force of the law will be rendered upon you. A 9 hole wilderness golf course might be a good option in efforts stop the heavy equipment next time.
A common perception of by-law skirmishes, such as those over the clandestine rink, is that it’s just one person with some kind of grudge bringing activity to a halt by getting The Law enforced. I call this the myth of the singular complainant. I live in The Ward, where ignoring by laws is a requirement of residency. The person or persons who ratted out the ice rink would last about a week in this part of town. I have only ever called something in once over the years, when some students had a notion to have a smash up derby with two old cars in the middle of our street very early one morning. By-law disrespect is one thing but there are limits to it when somebody might get killed. The odds are excellent though if you find a particular large scale endeavour in your ‘hood an annoyance, it’s bound to be bothering somebody else. When a young leprechaun poseur decided to use my driveway as a toilet last St Patrick’s Day, I let him know how actual Celtic people deal with these things. No by law officer was required. It hasn’t happened again.
The neighbourhood skirmish on the horizon to which no by-law will apply will be the complaints and frustration to come from the people who will reside in Guelph’s newest 18 story condo marvels downtown. Seeing as it is legally impossible for the most part to legislate where people can live, I think the downsizers and first time owners are in for a shock thanks to the mystery investment buyers, who dominate all projects such as these. I’ve mocked up plenty of headlines to have ready, such as “Condo conflict dominates council meeting” or “Student sublets at Tricar questioned”. I’m considering offering a one day workshop on how to deal with the issues that will arise such as Solo Cup Collection and Disposal, White Noise Generation, Safe Body Fluid Neutralization and Leprechaun Removal. Welcome to Mayberry.