In only a matter of days, a coalition between private interests, city workers, homeowners and local businesses has managed to revamp St James Park from its drab pre-Occupy state.
Denis Flanagan, public relations manager with Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association, says the park was a muddy mess following 40 days of occupation by protesters.
“We had 50 companies come in and volunteer their time, their materials, their machinery . . . close to 200 volunteers showed up to basically turn the park green again,” he says. “The camaraderie was just amazing.”
Flanagan says the park was already in need of sodding and city maintenance before protesters settled there. Their constant foot presence, combined with lots of cold rain, only magnified the problem.
“It has been a tough season for parks in general because of the wet weather,” Flanagan says. “It’s partly because you’ve got lots of mature trees here. You get mature trees, you get shade; some of those areas were in desperate need of renovation. But on top of that you’ve got hundreds of people on that patch of grass.”
Rachel Young, a member of Friends of St James Park, says “a lot of the trees out here were really at risk of dying, just because the soil was so compacted they couldn’t get enough oxygen.”
Young says the end of Occupy Toronto has benefited more than the trees.
“A lot of businesses did suffer from revenue loss [during the occupation],” she adds. “We’re happy that all of that is in the past now.”
The project was dependent on volunteer contributions.
Mark Disero, creator of gardentoronto.ca, pitched in by documenting the transformation. While Disero now lives with his partner outside of Ancaster, Ontario, the former Crews bartender still feels connected to downtown. “I just think it’s incredible that everyone’s pitched in,” he says. “All of these contractors have been so giving with materials and time.”
Bryan Batty, a former Occupy Toronto media liaison who was meeting another activist in the park, watched as volunteers laid new sod. For Batty, the new park was sour grapes. “I’m happy a park looks nice again, but now there’s a North American union being enacted where American police forces have jurisdiction here in Canada,” he says. “But a park’s sodded, so I guess everyone’s happy.”
He says he’d like to see people mobilizing on more major issues. “Okay, great, there’s sod,” he says. “But now the people actually trying to help Canadian society are displaced and criminalized.”