Consciously or otherwise, artists and developers are inextricably, symbiotically linked. Attracted by the relatively low rents, a critical mass of artists transform underutilized space in marginal neighbourhoods into studios, galleries, performance venues, diversifying and amplifying the local economic base, and attracting still more complimentary activities, such as used book and second hand stores, artist suppliers, independent coffee shops and eateries, and -hopefully- a wide range of idiosyncratic activity. This organic, fine-grained entity draws the attention of developers. They weave its “feel”, it’s distinctive elements, into colourful promotional material and photograph-intensive hoardings, then promptly hack it into sub-600 square foot parcels for c. $350,000 a piece to any punter capable of signing a bank form. Land values rise, along with rents, reducing the viability of any activity not connected to large pools of capital. Artists and associated creatives are forced to seek out new territory, and so continue to ride the pressure wave of a more-literal-than-virtual bomb blast that leaves a monotonous, depressing sameness in its wake.
Located in the heart of Mt. Pleasant, Guelph Park has served as a nondescript and functional amenity for a neighbourhood traditionally home to those of less-than average means. Today that includes those whose drinking habits tend towards industrial grade product, young families, and artists, amongst others.
Surrounded by century-old houses and modest three-story apartments of more recent vintage, the park is comprised of a tree-lined field, a playground, tennis courts, a community garden. Its two distinct attributes are Michael Dennis’ rough log sculpture of a reclining figure and the absence of a sign heralding “Guelph Park.”
Local resident and artist Viktor Briestensky took it upon himself to rectify the sign oversight and manufactured and installed a remarkable replica of a Parks Board placard; however, instead of referencing the bounding street -and the House of Welf trunk from which sprang Queen Victoria’s Hanover offshoot- he opted for “Dude Chilling Park”, the popular local name for the space reflecting both the log sculpture and a certain subset of the park’s habitués.
The deftly executed, if sophomoric, prank has caught the public’s imagination, resulting in an online petition seeking public support to permanently adopt the new moniker.
“Imagine,” reads the petition. “Imagine a visitor from Toronto sharing his photo relaxing with the ‘chilling dude’, instead of just another boring picture of him riding the downtown bull statue.” Certainly, nothing should set as at ease more than the knowledge that visiting Torontonians will enjoy a diversity of choice in their photographic antics.
Unless -of course- I’m missing some irony in the poorly written and hastily prepared boilerplate petition? That’s hard to say, as there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek about this issue. Frances Bula, for example, suggests that it’s a “fun initiative that we can all get behind”, something we can accomplish in the absence of stopping climate change or ending poverty in Africa. Hey, that’s funny. I guess.
But under all the shucking and jiving and tweeting over renaming, the immediate area is undergoing significant development. Projects completed or in the works within a four block radius of the park include “District” (103 units in phase one, 148 in phase two), “Social” (125 units), “Carolina” (37 units), “Collection 45” (45 units), “9 On the Park” (guess), the highly contentious 19 story, 241 unit Rize development at Broadway & Kingsway, and the recently announced Ryan Beedie-backed residential towers and anchor supermarket redevelopment of Kingsgate Mall.
In a radio interview on CBC Radio 1’s national programme As it Happens, Mr. Briestensky notes “I do have a fear … I’m concerned … that if this park gains attention then all of a sudden … maybe the people for whose park it’s been –the dudes who have been chilling- may not be able to drink their mouthwash …. I would feel really bad if my work kinda served as a catalyst to … end the chilling.”
A catalyst? Hardly. The Parks Board has already replaced Dude Chilling with an official Guelph Park sign. (And apparently does not have the authority to rename in any case.)
The displacement of those that enjoy the use of the park, those that currently reside in the area, is the result of larger forces -much larger. Mr. Briestensky’s act is simply a tiny part of the ongoing sublimation, a distraction among the endless series of changes that bury our past and direct us in a less than democratic fashion into a proscribed future where even chilling will be a premium-grade commodity.