This 600 word piece written by me,  ran as a letter to the editor last week:

One of the reasons we decided on Kingsto, Ontario, Canada, as a place to buy a house, run a bookshop and bring up children was the way the city looked at the needs of those who live here. The recreation business, the swimming pool business and the golf club business were worth a deep investment by the city.

Why was that?  If a population ages healthily, hospital beds are emptier. If the city provides the facilities, community can be found by anyone who looks. Courts and prisons are emptier when young people have a place to put their energy, find friendship and develop skills.

Councils knew then how cities die, that investment has to be in people first, not cash grabs or speculative moneymakers, no matter how attractively couched. In these days of obesity epidemics and isolation by text and game, Kingston has proved how effective community spaces are.

Now comes the test. Belle Park Fairway was raised like the Olympic torch from a toxic dump to a beautiful but difficult links course on which everyone can afford to play. In the north end, it offers hope for poor kids like the Boys & Girls Club, for seniors who cannot afford to play a private course and of course for a great many species of wildlife who call its pesticide-free, 6, 700 yards, home.

This summer a rumour whispered in north end ears. Council has been thinking about selling Belle Park to a solar farm.

Perhaps a misperception of ‘golf’ is part of the problem. It was always a rich person’s game. If you said you played, you were acknowledging your status. Someone who bought his clubs at yard sales and his balls at Value Village couldn’t afford the fees at any of the clubs around town.  Saying you were a ‘golfer’ meant you were a somebody.

Till the city let the poor people in at Belle Park Fairway. One way to solve the status problem was to continue to refer to it as ‘The Dump Course,’ till the poor people claimed the name themselves, as an ironic statement to be proud of.

After all, the city didn’t have their way with the Memorial Centre, another north end space which was to fall to development. Now enhanced with a rebuilt pool, it is busier than ever with a healthy population and green space for walks and dogs and baseball.  Since they lost that one, this time north end – look out!

The joys of golf, despite Mark Twain’s whining, are spiritual and right now in this far-sighted city, available to anyone with a few bucks. Some would like to see that opportunity gone. Solar Farming sounds like such a do-gooder enterprise such a save the planet sort of thing you might as well be up against a church.

But Solar Farms have their problems. Not just expense, needing constant security against vandalism and requiring many tall electrical towers to be built all over the adjoining neighbourhood but not necessarily a secure long-term investment.

Someone suggested it would be better to put the solar farm on the K Rock Centre roof, a monument to past council mistakes.  There are many places close to town where a massive solar farm might be installed. With the toxic soil problem gone Belle Park Fairway will have other such suitors offering wads of cash.

How does a city stay strong in the face of such offerings? By knowing its priorities: Citizens first, given a place to live good healthy lives in community, whether rich or poor. Amenities, they are called,  a word with ‘Amen,’ at the front, which means, So Be It.

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