30 May 2015

Chicago takes back their parks and fights against commercialization

An interesting article from In These Times on a neighbourhood in Chicago pushing back.

Why We Organized to Kick Riot Fest Out of Humboldt Park

 Pushing the punk rock festival out of the park was a victory against gentrification and the privatization of public spaces.

 BY Lynda Lopez, In These Times

Organizers of the punk rock music festival Riot Fest announced last week Wednesday that after three years in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, it would not be returning to the neighborhood in 2015. Instead, it is setting up shop in Douglas Park in the North Lawndale community.

Alderman Roberto Maldonado had come out publicly against the music festival after supporting it for the last three years and is receiving a lot of the praise (and criticism) about Riot Fest's announcement. But the alderman doesn’t deserve all of the credit. Grassroots organizing among the citizens of Humboldt Park led Riot Fest’s departure.

During this past election cycle, Grassroots Illinois Action-Humboldt Park Area (GIA-HPA), an independent political organization comprised of community residents, (full disclosure: of which I am a member) emerged as a powerful force in Humboldt Park. Intended as a venue for residents to organize around issues in the area, Riot Fest quickly became one issue members wanted to address. After three years in Humboldt Park, residents were tired of what we saw as the continued privatization of the park that not only left it severely damaged, but limited its usage for residents months after the festival.

Through collaboration with groups like Humboldt Park Citizens Against Riot Fest, GIA-HPA helped organize a mass of people that showed up to Alderman Roberto Maldonado’s ward nights, launched a public petition against Riot Fest, held a press conference in the park and came out in full force to the commissioners of the park board meeting. This continual pressure on Riot Fest and our elected officials ultimately led to the ousting of the festival.

Families will no longer have to see Riot Fest fences go up that separate the park from the community. Little League teams won't have to worry about their fields being unfit to use. Residents will no longer have to feel that their community park is controlled by private hands.

What once seemed like an insurmountable goal against a multimillion dollar festival has come to pass, and it sends a strong message about the usage of our public parks. Throughout the city, we see corporations exerting more power over spaces that were initially intended to serve communities, not for profit-generating festivals.

From questions over a presidential library in historic South Side parks to concerns about the Star Wars Museum on lakefront parkland, city residents want parks that serve the people, not private interests. Despite our victory in Humboldt Park, we see its relocation to Douglas Park (without any community input) as a continual disregard of the rights of residents to their public parks. Festivals like Riot Fest should operate in venues that don’t encroach on public land. Residents of North Lawndale, the community that encompasses Douglas Park, are already meeting and discussing ways to address Riot Fest's arrival, and we will be supporting these efforts.

Despite the shortfalls of our victory, this outcome is also an important win against gentrification in Humboldt Park. In a gentrifying community, there is often an air of inevitability to changes, but through this fight residents were able to show that they don't need to take these changes lightly. Residents stood up against the privatization of their park by Riot Fest and won; they can stand up against the gentrification that is displacing the poor and erasing the presence of people of color. While our efforts are centered on our community, these issues are widespread.

Throughout the city, our city services are being privatized and communities are becoming inaccessible to the poor as new development caters to the wealthy. The idea of “building a new Chicago” never seemed less inclusive. Neighborhood by neighborhood, we are showing that that's not the Chicago we want to live in. We want a Chicago that doesn't only cater to the rich but the poor and working class. We are coming together and fighting for a better vision of Chicago.
Lynda Lopez is a member of Grassroots Illinois Action. She lives in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.

27 May 2015

Park commissioners lament Vancouver Aquarium only option for rescued false killer whale

by Travis Lupick on May 26th, 2015 at 6:18 PM

 Park commissioners have said they are saddened to learn another cetacean will live in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The Green Party’s Stuart Mackinnon suggested animals deemed unfit for release could be relocated to protected sea pens.

“Another creature from the wild is going to be kept in captivity,” he said in a telephone interview. “I understand the aquarium is saying that it was too young when it was taken and that it cannot be released. But keeping it in a small pool for the entertainment of humans doesn’t seem like a dignified life for such a creature.”

Vision Vancouver commissioner Catherine Evans told the Straight she wished there were a better option.

“I’m sad that it’s not releasable,” Evans said. “But if captivity is the only option for an animal, then the Vancouver Aquarium is a good place.”

On May 26, the Vancouver Aquarium announced that a false killer whale named Chester would stay in Stanley Park. The animal was rescued off the west coast of Vancouver Island in July 2014 and nursed back to health by aquarium staff.

In a telephone interview, Vancouver Aquarium senior vice president Clint Wright emphasized the decision to keep the whale in captivity was made by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. He said Chester will now share a tank with a Pacific white-sided dolphin named Helen.

An aquarium media release states that Fisheries and Oceans Canada advises false killer whales be kept with other members of their own species. Asked if there are plans to acquire an additional false killer whale, Wright said there is currently no suitable partner held by any aquarium in North America.

“If a rescued animal comes up elsewhere at a facility that meets the high standards of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, then that would be something that we would be looking at and doing what is in the best interests of Chester,” Wright said.

The park board’s oversight of the Vancouver Aquarium became an election issue during the 2014 race for mayor. Vision Vancouver candidates pledged to end captive whale and dolphin breeding while NPA candidates said they would take a hands-off approach to the aquarium. The NPA eventually won four of the board’s seven seats.

Both Mackinnon and Evans told the Straight the park board was neither consulted nor informed in advance of the aquarium’s decision to permanently house Chester in Stanley Park.
The announcement came just two days after the aquarium lost a Pacific white-sided dolphin. On May 24, an animal named Hana died after being diagnosed with a gastrointestinal disorder. A team of specialists performed surgery but the animal died shortly after.

Hana was the second cetacean the aquarium lost in 2015. On February 19, a beluga whale named Nanuq died while on loan to a SeaWorld facility in Orlando, Florida.

The Vancouver Aquarium now owns one false killer whale, one Pacific white-sided dolphin, a pair of Pacific harbour porpoises, and eight beluga whales. Two of the belugas are kept in Stanley Park, four are housed at SeaWorld facilities in the United States, and two are on loan to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

Original story here.

 © 2015 Vancouver free press

01 May 2015

Democracy must always be seen

This blog has been very quiet for the past five months. I wanted to give the new Park Board a chance to find it's feet. It isn't easy being a newly elected. When a Board of seven Commissioners has a turn-over of six, it is even harder. I have the advantage of having sat at the table before, so in fact there are 5 new Commissioners.

I may have sat at the table before, but nothing prepared me for the incredible changes that took place over the three years I was away. While the tone and decorum around the table is much improved--the insults and bullying have disappeared--the loss in democratic process more than makes up for it.

The first hint that something was amiss happened almost immediately, with the new Chair of the Board, John Coupar [NPA], cancelling the December meeting of the Board without consultation with the other Commissioners. Other than the inaugural meeting when the new Commissioners were sworn in, the first meeting of the Park Board was not until January 19th, a full 2 months after being elected and 6 weeks after being sworn in.

The next hint was when the Chair (who by convention appoints Commissioner liaisons to the Community Centre Associations) appointed the four NPA Commissioners to 17 out of the 23 CCA liaison positions. Catherine Evans [Vision] was appointed to one, while Michael Wiebe [Green] was initially given one, but later a second when it was found that the Chair had neglected to appoint a liaison to one community centre, and I was give three. So, that is 17 appointments to the 4 NPA Commissioners, and 6 appointments to the 3 non-NPA Commissioners. This was all done without consultation with the Commissioners involved. (When I was elected in 2008, the Chair, Raj Hundal [Vision], asked each of us what our preferences were and worked to accommodate us as best as he could).

By the first meeting of the Board in January something clearly was amiss when all the Chair and Vice Chair positions were taken by the NPA--clearly they were in charge and were not going share any of the responsibilities.

The second meeting of the Board included the initial meeting of the Park Board Committee. The structure of meetings has not ever been explained to Commissioners, despite my asking on numerous occasions to have a workshop. Commissioners from all parties have struggled with the rules and procedures, with each meeting seemingly having new rules added. No one on staff seems fluent in the rules either, with advice being sought from the City Clerk on more than one occasion.

One of the stranger conventions (adopted without consent), is that while staff reports and recommendations come to Committee meetings (which precede the Board meetings on the same evening) and can have public input, Commissioner motions go directly to the Board meeting, which does not allow for public comment and input. Only at the will of the Board can these motions be sent to Committee for public input. So far none of the motions put forward by Commissioners have been sent to Committee despite requests to do so and so none have had public input. At City Council the convention is that if one person (or more) applies to comment in person, the motion would automatically go to Committee. I believe School Board has a similar procedure. I find this very troubling. As one group on the Park Board has a majority, they can prevent public input at their will.

Another convention seemingly discarded is the idea of Notice of Motion, where Commissioner motions have to be put on the agenda ahead of time (usually submitted at the previous meeting) so that the public and Commissioners know what is coming up. Twice now the NPA have brought motions to the table without notice and rammed them through. Despite challenges to their tactics, each time the Chair has ruled in their own favour.

An inauspicious beginning to a four year term. I am hoping that the rules are explained to everyone so that we are all conversant in them. I also hope that the NPA relax a bit and become more magnanimous in their Chairing of the meetings. In the second year of my first term, then Chair Aaron Jasper, in a fit of pique, declared it a "Government and Opposition" Board and all sense of cooperation died. I'm hoping for better this time. The promises made during the election suggested this. The Park Board Commissioners sit at a round table. I believe this is because we are meant to work together. Trust and understanding comes with cooperation.

An old adage that I like very much (and invoke frequently) is that democracy must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done.