CONTRIBUTION: Unwrapping a Gem

In May after being away for almost 30-years, I finally moved back to the core. The appeal of walking, visiting and community had appealed to both my wife and I for some time. Our decision to purchase the Bud Gowan Building and relocate was simply the icing on the cake.Labatt Park

With the best-made plans, we unfortunately sold before we built, and needed a temporary location to call home. Looking at several, we decided to choose The Harriston on Ridout across from Eldon House. There were several reasons; with the main two being location as it is a 10-minute walk from my office and the fact that it is a great building to live in. I can honestly say, being here since May has solidified my original belief that we are home in the Downtown.

One of the benefits of our current home is the 24th floor overlooking the Forks of the Thames and Labatt Park. The view is breathtaking and one really understands why Labatt Park is one of the treasures in the city. For those of us who felt the park was rarely used, rest assured that there is seldom a weekend that goes by where ball is not being played. In the heart of the summer most evenings see action at the ballpark. Who knew?

Walking to my office in Blackfriars takes me along the river (or stream from June to September) twice a day. Beautiful as it is, there is something missing. I admit that I have been spoiled by the view from our building, but when I walk past the oldest ballpark in the world (in your face Clinton), my view is limited to a set of overgrown, under maintained cedars. I can hear but I cannot see. An opportunity missed by the city to create pure connection and enjoyment for residents.

When you read the strategic plan for the City of London one thing is clear. Engagement of residents and enhancing the experience are key to creating a more vibrant city. So what are we waiting for, we’ve got work to do. While looking to the future it’s time we changed things for the better, today. Many of the plans laid out for the city will be enjoyed by my children. As a tax payer today, it would be nice to taste some of the fruits of our labours.

First, let me say to those who feel I am the grim reaper of tree removal in the city, you are correct for this location. The trees in this site have been strategically placed to block the view of one of our most prized possessions. The weeds are thick to the asphalt and we have created a less than desireable space for those who walk the path. The city has chosen to cut down some trees but only the ones overlooking the parking lot. Why stop there, one would ask?

The vision outside the park can be one of simplicity, while becoming a gathering space for any Londoner. Remove all the cedars that are blocking the view of the park. There are some maples and oaks that once the area is cleaned up will thrive in their new environment. Clean up the weeds and create a space on the hill where passers by can sit and watch the game if desired. This will add to the walking experience while creating a space where people can meet and enjoy.

Will this take people out of the seats within the park? Considering that most of the time there are more empty seats than filled, I would suggest that until that changes the teams would not see a drastic alteration in attendance. In fact, I would challenge anyone that allowing the experience of baseball may entice people enough to buy a ticket. The hill immediately outside will create more of a bleachers type feeling for the park, something it does not currently have. Most importantly, it will allow anyone in the city the opportunity to participate and experience baseball at their chosen time.

Some will tell us the trees represent a safety net so to speak. Heaven forbid that a ball might reach the walkway where innocents are passing by. As I walk along and listen to the game being played, it is enough to simply hear the crack of the bat and ball to make me look up. That’s simply common sense, and being aware of your surroundings. With the ability to see as well as hear, it would make the space that much more safe.

Lastly, and most importantly is the fact that the cedars have become a less that safe and sanitary location for people to habitat. Not withstanding the choice, we need to do a better job, and giving Londoners a location to call home behind Labatt Park is neither socially or ethically responsible.

So we’ve covered off the resident experience, which will be improved greatly. We’ve covered off safety, and the fact that it is the responsibility of the individual to be aware. Let’s then chat about the player perspective. It is important to say that I don’t play baseball. So, while I don’t know the thrill of the home run, I do know the thrill I had watching Bautista hit his in Texas. I’m assuming he was more excited than I was. Today, in our park, batters simply look at a wall of overgrown cedars. How exciting would it be to see past that? To see people watching from the outfield, cheering from the outfield. Watching as the ball sails over the fence in center field, only to have a child scurry to get a souvenir. That home run ball claimed by a fan, looking for the autograph from the likes of Brownlee or Ambrose. Or the biggest test of all, can I hit the river with one swing of the bat. Hard to say, if you don’t know it’s there.

I believe that the removal of the trees and the revitalizing of the space into one that attracts interest and respects one of our most prized possessions is an easy decision. Enhancing our waterfront is key and to tackle the west side is a first step at rebuilding the forks to a place of engagement, welcoming all who come.

Opportunity is a swing of the bat away. Unwrap the gem at the forks of the Thames, and start to create a vibrancy that all Londoners can experience. Let’s play ball.

John Fyfe-Millar
John Fyfe-Millar

John Fyfe-Millar is a Contributor to the London Institute. He is a professional manager, with 35-years of management and entrepreneurial experience. Currently he is President or Partner of three London based corporations.

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