Sitting down for coffee, Dorothy Stolarski and I discussed what got her involved in community activism. “It’s about family first, and our values, our London values. How could I not get involved?” she said.
In 1988 she sat on student council at Catholic Central high school as part of ‘Crusaders in action’ and was involved in the banning of smoking in the cafÃ© at Brescia College in the mid 90’s but her current activity strikes closer to home – across the street from her parents home to be precise.
In November 2007 a letter regarding a zoning change request arrived at her parents house, a request had been made to the city to rezone the urban reserve area across the street into a shopping center development.
Two-hundred and twenty acres of arable land was about to quietly turn into another asphalt desert to match the one across Commissioners Road East.
When a handful of members of the community arrived at the public meeting they were appalled at what was being proposed: a new shopping center with a big box store and a smattering of outbuildings, what is commonly misnamed as a ‘Smart center’; a development that would grind against the Meadowlily Environmental Area, and would have placed three busy entrances along this quiet, dead end, almost rural, residential street.
So few people in the community took the time to find out what was about to happen to their neighbourhood that they risked loosing everything before they understood the issue. The city councillor for the Ward was quoted as saying “Only nine of you?” as if to dismiss the neighbourhood concerns as frivolous.
What was not taken into account was the fact the residents had only three weeks to respond in writing, and many people don’t take the time to be involved in their government, assuming that someone else will handle it, or sure that someone else will fight for them.
One thing we all need to know about city government, the golden rule is numbers matter. You cannot expect a handful of people to properly represent a neighbourhood to council. You need to show council that we are all involved and that we all are concerned.
Development is so sure of community inaction that speculators are already making enquiries to the residents, in the belief that these houses will be razed to make room for even more strip mall parking.
If it had not been for the efforts of Stolarski, the neighbourhood the environmental area could have lost by default.
She chose to do something about the irresponsibility of “maximizing the profits of commercial development and not taking into consideration the people, the residents and the ESA (Environmentally Sensitive Area).”
So when the second meeting was quietly announced in small print in the local paper with 10 days notice she acted. Stolarski contacted the local media, government officials and created a sign that said “Save our Street, Keep it Green” and with help contacted the affected residents.
When almost 200 people showed up for a meeting in July at Summerside Community Church, the city had to notice, as they did when the media showed the community gathering at the sign to get details of what was proposed.
Another rally is scheduled Sept. 6 at the Richmond Street North entrance to Victoria Park, this one hosted by Sustainable Cities to draw attention to the encroachment on Meadowlily and the more people who show up, the more City Hall will take notice.
Only as a group can we express our outrage at this encroachment. Where the trees that grow along this stretch of the Thames, the heritage remains of Meadowlily Mill built in 1856, and the Parkfarm house constructed in 1849, even the walking path across the 1910 Meadowlily bridge will be hidden behind another unimaginative boxy shopping center and another stretch of greedy signs shouting ‘SALE’ as greeting to people arriving at our city. We might as well change the city moniker from the Forest City to ‘London, the parking lot City.’
Only by participation can we change the way we are governed.