Some Canada – US differences: why privatisation is against the law (according to the Book, anyway)

by Yule Heibel on April 12, 2004

Since I can’t really describe how gorgeous it is here (this picture isn’t current), I won’t bore you with clich�s, but yesterday W. and I were walking together along Dallas Road, which is a stretch of public parkland south of Beacon Hill Park, high above ocean bluffs. It’s also the “dogs off-leash” zone, year round. It’s within walking distance of most of Fairfield, Rockland, and downtown, and it’s where everyone goes to parasail, parasurf, parachute, and whatever else has to do with feet and sails — bikes, rollerblades, and other such conveyances are officially not permitted here, but of course they are allowed on the road itself and in every other part of Beacon Hill Park. Dallas Road is a long, narrow stretch of oceanfront park, parallel to the main street, at least a mile from Clover Point to Mile Zero (perhaps more, it meanders), and there are huge additional lengths of it on the eastern and western ends — to Ross Bay (and beyond) in the East, and to Ogden Point in the West. These areas are officially “on-leash,” although if your dog’s selective listening devices are marginally functional, you can probably beat any K-9 officer who might be out there looking to earn the City some money. Whenever I’m out here, as well as when I’m out in the suburbs, at Thetis Lake, or in East Sooke Regional Park, or on Mount Doug, or down at the seashore at the foot of Mount Doug, on Oak Bay’s Willows Beach, or even in the Uplands‘s Cattle Point, I always have this tremendous feeling that just fills me up to the point of joy: “This is mine, it’s all mine, it all belongs to me, and it belongs to you, and to you, and to you, too! It’s ours, ours, ours!” I feel gracious out there: “How do you do?, lovely to see you, I hope you, too, are enjoying our beautiful land!” All my hostess anxieties, with which I am riddled beyond reason when at home, are blown away, as if by the wind. This meadow?, this mountain?, this ocean?, this view? Yes, it’s mine, and it’s magnificent, isn’t it? And I know you must believe this, because of course it’s yours, too! We share this! One of the very first things that W. and I noticed when we left Vancouver in 1985 to live in Greater Boston, was that all the pretty areas were off-limits because they weren’t public, they were private. The Boston Common was the lone exception, but it’s not that vast a park, really, given Boston’s size. On the city’s fringes, wealthy individuals had built their houses — call them cottages, call them mansions — along the soothing, vivifying oceanfront. The roads on the stingy bits of few and far between publicly accessible beaches were studded with “resident parking only” signs, meaning that if you came from out of town, you weren’t welcome — and “town” of course meant that if you were from Lynnfield, you couldn’t park in Lynn (but then you quickly learned you didn’t want to anyway), and you sure as hell couldn’t park in Swampscott. Every single bit of lovely land — something pastoral, something with a view, something soothing to the soul — appeared to have been bought up by some individual or by some corporation (possibly a municipality), which immediately put up strictures to keep everyone else out. Try going to Manchester-by-the-Sea or Beverly Farms, both in Massachusetts, sometime in the nice-weather-season and see if you feel welcome… For W. & me, coming from Vancouver with its huge Stanley Park prime real estate public park, its massive areas of public access to beautiful areas (Spanish Banks, UBC and Wreck Beach), this privatisation was a massive shock. We couldn’t believe it. All those years in Greater Boston — seventeen — I longed for that kind of access again, although, truth be told, I learned how to covet. Boy, did I learn how to covet. Isn’t there a Book somewhere that says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s land”? Doesn’t that Book suggest it’s a sin to covet? Yet when you live in a privatised country, how can you avoid learning the lessons of coveting? My experience outside Boston’s downtown core was thus: during the off-seasons (i.e., Blizzard and Mud), I would be allowed to park in Manchester-by-the-Sea’s Singing Beach parking lot, but during the season (Triple H: hot hazy humid), I wasn’t allowed to because I lived in Beverly and my car didn’t have the required “resident” sticker. During the off-season, I was allowed to park on Beverly Farms‘s West Beach parking lot, but during the season, I wasn’t allowed to, because West Beach had incorporated as a neighbours’-only private beach that enforced its rules in the summer. F$%king incroyable! During all seasons I was allowed to park in Beverly’s Lynch Park, but the only reason Beverly had such a gorgeous oceanfront park was because some rich guy (Lynch) bequeathed money to the community for the purpose of establishing a public park. The community hadn’t planned on or for this kind of amenity. (And if you’re not a Beverly resident, it will cost you $10 to park your car there in the summer — that’s the 2002 price.) And there’s the problem: if some rich guy gave land (or money for land) to the community, the community struck it lucky. But if there was no provision of the sort, the community could screw itself. Failing such a provision, the community members can drive around and oggle all the private estates, and covet, covet, covet. Most importantly, a sense of community doesn’t enter into that particular spectator sport (individuals coveting individualistically) since it’s impossible to define parameters: desire is such a wide-open, porous activity. Well, I suppose it keeps the dynamo of the private capitalist psychology humming. But you have no idea how it works its work on your very soul until you’ve lived in places where its logic is interrupted, even if only imperfectly.


Anonymous April 13, 2004 at 2:55 am

Logic is an opinion

Tom Shugart April 13, 2004 at 4:32 pm

It’s one of the reasons I came West as a young man. The California coastline is almost entirely open–and that status is protected by state law.

The shores of the Great Lakes–the area where I grew up–are much as you describe Boston’s. The people who came West wanted to create a more open life. It’s a different mindset out here. That’s why I’m here.

And, yes, the BC waterfront areas are mind-blowing!

Joel April 14, 2004 at 5:44 am

Having been raised in California, I remember when voters passed the Coastal Initiative, Tom, and saved the beaches for the rest of us.

I’m not so sure that we’re all for the open-mindset. The Coastal Initiative was prompted by the actions of the Orange County Board of Supervisors who went along with a private initiative to destroy a historic cove, its wildlife, and a great surfing wave. I don’t think of where I live as an extension of the East but a peculiar type of Californianism where freedom means the right to deny others access to the sunlight if you can manage it.

Joel April 14, 2004 at 5:46 am

And, incidentally, I don’t support that frame of mind, but it impinges on me every day.

Marja-Leena Rathje April 16, 2004 at 1:05 am

Hi, just found you via Wood s Lot, and enjoyed reading about your background and the descriptions of the Victoria area, so familiar to me! ( I live in the Vancouver area). Boston sounds quite shocking!

We were surprised a few years ago to learn that in Finland, private lands are open to public access, provided that nothing is disturbed and you don’t go too close to the residence, to assure privacy.

Will be back!

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 2:45 am

You are the best. Thank you

Anonymous February 20, 2006 at 12:23 pm

Your site is realy very interesting.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: