While loafing around the house shaking off jet lag, I saw some tweets rambling about an issue developing on 17th ave SW in Calgary between a foodie group and Alderman John Mar on an empty property lot. I was of course compelled to jump in the jeep to pop down and have a look for myself.
Below is the one picture that I took from the protestor’s facebook page; “Potatoes for the PEOPLE” The rest of the pictures in this posting are my own. The “No Trespassing” sign appears to have since disappeared or been covered and the presence of that sign is indeed at the crux of this issue.
Now there is indeed a real issue with abandoned lots and buildings in Calgary. Nobody wants to live next to or even near a derelict building or lot. Unmaintained spaces are magnets for crime and drug use and they simply are ugly to look at. Fire hazards, unsavory people and discarded drug paraphernalia all present potential dangers to people in areas with many derelict spaces in them.
A lady named Donna Clarke lives next to an empty lot and she has spearheaded a protest on this. As a resident of Highland Park in Calgary I really can sympathize with Ms. Clarke on this one. Due to parts of my neighborhood being in something of a development limbo (I expand on that a little here), we have a stretch of Center Street North that is loaded with houses in varying states of decay which has led to crime problems in our neighborhood and many new local hazards (it looks like crap too).
Below is a house in disrepair and likely soon to be condemned on Center Street.
Here is a house that has been condemned. It looks like a neighbor has taken advantage of this to park his work trucks. The house though is a firetrap and a magnet for crime. The picture was taken from a pair of empty lots from houses already condemned and torn down by the city.
On another pair of empty lots, people are taking advantage of the abandonment by using the sites as impromptu garbage dumps.
I have taken and posted the above pictures to establish that I am very familiar with this sort of issue and do strongly feel that we need to work as a city to reduce and avoid the buildup of derelict properties in our city. It is a serious issue and it impacts all parts of the city.
Now I will have to give credit to Donna for how she has carefully and cleverly framed her protest about the abandoned lot next to her home. Donna has with volunteers placed and painted used tires throughout the lot and is planting potatoes in these makeshift planters which will theoretically be bound for food banks should they be allowed to reach a stage of harvest. This is clever in that her protest against an empty lot is now tied in with urban art and food issues. I am seeing currently on social media that Alderman John Mar is unfairly being accused of opposing feeding the hungry and supporting the arts due to his asking that the law be enforced on this trespass.
It makes it a lose/lose situation as Mar is being derelict in his duty as a city councilor if he looks the other way on lawbreaking and he is being criticised as a cruel man for doing his job in calling bylaw enforcement and the police to deal with the trespass.
In the background, volunteers can be seen painting the dilapidated and admittedly ugly fence in bright colors.
Now getting back to the first picture and where the real problem is in all this; it is private property that was clearly marked as a “no trespassing’ area.
Whether you like what a neighbor is doing with their property or not, it simply is not acceptable or legal to jump on to their property and change it to suit your own taste. While the brightly colored fence may appear better to most eyes, we can’t presume that the owner wants it that way. Admittedly the owner likely could not care less what color the fence is but that is not the point here; it is neither Donna’s nor anybody else’s for that matter. The fence along with the lot itself is private property meaning that only the owner has the right to determine the colors and utilization of the dirt.
The abandoned lot is an eyesore and again I sympathize with Donna in her disdain for it. She does indeed live right next door. Still this issue is not even close to being so pressing in that it justifies setting aside our very important laws against trespassing and property rights. While it can be frustrating and painfully slow, we must deal with these things legislatively and properly. While it may appear to be a harmless protest, vigilante spud-farming simply can’t happen for a myriad of reasons not the least of which the precedent it would set if allowed to occur on private property.
According to both Donna and Councilor Mar, the city has indeed been working on this issue. Not long ago the lot was occupied by a crack house that was eventually condemned and demolished. Apparently the landowner has been fined as well. The city is not ignoring this lot even if the process appears slow.
When I arrived at the site, Councilor Mar was there and was engaged in discussion with Donna Clarke as pictured below.
Agree or disagree with his approach, Mar is indeed going there in person and engaging. Donna is rational and personable as well. It is not like her and her volunteers are presenting some profound threat to society at large.
Now I am going to go into a bit of a slippery slope argument here and will detail why I think it is particularly justified in this case.
The third person that can be seen in the picture is Tavis Ford. Tavis was one of the more prominent participants in the “Occupy” Calgary protest where squatters set up camp in Olympic Plaza for months. Tavis is a bright and personable activist. It was sort of nice to have a brief chat with him today as opposed to our encounters in an environment that was rather more tense during the “Occupy” thing.
The presence of Tavis is significant in this circumstance. For those familiar with the Calgary “Occupy” group, go here to look at the people involved in this “Potatoes for the people” group. For those not familiar with the names (I don’t blame you), what we can see listed there are pretty much all of the prominent activists and those who supported them in the Calgary “Occupy” protest last fall. I occasionally have a look into the “occupy” facebook group and it can be seen that the core supporters have been infighting and seeking a new cause to try and reignite what they put together last fall. In other words, these are people with nothing better to do than squat on land illegally and they will not hesitate to do so.
People are saying Councilor Mar acted too fast in calling bylaw enforcement for this trespass. I say we can’t act quickly enough. Rest assured, we are not far at all from having illegal tents popping up on this land and then the nightmare of removing squatters will quickly eclipse the current headache of removing some tires. This is a very very real possibility here.
Donna Clarke pointed out that next to the lot is an abandoned funeral home which has had to be boarded up repeatedly due to people breaking in. I took a picture of what appeared to be bullet holes in the top window of that building which unfortunately did not turn out. I can’t think of what else would make holes that high up on a building. Ms. Clarke told me of a recent stabbing nearby that could be related to the derelict properties. Donna Clarke’s issue is real and it needs to be addressed before things degrade further. I do hope that things change there soon.
That all being said, laws must be respected and enforced. I do hope the lot is cleared out ASAP. Trespassing is not the answer.
As Chris McMillan (provincial NDP candidate in Calgary Mountainview) has been debating with me claiming nothing was done wrong unless the owner had made a bylaw complaint, I thought I would nip that BS in the bud.
Trespassing is simply illegal. The owner does not need to be presentto prevent it. The property lines need to be clearly defined and signs clearly posted. The property in question is clearly fenced and was posted “No trespassing”
The law can be found here.
It may be noted that under subsection 3 (4) it is illegal to obscure a “no trespassing” sign as well.