Monuments aren't created; they happen. They depend on people to rub against them, talk about them, be affected by them. The monument, by itself, never means anything until someone has a picnic at its base, notices it, reveres it or, in a similar act of devotion, defaces it.
That said, why do we continually find ourselves surrounded by monuments that mean nothing to us? The Parkdale World Peace Monument is a case in point.
The giant globe affixed to an existing fountain base on the corner of Queen and Cowan - a joint initiative by the city's economic development, culture and tourism department (EDCT) and the Parkdale Village Business Improvement Association (BIA) - was controversial from the start.
Some decry the hefty price tag - close to $300,000 of municipal funds. Others argue for investment in far more pressing community needs: tree planting and maintenance, garbage cleanup, local social programs or homeless housing initiatives.
Some worry that the project isn't representative of the community in any way, though others believe that very soon world travellers are going to be murmuring "Meet me at the Globe in Parkdale."
This last opinion, a direct quotation from Parkdale-High Park councillor Sylvia Watson, perhaps best encapsulates why Parkdale's World Peace Monument is doomed as a meaningful focal point for the community.
The question is, is the installation just an attempt to sanitize Parkdale for tourist consumption? Or is the desired market for this addition the residents of the area themselves?
The unveiling of the monument some weeks back seemed to settle the question. Although there was much gloating that the piece will revitalize "Parkdale Town Square"(a name that's certainly new to me), I can't help but wonder if anyone involved in the project visited the site before dropping a quarter-million dollars on its supposed improvement.
To quote the BIA report directly: "The Town Square will benefit from the presence of a World Peace Monument, becoming a place to meet and a public landmark from which you can start exploring all that Parkdale has to offer."
However, the paver-stone area surrounding it has few of the markings of a town plaza. Unless you count the skateboarders who used to ollie over the saucer-shaped ex-fountain or the farmers market now exiled to the opposite side of Cowan behind the community centre, few people spend time there.
The reasons are obvious. Unlike its European counterparts, the fountain lacks a defined ledge for people to perch on, foot-bathe and so on. The absence of benches makes loitering, leisurely gathering and meeting - in short, community-building - uncomfortable and unlikely. This is doomed to become a public space without a public.
No more than a shortcut to the library beside it, this dead space serves only as a means of passage to somewhere else: the book return slot, the streetcar, the community centre.
Devin Horne, Parkdale's BIA coordinator, admits barriers to congregation have been deliberate. "In the last two or three years, a lot of the benches have been pulled out by the city. They were being slept on all the time and were a magnet for drug dealers specifically." Horne would like to see public seating around the monument if "it's used appropriately."
Says BIA board member Tania Thompson, "Benches may be the best way to bring a community together for other neighbourhoods, but Parkdale Village is unique. Benches are currently not a priority.'
This is not Parkdale's first fountain. In fact, it was built on the ruins of the last one, a failed attempt a decade ago. The current design, a 2.85-metre-tall stainless steel globe of wire mesh and copper sheathing, sits in the basin of that derelict fountain. It's meant to "depict the world" and will be lit from within. It will flow with water that is recycled.
According to the BIA report, the globe's symbolic message is that "water links us into a singular and wonderfully complex entity." The globe as symbol of diverse cultures has been used before (see Kensington's monument), and the connection between water and peace has been explored in monuments ad nauseam (e.g., the Peace Garden).
Will the monument resonate during the fall and winter months when it's turned off? So far it's been plagued by various plumbing and electrical difficulties. The water didn't flow for most of the summer, and lately the globe hasn't been lit at night.
One might also ask why local artists and community groups weren't invited to co-opt the corner and create a more participatory installation.
According to Horne, a selection process organized by the BIA and the city evaluated many proposals. "The city made the final decision, and this was one of the few cases where the lowest bid was not selected. For half the board members, this was before our time.'
Rather than hiring locals at a fraction of the cost to design the project, the decision was made to pay dearly for the work of established artist Peter Dykhuis, a professor at Halifax's NSCAD University.
Dykhuis has done commissions for the neighbourhood before. Horne says the call for proposals went out a decade ago, which may be one reason why many BIA and community members feel like there wasn't adequate public consultation.
"The globe has taken 10 years to be approved and at least five or six years to come to fruition," Horne explains. "Many of the people involved in that decision-making process no longer serve on the BIA. It was way before our time."
There are, however, other fine examples of public art made by and for the community, like the public bench project along Liberty Street.
If we really want the Globe fountain to represent us (and not just attract tourists), the people of Parkdale should be invited to participate in remaking the space.
I propose a spring sit-in on the first warm Saturday of the year.
I plan on dragging a chair from my apartment into the so-called square. Here's hoping others armed with lawn chairs will join me.