Exposé—The state of Place de la Gare Park

Taking a look at the park … the state of it and what’s needed by the members of the community who spend their days and nights there

Many also refer to it as Jean Talon Park, but there it sits on Hutchison Street between the Provigo building and of course the businesses out front like the McDonald’s and of course Solo Drum Studio, but the park in and of itself, remains a standby for the community, and perhaps specifically those that spend their days and nights there.

Walking into the park—first impressions

An incredible amount of litter and debris found beneath the stone seats beneath the cropping of trees near the Provigo entrance

Myself, I’ve been in the park and on many occasions, and the faces there are indeed familiar, as I’m sure they are to you all, residents of Park Extension.

I was there and was covering a Canada Day event for the paper a few weeks back. Temperatures were still quite high and despite the pandemic, the festivities went on regardless. But it was also on this occasion that I noticed the state of the park, even mentioning a few things about the state of it in that piece I was working on … i.e., broken bottles strewn about the expanse of the park, littered trash, an extensive amount of cigarette butts, and so on; it further amazed me that the park wasn’t better taken care of than it was, especially due to the fact that a gathering of men, women and children was in occurrence on that particular day.

A portion of the element that frequents the park

What should also be discussed is of course the element that is there, present in the park and at all times of the day and night. Sadly, it isn’t only the harmless that lurk under the trees and off to the side of the park near the entrance to Provigo. There is in fact a criminal element and it needs to be said, especially because while I was there, snapping pictures and taking notes for this piece, I noticed a mixture of all sorts of people. There were those using illegal narcotics, yet just a few meters away on the expanse of grass at the center, children were playing. Off on Hutchison, a man was being arrested and placed into an ambulance for being drunk and subsequently sick, and there I was snapping pictures of monuments and the littered ground and what more, I saw at least 5 rats scurrying around the park—too fast to snap a decent picture of. This specifically is perhaps something quite common in Washington Square park, New York, but maybe not in park Extension.

Something didn’t quite work about the whole thing, and I had the same sentiments that I had had on the day of the Canada day celebration … so perhaps a wee bit of work would be necessary on the park, and for everyone who uses it.

Families spending their evening in the park—Monday September 28th, 2020—a particularly warm evening in early fall … children played atop the lawn mere meters from a known criminal element present in the park

An eye-opening experience—a stranger in the park

And it was as I conducted my investigation that I was approached by a regular that I had seen in the park on many occasions. So enthralled in what I was doing, I entered the cropping of trees off by the entrance of Provigo, snapping away with my Nikon, that I didn’t realize I had walked right into a group of men and women that were not too happy with me being there. The lot of them scattered quite quickly, except for one man. He came up to me and said: “Man … these people better not be in one frame of those photographs or you and that camera aren’t getting out of his park. I don’t care how big you are, these people will jump you, man.”

At first I was shocked, then–quite honestly, I wanted to laugh—and not because I didn’t take what he was saying seriously, but because I suddenly felt like I was on the set of some Steven Seagal movie, circa 1992.

Honestly, at first, I thought he was foe rather than friend, but once I told him who I was and why I was doing it, I watched him soften and realized that his previous statement had withered away like moisture atop the grass and plants that grew all around us. I also realized that he’d wanted to help me and not intimidate me with his warning.

He motioned with his hands towards the others and I saw their collective shoulders lower and relax before my very eyes. What ensued was a pretty interesting conversation with the stranger in the park.

What is needed according to a veteran of the area & other members of the community?

A water fountain is definitely needed. This fact was first brought to my attention by Sasha M. Dyck who is involved in many community goings-on and cares deeply about it, its history and its people; he had told me that a member of the community Daniel K. Seligman had brought up the possibility. I reached out to him on Social Media and he had this to say: “I had just suggested it would be a good idea to have a water fountain in the park because there are so many people in the spring/fall/winter that use it (the space).”

It was after I mentioned that I had heard that they were trying to get a water fountain installed in the park and hopefully shedding some light on cleaning the space up that the stranger in the park softened considerably, as stated.

He said: “Aw man, we’d love at least a fountain, and these rats … there are at least thirty of them that come out at night.”

In the end, perhaps a water fountain would be a great idea. There are many in the community looking to have one installed, as shown here, and perhaps a little light can be shed on the fact that it has been kept in pretty bad shape so far—the park that is.

Groups on Social Media have certainly gotten into it, complaining about the rats as well, looking to their leaders for a resolution to the problem, one resident in particular, Yasmine Amor, posting an open letter to the City Councilor of the borough herself. In her post she stated: “So walking down Place de la Gare has been slightly disturbing when I ran into 10 or more rats. Mary Deros, could you please take care of the rat infestation near the metro station? Thanks.”

What City Councilor Deros had to say

I spoke to City Councilor Mary Deros and she said that people can’t say that nothing is being done. She is doing everything that she can to help and support the homeless at the park, but keeping the park clean is also up to the people that hang out there as well. She implores that people stop feeding the birds, as this leads to the infestation of rats as well. She also asks that people stop throwing their garbage and empty beer cans and wine bottles in the bushes.

She further stated that she meets with the police every two weeks and says that the police are working on the park. Further, she is working to see what kind of shelter can be found for those that sleep in the park at nights now that the cold weather approaches.

There are two sides to every coin

So maybe in the end, it’s a two way street, as City Councilor Deros states: those that hang out there can also do their part to keep it cleaner, and the city can possibly keep it a tad cleaner on their end, maybe having it cleaned a tad more often.

And to the stranger in the park: Thanks for the heads-up. Hope this helps.