I am writing this letter to add my voice to those who have raised concerns about this recent effort by Victoria council to restrict access to Beacon Hill Park to pedestrians. It is difficult not to recognize a pattern of decisions by council that have been detrimental to community members with disabilities and others. Although I understand the conflicting demands of politics, particularly when making decisions in a relatively small community, those of us with disabilities should not be made to bear the weight of others’ interests.
Once again, council has applied its own version of utilitarianism in its decision to pedestrianize Beacon Hill Park. This method of decision-making, described as “the greatest good for the greatest number,” often serves only those in the majority while ignoring the needs, desires, and safety of minority groups. This process appears to have reached new heights in council’s decision to pedestrianize Beacon Hill Park. Instead of abandoning various minorities in favour of a majority, council appears to be supporting the happiness of the minority at the expense of the majority.
Who then is this minority that will benefit? First, the council members who voted in favour of this proposal and those who actively encouraged this latest effort at social engineering. Second, those whose lifestyle may actually be enhanced to some degree by closing most vehicle access to the park. This group could fairly include runners, joggers, cyclists, and those who are politically anti-motorized vehicle. Finally, and unfortunately, there are also those who believe it is their civic duty to legislate others to be like them. These are often the same individuals who believe that those of us who argue that our needs and rights are being overlooked should just be ignored. Whether these same needs and rights should be ignored before or after some form of token public consultation remains to be seen.
Once again, citizens with disabilities, many of our elderly, visitors to our city, and others will be on the short end of the utilitarian stick. I say ‘once again’ very purposefully. As one of the original members of the City Accessibility Working Group, I participated in discussions that raised concerns over the accessibility of pedestrian/wheelchair routes surrounding the construction of the downtown Janian Building and its surrounds. At the time, several members of the Working Group voiced concerns that pedestrian routes as they were designed were unnecessarily challenging for many with mobility limitations. The upshot was that, although our concerns and comments were acknowledged, we were advised that the project was so far advanced that it would now be impossible to make the kinds of changes that we were suggesting. As someone who has been involved in this kind of work for many years, this “timing management” technique is all too familiar. Hopefully, there will be sufficient and timely community input, not just from those of us with disabilities, to prevent this apparently temporary pedestrianization of Beacon Hill Park from quietly slipping into something more permanent. Timing, as we have seen, is everything.
My purpose in writing this letter is to point out that those of us who will suffer from council decisions are entitled to be heard. And, more importantly, we are entitled to have our concerns acted upon. We are also a part of this community.
Dr. Jon Breen