The Westmount Brief: A Case Study in Effective Advocacy. SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass. March 28, 2008.
On December 18, 2007 the residents of Westmount scored a major victory against the plan to install an artificial turf field in the historic Westmount Park, in this residential community southwest of the Greater Montreal area. In a delicious irony, at the time Mayor Karin Marks made her “non” announcement, the founder of FieldTurf, a leading manufacturer of plastic fields, was still among the living and resided just north of the Park.
Much of the grassroots’ success is creditable to an organization called Save the Park! Under the leadership of Patrick Barnard and others, Sauvons le parc! It undertook a relentless effort to inform the citizens, educate the decision-makers, planners and take to task the politicians. First, it set up a website (http://www.savewestmountpark.com). On May 16, 2007, the activists and ordinary residents attended the Council’s 4-hours’ long public hearing (consultation) and presented several briefs in opposition to the turf plan, including one on behalf of the majority of teachers who taught at nearby school and personnel of a nearby day care facility. The participation at the hearing, where 400 people attended, was followed up on May 28 with the submission to City Council of a petition that contained more than 1,000 signatures. Barnard and his colleagues played full-court press and at the end their efforts yielded a fantastic result – at least for now, Westmount is a synthetic-free zone.
The Westmount experience is not that different from most other communities where residents come together to oppose artificial turf fields, for whatever individual reason or reasons. In some communities -- like in Minneapolis, Evesham (New Jersey) and Wayland (Mass.) -- opponents of artificial turf have even gone to court challenging the legality of proposed turf plans. In San Carlos (California) the opponents showed their disapproval by organizing a protest march. In all these instances, extraordinary measures had to be taken because the arrogance of power on the part of the decision-makers formed an impervious barrier to reason and precaution.
In SynTurf.org’s estimation, two elements made the Westmount experience rather unique. First, one of the standard bearers, Barnard, is a particularly prominent member for the community; when he talks people tend to listen. Second, for the first time in any public debate over turf, as far as SynTurf.org knows, the words about turf’s heat effect was complemented by a showing of thermal images of super-heated fields. The presentation by Camilo Perez Arrau, who was introduced by the dean of the geography department at University of Quebec in Montreal, “had quite an effect” on the attendees, said Barnard in an-e-mail to SynTurf.org. It is one thing to use words to describe the heat effect of turf fields; it is quite another when the thermal images conjure up an image in the color of a burn or rash. For Arrau’s presentation, go to http://www.synturf.org/heateffect.html(Item No. 12), or http://www.synturf.org/images/CamiloNewSynthetic_turf_Montreal.pdf.
The Westmount experience has also taught the politicians a lesson or two about democracy and free flow of information, both of which seem to be in danger of curtailment by the city administration.
Since the beginning of 2007, Les Actualités Westmount has ben broadcasting as a public service the audio recording of Westmount’s public meetings. This is privately owned enterprise and has been under no legal or obligation to cover the meetings. In the aftermath of the May 16 meeting, Les Actualités ceased to provide audio recording of Westmount's governance meetings on the "request" of the Westmount city government, the Director General in particular, because members of the public had complained to the city about being on the audio recording of the meetings!
The various documents discussed at the hearing are accessible as follows:
Thermal images of turf fields around Montreal in contract to Westmount Park. Click here and also click here.
“Westmount Park Playing Fields: Public Information Meeting Presentation to Residents of Melville Avenue, Park Place and Academy Road,” City of Westmount’s Sports, Recreation and Community Events, October 3, 2007. Click here.
“Westmount’s Playing Fields: Developing an all ‘natural turf’ strategy,” by Bruce St. Louis, Director General (of City of Westmount), September 2007. Click here.
“Desktop Review of the Potential Environmental and Human Health Impacts for Planned Synthetic Outdoor Soccer Surfaces in Westmount, Quebec,” by Golder Associates Ltd., Montreal, Quebec, February 23, 2007. Click here.
“Westmount Park Soccer Fields: Design Options and Cost Estimates,” by Fauteux & Associates, Montreal, Quebec, April 16, 2007. Click here.
Patrick Barnard, SynTurf.org's Environmentalist of the Year, 2007.
Originally from New York, Patrick Barnard is a journalist by profession. As a radio broadcast journalist he has worked for Canada’s CBS, Radio Netherlands, and WBAI in his native New York. His "The International Press Review" ran for six years on CBC Radio's local Montreal morning show. In the print medium, he has published free-lance articles for The Nation, Commonweal, New York Newsday, and The Gazette in Montreal.
At heart, Barnard is a poet; he spends his time these days teaching English literature at Dawson College in Montreal. Among his literary works is The Language of Silent Things: Selections from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (1980). Barnard has also appeared in film: In 1993, he was in Manufacturing Consent, a film by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonic. Directed by Peter Wintonic and starring William F. Buckley and Noam Chomsky, the film underscored the role of government and media in producing propaganda. Also active in the theatre, Barnard is the co-producer of Bolsheviki: A Soldier’s Story. An RTS Canada Production, the play, by David Fennario, is about the memories of a World War I soldier.
Not a believer in artificial turf or fences, in 2007, Barnard co-founded Save the Park! to combat the City of Westmount’s plan to install artificial turf at Westmount Park.