Saturday, October 8, 2011

Survey Says...

What's this cute little rock? Someone's gravestone? Cairn? Milestone? Halloween decoration? Actually it's none of the above. It's an Ordnance Survey stone erected to mark the northeast corner of the military lands where British troops were stationed up until 1868. The Ordnance lands were passed over to the City of London in 1873 to become Victoria Park, the Fair Grounds, and rows upon rows of housing that today makes up part of London's residential core.

The stone stands in a little patch of shrubbery on the southwest corner of Waterloo Street and Kenneth Avenue, just on the edge of Piccadilly Park. An explanatory plaque nearby was erected by the City and the London & Middlesex Historical Society. Just one of those small but delightful historical items one comes across when prowling about the city on foot.

Reg's Rough-and-Tumble Rectangle

Good old Reg Cooper Square. For those of you not familiar with it, I refer to that mismanaged attempt to create a public space between City Hall and Centennial Hall in downtown London. Named after a long-serving civic employee who deserved better, the "square" - actually a rectangle - was meant to be a place for concert-goers to gather during intermission, an outdoor lunchroom where city workers could eat from their their brown bags on sunny days, and a pretty view for those living on the west side of Centennial House Apartments. Instead, it's become a repository for pigeon poop, weeds growing between flagstones, and garbage strewn about by people attending downtown festivals. (Odd that anyone would think a park bench benefits from having a rib bone stuck between its slats - but I digress.)

OK, it's not all bad. The little tribute to Japanese Canadians added in 1977 (left) is an attractive, if rather well-hidden, feature. And although I'm not usually a fan of modern art, Ted Bieler's sculpture "Release" (above) is no eye-sore. It's just that both these monuments could use a more attractive setting.

Part of the problem may be the surrounding buildings. I don't actually mind City Hall; there's nothing shabby about it. The Centennial House is not beautiful but, as I'm currently living in it, I can't critique it too much and can only assure the world that it's better on the inside. It's Centennial Hall that should be blown up - oops, I mean demolished - and a proper performing arts centre built on the same site. It's a mid-twentieth century disaster that doesn't deserve the term architecture.

Reg Cooper Square's main purpose at the moment seems to be to act as a short-cut for downtown pedestrians who don't want to hike around it. But maybe if we could convince the city to try a little maintenance, people might stop instead of passing through. Cutting the weeds back more often, painting the benches, repairing broken paving stones, and adding some attractive plantings might improve the square so much that not even its proximity to Centennial Hall could make it ugly. I mean, doesn't our Mayor ever look out the window?