Dear South Side of Colborne

Dear South Side of Colborne,

I’m not sure what to do with our relationship.

The last eight months or so of seriously getting to know you have been a crash course in local politics, federal politics, university politics, heritage assessments, environmental assessments, and arguably democratic or undemocratic processes. It’s all become a complicated mess.

I feel like our relationship has stalled, and now I’m not entirely sure how to proceed. You’ve given me a few headaches, to be honest. You’ve made me angry. You���ve broken my heart a few times, too.

We knew each other only casually during childhood. You lived on “the other side of town,” and except when I needed to borrow library books or gawk at movie sets, we didn’t talk too much. You must understand it’s not because I didn’t like you. It’s because I didn’t have much of a need to get to know you.
But then I went off to university. I was in my hometown, but outside of the suburban neighbourhood I’d memorized delivering papers. You intimidated and fascinated me. Before I made friends with people at school, I would visit you. I wanted to see the river, and not knowing geography, I thought you’d be able to show it to me. I wanted to see the Grand River stretched out in all its history, in all its poetry-inspiring wonder. I was going to record you. It would be epic. I held my breath. I looked.

And then I saw the Price Chopper parking lot and the casino. No poetry, only concrete.

After learning about you for much longer than originally anticipated, I still feel let down. Because while this process of redevelopment that began with the city taking ownership of you and having everyone else vacate the premises was originally touted as the morally right thing for council to do – a brave move that would spark a renaissance – so far, to my eye, it hasn’t brought out the best in most of us. In the world of politics, I’ve learned, acting in the good of the city can be code for acting in one’s best political interests. At times to me, city council hasn’t looked too different from the sandbox I used to fight over as a child. Movements began to save you, but even those have had their critics. And since you’ve been fenced in, you’ve seemed removed from them, too.

But removed the most, to me, are those who used to call you “home.” A lot of ugly things have been said about your buildings, but I fear a lot of worse things have been said about your former residents. Some comments may be true, but others certainly are not.

No person, neighbourhood or city is perfect, and all political processes are filled with people. At the beginning, this process seemed simple and black-and-white. But it isn’t, and it never was.

For the last six months, I’ve wandered into areas of journalism I’ve never visited. I began with simple ideas of justice and mercy – and, maybe, some humility. But those things can be hard to find in political processes, and it’s going to take a lot more than renovations or demolition to cultivate them.

So simply put, South Colborne, the problem isn’t you. It’s us. Because we’re the ones who made you into a symbol of all that’s wrong with Brantford, or politics, or heritage.

And we’re the ones who need the most change.

Meagan Gillmore

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