After leaving Graffiti Alley, I turn north and head toward my next destination, Randy Padmore Park in the Alexandra Park neighbourhood. When I get there, I find that it’s occupied.
Inside there are two tents set up. Near one, a man is working outside, hanging up his clothes. While it’s a public park, I feel that in these times it has become a private space. There is no reason for me to go in and explore what is now this man’s living room.
Edited to add: The issue of tents in parks is not settled. There is a legal battle on the way to determine whether or not it is constitutional to prohibit camping in parks in light of the pandemic. You can read more about it here.
Looking up who Randy Padmore was, I think that perhaps this is a totally appropriate use for the park. While he was alive, Randy Padmore was known for being a community organizer in the Alexandra Park neighbourhood where the park is now. He was known for building connections between generations, getting adults and young people talking. He took particular interest in youth and was a big part of getting a local basketball program established and running as well as a scholarship program. To get an idea of just how much impact he made – not just in this community, you need only look at this page of people remembering all of the work he did. Do read it, he was clearly a good man worthy of being remembered with a park.
I continue north to my next destination. Sonya’s Park in Kensington Market is named after Sonya Lunansky who ran a market in the neighbourhood in the 1930’s.
Sonya got her start selling on the street until she saved enough money to get an indoor space. The neighbourhood would become known as a neighbourhood of small independent markets and to this day it still is one. In Toronto, if one needs groceries from a particular part of the world you can go to a neighbourhood where many people from that country live. But if you want groceries from every part of the world you need only go to Kensington Market – there you’ll find every kind of food both in the form of groceries and prepared. The streets have a bit of chaos to them with pedestrians generally ruling the roost followed by cyclists. Drivers from out of town who accidentally find themselves here are often frustrated as people don’t immediately move out of the way of cars. In pre-pandemic times the parks and streets were filled with people relaxing and socializing, playing music or doing art and on the last Sunday of every summer month all the streets would be closed for street festivals. You can get a feel for it in the video below:
One of my favourite art installations in the city is here also – the Garden Car which spends its summers on the street before migrating to its winter storage home every autumn. I like it because it sums up the value that people there – and I – put on cars:
Further down the street I find a particularly timely and useful message stenciled several times in a row down the sidewalk:
At the end of this street I decide that it’s time to head home and find my way out of the market through an alley, stopping to take this photo:
I turn back from this dead end alley and see a man stumbling down the alley toward me, turning to face a wall a few feet before I reach him, fumbling with his pants as he turns. As I turn left to a parking lot that will take me to the main road I hear him gruffly comment “When you gotta go, you gotta go.” And while this behaviour is relatively common in this part of the city, I’m reminded that thanks to the pandemic there really are no alternatives. Coffee shops are take-out only, the libraries are all completely closed, many shelters are open nights only if they’re open at all. If you’re living on the street or are “lucky” enough to have a tent in a park, you still have no washroom and have to make them where you can.
I get to the main road and am pleased to find the wind at my back pushing me along home. I’m able even to pass the electric-powered delivery cycles and on one stretch find myself even passing a few cars as I barrel down the road at nearly 40 km/hr. I have to be careful, though, not to pat myself on the back thinking that my speed is only a result of the hard work my legs are doing. I have a strong tailwind.
I think back on today’s ride, the Black Lives Matter graffiti, the people sleeping in the parks, and the people finding washrooms where they can and am pretty sure I’m living life with a tailwind as well. The question is: how to share the benefits of this tailwind with others?