On This Patch of Grass
City Parks on Occupied Land
Victoria Park (aka Bocce Ball Park) is a small, urban green space a block east of Commercial Drive. At first glance, the little park might seem insignificant.
But as viewed by the authors of this surprisingly profound book of analysis and anecdote, the park is deeply meaningful.
This Patch of Grass celebrates the many possible uses of the park, from a place to run your dog or play with your kids to a site for drug deals, family picnics, meetings, outdoor drinking parties and bocce ball. On a good day, you can view the park as a model of what shared pubic spaces ought to be.
The authors (a family of four) clearly love the park, and they paint an attractive picture of a vibrant, actively shared urban space that serves many human purposes with remarkably little conflict. The story is told in both text and photographs, including a selection of images from a photo project Daisy Couture created in 2015.
Daisy’s sister Sadie contributes a chapter that profiles some of the people who use the park.
But the story here is not simply one of cheerful, multicultural and shared public spaces. The authors are painfully aware that the park sits on the unceded territory of Indigenous nations and they are willing to take a long and painful look at the implications of that fact. They are also frank about the way the park can sometimes be a dangerous place for women.
Selena Couture’s chapter, “Titling Victoria Park,” examines the legal history of the park after it was stolen from its original owners. Matt Hern sketches out a history of public parks in North America and locates the creation of Victoria Park in that account, in the business history of Vancouver and in the colonial arc of dispossession and theft that created Vancouver, B.C. and Canada. His approach is thoughtful and analytical, with little of the self-referential guilt and virtue-signalling that too often mar attempts by non-Indigenous writers to grapple with our role as receivers of stolen goods.
This is a small book, but an ambitious one. It attempts to see how much can be learned if we look closely at even one square block of the city. Spoiler alert: There is much to be learned and some of the lessons are heart breaking. But all are worth the attention of thoughtful readers. Recommended.
— Vancouver Sun, July 2019