Bill Phillips has a thing for public parks.
He walks in them, he sits in them, he enjoys the view. And he's a crusader for keeping public parks open to the public.
One evening a few weeks ago, the Armdale resident was taking a walk through Fleming Park when he noticed something strange at the Dingle Tower. There seemed to be a face staring out of a tower window. Phillips made his way to the base of the landmark, where a park patrol officer was unlocking the front door to release two people stuck inside.
"Being the kind of nosey guy I am, I went over to talk to them," says Phillips. He learned the husband and wife were from Winnipeg, and they luckily had a cellphone to call 911 and escape the tourist trap. Phillips went home and immediately sent an email to Linda Mosher, his city councillor. "This is just another case of mindless work by the person(s) responsible for locking up these premises," he typed. "In my opinion it is inconceivable that this should happen anywherein HRM."
A year before the Dingle rescue, Phillips himself was "incarcerated" in Point Pleasant Park. After driving over and parking near the harbour, in what's known as the inner parking lot, he and his wife went for a stroll in the park. They got back to the car sometime after 8pm, when the inner lot gets locked, and realized this was a bad night to have left their phone at home. A park patroller eventually came by the gate, freeing Phillips and his wife, along with four or five other couples who were also stranded.
He's still pissed. "It's a park and we expect it to be open for people's enjoyment until a reasonable hour," Phillips tells me. "If the park itself closes at 11, that's the time the parking lot should be closed. Period." He's heard from city officials that the inner lot is closed at 8pm to keep a lid on the street racers who chronically gather there and that he can park in the outer lot---the smaller one away from the water, by Shakespeare by the Sea's headquarters---until 11pm if he wants, but he feels parking with a harbour view is a distinctly Haligonian right. "Why the hell should somebody be dictating that you can't do that?"
Point Pleasant is in councillor Sue Uteck's district, so I called her to find out if street racers are anything more than a noisy nuisance to those people who live near the park in some of the city's poshest homes. "It's a nightmare down in that park," she says, with several hundred cars and motorcycles gathering at the inner lot some nights, intimidating other visitors. Uteck's seen TV "footage of a guy doing so many wheelies he ran into the crowd," and skid marks from doughnuts are visible all over the lot.
"I've been looking for a happy solution" to the problem of "10 percent of the idiots who ruin it for everyone else," she says. The inner lot will be open until 9:30pm this Friday, July 18, to accommodate the Quinpool Cruise, a comparatively staid collection of car enthusiasts out for their annual drive across town. And the morning we talked, she'd just gotten back from the park, where she had a meeting about Black Rock Beach. With the city endorsing swimming there for the first time in ages (see "Beach bummer" on page 7), Uteck wonders about improving public access to the inner lot. "We were talking about that eight o'clock curfew. Should we try it for the first month of August, to keep it open 'til 9:30 to seewhat happens?"
Absolutely---and get enough cops on the ground to keep the peace. That's a use of police for the Bill Phillips of the city, as well as for those beleaguered folks living on the road to the park. "You couldn't pay me to live on Young Avenue," Uteck says. "You can quote me on that."