David Reevely has an interesting post up about parks over at Greater Ottawa.
“Not that I’m against parks, at all. It’s just that I don’t think they’re automatically the best use of any vacant space. They can be hubs of community activity, sure, but only when they’re placed and configured right. The long spaghetti strands of greenspace we get along our waterways where commerce and other activities are all but forbidden, also thanks to the NCC, are a grievous underuse of places with tremendous potential.”
I have to agree with him on this. There is a tendency to default towards a “Well, let’s build a park, I guess” attitude whenever some major parcel of land is up for re-use. Like Mr. Reevely, I have no problem with parks; in fact, I love a good park. I even intended to do a series on Ottawa’s best parks over the summer in this space which unfortunately never got off the ground. But at the same time, simply defaulting towards parks is not necessarily the right way to go about development.
For instance, I’ve noticed that it seems to be common to make a park the focal point of new suburban developments. In some of the very new ones, you’ll find a sort of pseudo-roundabout with a medium-sized park in the middle, sometimes surrounded by townhouses or small apartments in an all-too-rare suburban nod towards smart growth.
You’ll notice from this example that the park is really just sort of there. It doesn’t act as any kind of focal point for the neighborhood, and doesn’t really give people much reason to go there, other than to let their dog have a run or toss around a football. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but wouldn’t this particular piece of land be better used if there were, say, a few shops there? A convenience store, a coffee shop and a doctor’s office actually might create a place where people need to go, and act as a centre for the neighborhood, giving it some extra definition. Parks could still be built, and should be built, but as neighborhood centres, they tend to be failures.
Another example, of course—if you’ll excuse me while I grab a can opener for these worms—is the debate over Lansdowne Park. The Friends of Lansdowne Park seem to want to see professional sports completely removed from the park, and have it reserved for small-scale events only, such as the Farmer’s Market, citing a desire to create a Lansdowne Park for all Ottawans to enjoy. While this seems admirable on the surface, I’m not sure that replacing a stadium with a park would do much for the vitality of the Glebe. Instead of Ottawans having a reason to come to the site (for football, soccer, concerts, etc), it would become just another park. Why would anyone want to visit it when there are any number of nice parks that already exist along the Rideau Canal and River?
The fact of the matter is we simply need to think twice about parks before we plop them down everywhere. They’re definitely a necessity to make the city livable, but they’re often not the only thing worth building and it can be quite valuable to examine the alternatives before making any kind of decision.