Default: Parks

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.

An example of a suburban park with a roundabout in Orleans.

An example of a suburban park with a roundabout in Orleans.

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.

5 Responses to “Default: Parks”

  1. August 7, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    The Friends of Lansdowne Park are NOT against a football stadium. They even have a whole page on their website devoted to that question. They want a permanent (e.g. full-time) home for the Farmer’s market, but by no means does this occupy the full park or preclude other uses.

    What the Friends of Lansdowne Park DO want is a public process to decide what goes there. They oppose this sole-source agreement (which happens to include sports and is managed by a consortium that is vying for a sports franchise) which is being forced down the public’s throat. Check out their website to hear their version.

    Considering your suggestion people think twice before plopping down a public park, you should really have checked first before spreading these false rumours.

    • 2 David McClelland
      August 7, 2009 at 9:36 pm

      I’m aware of what the Friends of Lansdowne Park say they want, but frankly I think it’s a pretty thin veneer. There’s nothing wrong with sole sourcing projects (especially since there is no one else who can offer a CFL franchise along with it), and it is something that can occur in municipal politics. In addition, there will be a public consultation phase for this (or any) redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, the fact that we haven’t got there notwithstanding.

      The Friends of Lansdowne Park are composed primarily of Glebe and Old Ottawa South residents, and supported only by the City Councillor for those neighborhoods. Everything I’ve seem from them has been highly ideological rhetoric, and I find it hard to believe that any of them truly would support a football stadium on the site. Frank Clair is crumbling, and someone stepped up to the plate with a viable plan to revitalize the site and provide a long-term tenant for the stadium. That’s not something that should be ignored, and the City did not, rightly so.

  2. August 14, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    There’s indeed a sizable chunk of Glebe residents who’ve never liked that stadium, regardless of the usages made of it over the decades. CFL, concerts, OHL…I don’t think this faction will rest until the place is completely turned into green fields.

    But if they get their wish, the rest of us get to endure even more urban sprawl than we already have. We’re falling behind on getting the infrastructure in place to more around this city at a reasonable pace as it is, and this would make things that much worse.

  3. August 17, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Could not agree more. Ottawa is king (or queen, I don’t know) is unused parks/green area.

    The whole green area south of the Rideau River along Riverside drive it totally useless : no body goes there except the few governement employees on lunch time. This is an example out of many others… Maybe we should enumerates the ones making sense since the list would be probably smaller. One have in head is the one at the end of Cumberland in Lowertown: kids + parents, dogs + owners and hockey during winter.

    Building parks in the suburbs is like having a garage full of public lawn mowers to be borrowed while they clearly know that every body owns their own lawn mower : nobody bother borrowing the public ones since it is more hassle to go and get the public ones.

    Same thing, with the parks: everybody has there own yard, why use the public ones?

    To be appealing, a park has to provide something more, something that people miss. It is clearly not the case on the example given here.

  4. 5 Joel
    September 3, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    These smaller parks which look pretty and appear to serve no real purposes. I unfortunately live near this Orleans park and yes, it is only used as a dog park (which may be a good thing). These pseudo focal point parks were built first allow the 120 free-hold apartments around the square to have a grassed “backyard” for their dogs. I walk past it to go to other parks as there is no reason to stop and smell the dog poop. Its no different than a 10 story apartment building having an open grassed area for dogs. The actual parks in this area aren’t built yet on this aerial photo.

    There will be two other larger parks (both three blocks away), one being built now, that will have plenty of substance and at major intersections so they will be a focal point to the neighborhood.

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