Photo: Demetri Mouratis (Creative Commons)
Originally published: Centretown Buzz, November 15 2013
by Sarah Gelbard
We like to romanticize nature and tend to limit our view of parks as exclusively greenspace. We want to imagine that planting a few more trees will somehow cure our urban ills. So it is not surprising that the chapter of the Centretown Community Design Plan (CDP) addressing parks and public space is titled “Greening Centretown.”
Without denying the importance of plants in an urban neighbourhood, the objective of “adequate, accessible and innovative public open space” needs a diversity of solutions and tools. Trees and lawns are not the only way to “soften the hard character of city spaces,” or to “add beauty to urban settings.”
Fortunately, the CDP does broaden its sights and proposes that “parks and open spaces are essential neighbourhood amenities that support a diversity of formal and informal recreational uses,” and “each park should complement one another in function, as opposed to duplicating roles.” There’s an important component here: the function and use of these spaces.
It is important to remember that our open public spaces can be truly vital and vibrant parts of our urban landscape. Their function is far more complex than just beautification and “reconnecting to nature.” Open public spaces are social spaces. They help to shape communities and become reflections of the diverse identities of the neighbourhood.
Like many urban neighbourhoods, Centretown suffers from limited number and size of open public space. Equally as important is the limited diversity of those spaces. Walk through any of our parks and you will encounter, almost exclusively, families with young children, and people walking their dogs. Walk 10 feet over to the sidewalk of the mainstreet and you encounter a far more diverse population.
Why do we think of parks as places for young children and dogs? Wouldn’t we all benefit from the fresh air, the exercise, and the social interaction? The Ottawa Skateboard Community Association (OSCA) certainly thinks so. OSCA has been petitioning the city for a central professionally designed concrete skate park.