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Problematic Park Design - Why Some Parks Don't Work

evandyk

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I didn't know the Barbara Hall park had a playground but wouldn't go for the same reasons. We stopped going to the Kensington park too. We had a couple visits were the park was already in use by those 20+ in age and I didn't feel the kids would be safe.
Kensington is not bad. There was a pretty big encampment last fall, but the playground is pretty untouched. Both the Grange and St. James can have these issues too, but are so popular that you normally don't. It's when someone is sleeping in the play structure, or you have to clear out the used needles when you get there that's an issue, and you'll see both at Barbara Hall (we don't take the kid there, but my mother-in-law works in the building next to it).
 

smably

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I will add this one to the list! Big park......more than likely a multi-post review.
Since we're doing big park requests, I would love to hear your thoughts on Trinity Bellwoods. Obviously one of the most successful and well-used parks in the city, and yet at times it feels strangely neglected. A few years back, I complained about some of that neglect in the shabby public realm thread, and since then I think some aspects have improved (new asphalt, maybe some drainage improvements?). Meanwhile, some things have stayed the same (the standard tonka truck bins) and some things gotten much worse. I haven't visited lately, but I know after the encampment evictions, large parts of the park were walled off with fences and possibly patrolled by private security.

Despite being an important link in a major bike route (connecting Strachan and Shaw), the design leads to conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists. In general, the park seems overdue for a master planning/visioning exercise.
 

Sky High Arch

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Tour done, let me add a few further observations before my commentary.

While in the park, I encountered one rather obnoxious person who thought I might be taking his photo in some way, he was off in one of darker corners, near the DOLA having some sort of chat w/2 other young men, and my camera caused a significant outburst of profanity and something that sounded vaguely like a threat.

I may have gestured at the 4 police who were 40ft away, that he hadn't noticed...........at any rate, that doesn't leave a particularly good impression. Needless to say, I wasn't taking his photo and his image does not appear above.

A further issue.....unfortunately, was the number of people in the park obviously in a state of drug-induced intoxication. I counted 4. I don't want to demonize anyone suffering from addiction in any way; but I can understand how people passed out on the ground etc. may impact the comfort of others to make use of the space. I would not want to see any heavy-handed actions here; but some outreach surely seems in order.

Commentary on the Park design:

For such a small space, it is certainly very intensively programmed. Having only visited this once (recently) I don't have a good read on how well the various features are used at other times/days, but my overall
sense is that the space could handle its current program; but some re-arranging would probably be beneficial.

What the re-arranging would entail would depend on the popularity of the various features and I would need more input from park regulars or more extensive observation to judge.

My principle instinct if we were keeping change modest, would be to slightly shrink the DOLA, particularly at its western extent to push back the fencing from edge of the path and reduce any sense of claustrophobia as it were.

I would also look at how to activate the space currently contained by the fast fence.

I feel that space, given how narrow it is, is really just a bit too dark and shady. I don't know that I would want fewer trees per se, but I think I would like to see a couple of the existing ones removed in favour of something like a Birch or an Aspen that will let a bit more dappled light through. This would also help with landscaping underneath the trees.

If the desire were for a planting bed, I think dense planting, and low-height protective railings could be added along the edge.

Alternatively, some of the space could be hardened a bit and see the addition of a ping pong table or chess table etc.

Finally, I think I'd look at protecting those planting beds around the Memorial and and re vegetating the bare spots.

*****

If one were being more ambitious, I think we need to talk purpose. Which is to say, what do we want the space to be? If, for instance we wanted to focus on the child-friendly bit, we probably need a larger space for that with equipment that would appeal to older children, swings and slides and such.

But absent adding land to the park, which would be challenging, any expansion of the play area must come with a design/layout change to the park.

The only logical choice I see would be shifting the children's area to where the lawn is today, and the un-programmed space to its east.

This poses some challenges, in that the space is next to private residential property, also heritage designated; it would likely require removing 2-4 trees as well. While one could split the children's area moving only the play equipment and leaving the water feature where it is; I think this might be problematic for parents/nannies/babysitter keeping an eye on more than one child.

The DOLA seems fine, except for any excess size and challenges created by the fencing.

The Memorial is in good shape and I tend to frown on relocating these sorts of things, so I'm disinclined to do that w/the notation that if the children's area were consolidated to the north side of the park, the memorial could be
redesigned and laid out, along w/the DOLA in the space now occupied by the children's area.

****

The last thought would be on expansion, and/or relocation of any functions that the park currently serves.

I think this is an important discussion for the community because of the plan to develop a new park on the current Green P lot closer to Yonge.
If any of the 3 major functions in Barbara Hall Park were shifted over, it would substantially increase space for the remaining functions.

In terms of expansion, the limitations are substantial.

Obviously the 519 is staying, as is the heritage to the north. The building to the immediate south, along Church is quaint retail with a historical vibe, while not designated, I would find it a challenge to argue for its removal.

That really only leaves growing the park to east, along Cawthra.

The apartment complex does have ample space in front of it that is currently lawn, a semi-circular driveway and a garbage area.
The challenge w/that space is that is strata over a parking garage. Should the building ever be redeveloped, I think there is a legitimate opportunity for a modest expansion of the park here. In its current form, Parks would be loath to take a strata-lease, but it might be a good spot for the DOLA allowing the existing one to be repurposed.

The houses along Cawtha are not heritage, but do contribute something to the fabric of the area, the advantage in removing perhaps the 2 closest to the park, is that Cawthra itself could then be closed in that section and added to the park.

Is it worth the cost? I would leave that to the locals to assess.
The real issue to the homelessness and drug use in this park is the Progress Place Clubhouse that is across the street. Progress Place is a recovery centre for people living with serious mental illness and drug use. This park and area will continue to see activity in the area. As noted by others i dont believe many kids go to this park, and if the dog park was not there i don't believe many others would us the park too. It does get scary at times and intimidating as you have experienced. I don't believe there any big changes that can happen to reduce this issue unless the Progress Place relocates and the issue goes elsewhere. At the time it was probably cheap land to build progress place, unlike today with condos going up. I would like to see it move but its still pushing off the issue somewhere else, unless there is an area that is better suited for this situation.
 

Northern Light

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The real issue to the homelessness and drug use in this park is the Progress Place Clubhouse that is across the street. Progress Place is a recovery centre for people living with serious mental illness and drug use. This park and area will continue to see activity in the area. As noted by others i dont believe many kids go to this park, and if the dog park was not there i don't believe many others would us the park too. It does get scary at times and intimidating as you have experienced. I don't believe there any big changes that can happen to reduce this issue unless the Progress Place relocates and the issue goes elsewhere. At the time it was probably cheap land to build progress place, unlike today with condos going up. I would like to see it move but its still pushing off the issue somewhere else, unless there is an area that is better suited for this situation.

Hmmm, I perused their website, and their annual report.........

Found here: https://www.progressplace.org/uploa...rogress_place_impact_report_2020-21_final.pdf

And here, respectively: https://www.progressplace.org/uploa...rogress_place_impact_report_2020-21_final.pdf

From what I can discern, during the pandemic they have been closed to in-person services, offering food for delivery or takeout and most other services virtually.

I wonder if that had any impact one way or the other?

I noted that they provide safe housing, not on-site, but in nearby Bachelor and 1bdrm apartments, 118 of them I believe.
The program seems quite successful, at least based on what the website is claiming.

I don't favour shuttling services like this all over the place or confining them to park-less industrial areas...........but there are other options.

To the extent that the associated issue is one of a very small minority of people supported by the program in some way, perhaps more intensive intervention/supervision could be funded.

One alternative is to consider the single-site capacity/draw issue. This has been done and is being done w/homeless shelters where the number of beds aren't being cut, but most facilities are being
transitioned down to about 60 beds, where once they were 200++ at some locations.

The challenge of course, when one spreads people out is that it may be more difficult to fund the same critical mass of services conveniently under one roof.

But it merits some examination.
 
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Towered

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Is there something in particular your curious about here? I just ask because its a fairly popular park with active user groups/volunteers.
Nothing in particular - I'm just curious as to your detailed take on its current state and how it could be improved (and if those ideas align with mine!)
 

TRONto

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Kensington is not bad. There was a pretty big encampment last fall, but the playground is pretty untouched. Both the Grange and St. James can have these issues too, but are so popular that you normally don't. It's when someone is sleeping in the play structure, or you have to clear out the used needles when you get there that's an issue, and you'll see both at Barbara Hall (we don't take the kid there, but my mother-in-law works in the building next to it).
Sorry, I wrote incorrectly. I meant to say on a few visits we've had grown ups in the playground equipment (for toddlers). I don't bother going there anymore as we had to then walk over to a different playground. Other times, it's simply a matter of having to be on a higher level of alert while at the park. It's not worth the stress. Although new, It is not one of the top playgrounds downtown.

I've not encountered non-parent adults in the St James/Grange playgrounds. At times the Grange playground does get teen/OCAD kids though but the playground is big enough to not be a big detriment.
 

Northern Light

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I'm curious - what would you consider the top playgrounds? I'm always looking to discover good ones that I'm not aware of yet.

I know you're thinking of your kids............but you know I can't help but think of you as Count Frightenstein .....and now I'm picturing you in that get-up testing out a swing set........its just a very odd image.
 

TRONto

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I'm curious - what would you consider the top playgrounds? I'm always looking to discover good ones that I'm not aware of yet.
These are our usual playgrounds
Under 5 -> The new St Andrew, Victoria Square, the Train station playground and the Huron-Washington park
Over 5 -> Grange, St James, Allen Gardens
 

Northern Light

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Before I delve into my next review, a word about this series. When I started this thread, I did so out of irritation with many recent park designs that glaringly failed. Parks were created at considerable expense that the public wasn't interested in using for a variety of reasons, and I wanted to delve into those to elucidate for those in planning, in parks, in landscape design in both the public and private sectors what mistakes were being made and how they can be avoided.

I'm incredibly pleased that many of you have found these series interesting and informative. But now that I'm being asked to look at many older parks, I just want to note how this will vary somewhat from earlier posts. For the most part, older parks (originally established pre-1990), have never been the subject of design competitions. Some of the biggest have been the subject of formal plans; but most were done in-house by City staff at one time or another, and have undergone ad hoc evolution over time.

Point being, I'm not critiquing a single coherent design idea (or one pretending to be coherent), I'm now simply looking at whether the park functions well as currently laid out; is well maintained, and to the extent a park falls short, what might be reasonably done to improve it.

There are still some newer 'designed' parks I'll be looking at; but as I look at the older ones keep that thought in mind. I should add, that I've periodically looked to celebrate well designed parks in the past; here I'm approaching spaces cold and if I like what I see, I'll say as much and if I'm exasperated you'll read that too!

In post(s) below.........Christie (Pits) is next..........Christie.
 
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Northern Light

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As I move to look at Christie Pits, we'll start with an overhead view, relatively recent site plan, and a list of its intended program to get a sense of what this park is supposed to be.

1654479449507.png


The plan above is from a few years ago; its mostly accurate to today; though subsequently, a skateboard park has been added to the space, along with a second lookout. Below is an aerial pic, nipped at the corners to allow for a more detailed look:

1654479815837.png


Site Size: 8.9ha/21.9 acres

Site History: Formerly a Sand Pit (Christie's Sand Pits).............the park was officially created in 1908 and named Willowvale Park..........the name never caught on.......in 1983 the Park was officially renamed Christie Pits Park.

Further history can be read here: https://www.torontojourney416.com/christie-pits-park/

Programming:

Outdoor rink/Shinny Pad
Outdoor Pool
3 baseball diamonds
1 soccer field
1 basketball court
1 skateboard facility
1 Fire Pit
1 Allotment Garden
Washrooms
Junior and Senior Children's Playground
Wading Pool
Informal picnicking space.

Now one more note before we actually start looking at the park.

Currently the park does not fill the entire block, there is one remaining private commercial property at the corner of Bloor and Crawford; and a smattering of private homes along Crawford (the Park's western boundary), along with some parkland. On Barton and Christie the Park cover the entire frontage on those streets; and again on Bloor excepting the corner w/Crawford.

In TO Core: Parks and Public Realm, a City Planning exercise from 2018, the vision for Christie Pits includes acquiring all outstanding properties within the block.

1654480677436.png

There is further commentary on the future vision:
1654480741181.png



Note that this is going to be a multi-post examination as it is.............so I'm not going to explore the broader vision involving Bickford Park at this point.

In the next post we'll start our photo tour.
 

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