Park planning (i)

Last week, the City and Councilor held a public meeting regarding the upcoming renewal / rebuilding of Primrose and Chaudiere Parks (Chaudiere is on Elm Street, is an oversized pocket park). Today: Primrose Park.

view from the west slope, looking east, trees with their toboggan pads on, drainage pond to the left, daycare > rotary home > sheltered residence to the east, world's tiniest playstructure (tm) just visible on the far right

A number of residents had heard the project was coming, and had already submitted some comments to get the hired planners’ juices going. Unfortunately, some people at the meeting thought this meant that the “fix” was in. A great deal of the divide was between the proponents of the “dog park” and the “kid park”.

Primrose Park is a popular dog park. Has been for years. Many years. After so many dog parkers spoke up, I spoke up at the meeting to point out that when my kids were young, I gave up going to the Primrose dog park because there were so many dogs, they dominated the park and rendered it unpleasant for me and my family. Some people agreed, others were vocal in the contrary position.

The Primrose Park (corner of Primrose and Rochester) is quite large, and unusual in design for the City. I recall the original planner, (Hough??) outlining why it was to be so hilly, with concealed areas around the perimeter for kids to hide in, and play privately, on their own, without formal play tools delivered by the city.

And the unique water catchment area on the north side, which collected rain runoff from adjacent townhouses and the park itself, into large paved “play basins”. Yup, back then we believed rain water would be clean enough to play in. Alas, it was delivered to the ponds full of cat and dog shit. The ponds have largely been derelict ever since.

no water to float your raft in at this storage pond
what will archeologist's think of this drainage swale?

The perimeter areas were to be unmowed, allowed to grow wild, on the giant hillocks made of the contaminated soil removed from the City Living site to the north. Alas, the “private areas” were contentious then, and still are.

Some of what the planners said struck me as just plain silly. The park has a thriving bunch of trees at the SE corner, throwing dappled shade on the entrance courtyard and kiddy play pit. This, to planners, is “dank” and threatening. Instead, they suggested closing off this entrance (to what new purpose was never made clear) and moving the tot lot to the sunny spot in the centre of the park. They then proposed a hundred foot long shade structure made of steel posts holding up a all-weather steel canopy capable of holding up winter snow loads. Duh, the audience pointed out, the current spot has dappled shade, why not figure out how expand it rather than moving it?

Now one good reason to move it was to locate the play structure (and people want a much much bigger one) beside the spray pad. Except, the dog owners felt kids should get off their ass and hike three blocks south to the Plant Pool spray pad instead. Did every park really need kid attractions?

The planners propose to leave about 40% of the park to the dogs. Being a pet owner (sorry, companion animal guardian) myself, and well aware of the neighborhood security aspects of dogs walking their owners every morning early, and afternoon, and evening, in all weathers, I fully appreciate their health benefits (to the humans) who otherwise may never manifest their bipedal nature.

The planners propose two dog areas, both off-leash. One on the north (top, in the drawing) side of the park, on a hillock and using the converted drainage pond filled-in with gravel as a dog run ideal for rainy or spring weather; and the other on the hillock to the west (left) side of the park. Not enough, grumbled some in the crowd, let the kids play on the far perimeter of the park where they do now. And keep the dogs away from the Ottawa Community Housing yards because those people will poison the dogs or throw garbage over their fences into the dog run (seriously, it was said thus!).

Back in the early 80’s when Primrose Park was being designed, several of the steeper hills were obviously attractive as toboggan slopes. Alas, the planners back then sounded like a broken vinyl record, replying in frustrated monotone: the park is closed in the winter (because the city doesn’t plow the paths) therefore no one can get to the slopes, and they will not be used for sliding, which the city does not approve of, and therefore we will plant trees and benches and garbage cans and large decorative rocks at the base of every hill because it is important for you to realize there is no sliding, because the park is closed in the winter, as evidenced by the unplowed paths… 

My, how things have changed. Today, the planners say we know you are going to slide there, because everyone at the meeting said so, but it is not an approved activity, so just don’t tell us about it, and OK we will relocate that bench… (in the plan, above, they fenced off the west hill to be part of the dog run, I guess that fence is now gone before it got there).

The planners seemed genuinely puzzled by people saying they liked the park, they liked the existing front stairs off Primrose [no ramp!], they liked the paths diagonally through the park, they liked the big trees, and please give us more trees that will grow big.
Instead, the planners want to give us a regrading of the site (hundreds of thousands of dollars) and remove stairs (not frost heaved or broken in any way) and give us new pavers (as if the old ones had worn out in 30 years of use — they just gained a patina, that’s all). New, for the sake of new, did not sell well to any in the crowd.

People wanted improvements we could use, not something that just looked new. Thumbs up to the spray pad, to dog play zones, and paths suitable for kids on bikes. And thumbs down on the picnic bench on the northwest edge, which was frequently identified as the drug dealing den of iniquity. Alas, removing that bench won’t end drug dealing and drug demand, it will just move it along. To someone’s driveway or side yard.

There was also miscommunication on the idea of entertainment in the park. At the mere suggestion of a stage, some residents bristled that we don’t need another noisefest-Bluesfest venue. I suspect the planners were picturing a more modest stage, suitable for intimate shows like the successful Company of Fools presentation of Tony and Cleo during the summer. The subject got dropped quickly. Too quickly; a little stage might be useful and fun.

The tentative plan, shown in the accompanying illustration, doesn’t really address the Primrose street frontage, the SE entrance corner, or the NW den of iniquity. But was a good first talking point, and the community conversation was good to have.

Tomorrow: Chaudiere (Elm) Park.


Earlier post:

Thanks to Richard Thomas for the pic of the plan

8 thoughts on “Park planning (i)

  1. Another Splash pad? Does that mean the pool at Chaudiere is dooomed?
    I hope not.
    I agree with Eric about the Primrose dog park. I actively avoid it due to the dogs.

  2. I live near Bruce Pit which mostly is a major dog park now the issue is if your not a dog owner the area has beeen taken over by dogs so much its no longer a great place as it use to be.Don’t get me wrong i love dogs i support the diea of dog parks i don’t like the diea of combining dog parks with reg parks i think its to much of a risk for the dogs and humans.

  3. No, the pool at Chaudiere park is going to stay but in a different place and a different size.
    Two Splash pads in the same area were brought up and the splash pad at the Plant Pool is heavily used to the point of having another in the area is warranted.
    Yeah, the dogs and people need to be separated. This is a good example of good fences making good neighbors.

  4. I agree that an unfenced dog park is a bad idea. Dogs are curious. Kids are curious. Dogs don’t understand kids. Kids don’t understand dogs. Accidents happen.

    On the other hand, what is with teh city’s mania for fixing things that don’t need fixing? Recall Lansdowne trying to incorporate the community park and move everything (2 baseball diamonds, pool, basketball court and dog park)! No thanks, said the community, it all works just fine. But it will be better and newer (and several million dollars) No thanks. Okay sez the Mayor – you guys are dumb and don’t deserve a new park.

  5. If the dog park is going to be fenced this would be a good thing for me, at any rate. I have a high-energy dog and currently the only places I can let him off-leash I have to drive to. A properly fenced off-leash park in the neighborhood is sorely called for. There are many dog owners like myself who don’t feel comfortable letting their dog off-leash around children, or so close to heavy traffic.

    As for Bruce Pit, you can blame the NCC for that one. Dogs used to be allowed off-leash anywhere in the Greenbelt, so dogs were spread out and conflicts were few. Then the NCC restricted off-leash dogs to just two relatively tiny areas, and the dogs got concentrated in those two areas, leading to them becoming, really, dog-only zones.

    So, Eric, are the dog areas in Primrose Park going to be fenced?

  6. Your comment about the picnic table made me smile ruefully, because I was the one who spoke up about getting rid of it, but my initial opinion about it on the FB page was that I’d rather deals went down in the park than in the alleyway next to my house. But people felt threatened by the activity, and I thought the space could be better used for sliding (if the hill was filled up and made taller), which is why I brought it up. I find it fascinating how the conversations around safety get framed in these kinds of discussions. Where I see private corners for teenagers to chill out, others see nefarious activity bubbling (or waiting to bubble) away. The city planners seem determined to improve the visual “penetrability” of the park – which may make the park more inviting to the casual passerby, but that seems secondary. I think getting a common ground on motivation is important though – it could lead to saying yes to some things (maybe taking out the stairs) and no to others (“thinning out” the trees on the SE corner). It would be nice to create a space in these discussions specifically to talk about safety and fear. I can say all I want to people “you’re statistically far more likely to be assaulted by someone you know than a stranger in the park” but that kind of argument doesn’t always register with people at an emotional level.

  7. I was a heavy user of the dog park when I lived on Albert. It’s quite a dog-walker congregation spot.
    What I would have liked, if I lived there anymore, would be a nice long place to throw my hockey ball from my throwing stick to make my dog run. I threw from the SE corner toward the N or W sides. Dancer enjoyed searching for the ball among the trees and bushes. (The NW corner is a couple of paths leading to other housing.)
    Put the splash pad in the current leaf-filled basin at the NE corner. put a wavy diagonal fence from NW to SE and let the kids have the NE side and the dogs and owners the SW side.
    I see no need for much land movement – maybe make a toboggan run on the kids’ side? Without the hard obstacles. I complained to the city and got some hay bales one year.
    And Benches. Moms/Dads need them Dog-walkers need them. Maybe have some in a corner layout to make talking easier and neck-crick-less.
    Those steps on the S side are fine, tho tricky to navigate the frozen lumpy covering in winter. One year, the whole step area was used to dump clean snow from local streets. Kids loved the mound!

  8. Matt: the park plan is in development; we dont know if or how much will be fenced.
    Sam: I like it that parts of the park are not open to inspection by passing motorists. Where else do tees go to feel each other up? Do kids always have to be “in sight”? Certainly as a kid we always fled into the nearby woods rather than play in the backyard all the time, and back then backyards were big – standard house lots were 75×150. Bright lights and no privacy will simply push the kids somewhere else. Of course, the most private areas now are indoors, since parents work outside the home so much more. Ergo the rise in what health professionals call “4 o’clock babies” created as after-school projects.

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