From Parking to Parks, a nascent trend?

Parks in the old urban neighbourhoods like the west side are often quite small. The one on Elm Street is fairly typical. It is a bit-larger-than-normal pocket park installed when some houses burned down. A few years ago it was rebuilt with fees collected from developers. At that time I started lobbying the city to expand the park by taking over the parking spaces along the curb. Or even going right out to the centre line of the street. After all, it is a short block, every house has at least one off-street parking space, a few even have 5 spaces, and there is little “cut through traffic” on this block. And the street’s primary purpose is local, not to service Bluesfest parkers.

The street-and-traffic folks were not amused. There would be a loss parking spaces ! The road would be narrower ! There would need to be expensive traffic signals to tell which direction of traffic could proceed ! Who would own it? What if the roads folks needed it back? It might set a precedent ! It would be too dangerous to let people linger near to the traffic lanes ! And so on. So, two large flower pots were installed on a temporary basis, to see if carmageddon ensued, or fatal accidents skyrocketed, or tykes were plastered into the asphalt.

Life continued.

Meanwhile, lobbying continued for two years to make sure this wasn’t just a 8′ wide parking strip converted to park, but a larger slice of road. And that it wasn’t just a useless boulevard, but was greened, with benches in conversation groupings attractive to older users (not tykes, which aim for the water and sand inside the parkette). And finally, in April of this year …

One design option left the sidewalk straight, with the new space on the boulevard. But the city opted to relocate the sidewalk to create a larger green space.

The big gray-concrete ovals replicate the concrete pattern used on the interior of the existing parkette. One forms the entry plaza, the other presumably will get some benches. Squint and you can see the yellow centre line of the street in the distance, so the new park took both the parking spaces and some of the traffic lane. Wow.

Some large boulders were placed where the sidewalk swerves to the park extension. These may have been designed to be informal seating, but they are too low. I think they are low enough the sidewalk plows will hit them at first snow fall. It isn’t too late to replace them with bigger, or higher rocks that will be attractive to adult bums and little jumping feet. Notice the shallow hole right behind the rocks, in dark shadow. That is a tree planting spot. The city carefully prepared it with several feet of compacted granular base, free of organic material, and compacted the granular material surrounding the hole too. That tree ain’t going anywhere !

Here is its landscaped, with trees plopped in the holes, the rocks nestled with grass, and perennials behind the grass and up to the fence that keeps parkette users safe from running into traffic. In previous years, the behind-the-old-sidewalk-up-to-the-fence- boulevard space had a vibrant community-planted and -maintained perennial garden. I presume neighbours will step up to keep the new beds weed free and help get the plants well established.

One of the features of living in walkable urban neighbourhoods like the west side is that park spaces may be smaller, but then they can be developed more intensively. Community maintenance brings people together. Suburban parks tend to be much larger, but I find the big open spaces rather empty.

If you want to help garden in this space, or the many other community maintained planters in the neighbourhood, contact More volunteers are needed.

Thus far car confusion hasn’t appeared. There was a sign, but only for a few days, warning traffic of single lane. And more recently these no-stopping signs appeared, although rather curiously located, as if the park entrance is a car drop off zone.

I encourage you all to go look at this parkette on Elm Street. See that street parking can become a better place. Laugh at all the Bluesfest folks jamming up the streets even though their tickets include free transit.

And then demand your councillor and city do this to every park in the urban area. Start by sending a link to this story to your councillor and community association.

Take back the streets ! Parking to parks !

Note 1: getting something “innovative” like this through the city silos is not easy. Kudos to Councillors Holmes and McKenney for pushing this through. It took years.

Note 2: in Champlain Park, the community and Councillor Leiper are pushing to close a portion of street that runs along the north edge of a park in order to expand the park into that street space which seems primarily of value to all-day-free-parkers from Tunney’s Pasture. There is also a proposal to expand a park on Beech onto an unusual sometimes-park-sometimes-road is proceeding through the long planning process. Back in the 80’s, this was also done for Primrose Park, with a “soft edge” between the park and the brick-paved calmed street, but every five years or so the city rolled back the integration, adding higher curbs to “demark” the “boundary”, reducing the brick area, removing curbside seating and activity spaces, until the last park redo basically turned its back on the street and returned the edge to more conventional concrete sidewalk to separate the Park from the Parking. Sigh. Bureaucrats win in the long run.

Note 3: read more:

and for a previous design for Elm, and some info on a similar park expansion on Argyle street, see

6 thoughts on “From Parking to Parks, a nascent trend?

  1. What about the efforts to get the estate on Withrow Avenue, turned in to a park, and the lack of support from the councilor supposedly representing the community ?

  2. Interesting article. I would probably not be too pleased to know how many City staffers were involved to get this done. I”m sure that there was a lot of hand wringing and grinding of teeth @ 110 Laurier and feasibility studies and thinktanks and out of office interdepartmental dialogue to come up with a relatively simplistic design.

    1. I”m sure that there was a lot of hand wringing and grinding of teeth.


      I”m sure all of that hand wringing and grinding of teeth took place when the entire design team inspected sites in Cologne, Barcelona, Dublin, and San Jose to determine the possible implications of implementing “foreign ideas” in conventional Ottawa.

      Thinking outside the box is verboten in this city and creative thought is borderline administrative terrorism.

    1. Haruki,s comment seems to be regarding Elm street in Ottawa, Kansas, not Ottawa, Canada. One clue is in the term Ottawa University, which is in Kansas, vs U of Ottawa in Canada.

  3. As an Elm Street resident since 1989 I very much supported the renovation of our park. However, I will wait until February to judge the extension a success. If we have another winter like 2016/2017 with lots of snow and lamentable plowing and removal – which led to Elm being more like a one way cow path than a residential access road – then this extension may go the same way as an earlier unlamented experiment, the roundabout at Elm and Rochester. It was eventually reduced from a 15 inch curb encircled planter to an awkward bump!

Comments are closed.