Parks Planning (ii)

Chaudiere Park is a well-used large-ish pocket park on Elm Street, between Rochester and Preston. It’s about 140′ along the street, and about 100′ deep. The park is dominated by a very large, very deep wading pool that delivers a freeze-your-bones-it’s-so-cold experience to kiddies for six weeks every summer. There is a large sandbox on the east; a basketball court on the west. The general impression is a sea of pavement.

Existing park with its "Haarlem style" scenic fencing


A neighborhood with few parks but lots of on-street parking: should we keep it that way? Just what is the best use for public space?

Chaudiere Park on Elm is a newish location for the former Chaudiere Park on LeBreton Flats, which was relocated to Elm after the “slum clearance” expropriation in the 1960’s. As such, it deserves a proper park sign with a “since 18xx” date on it. Heritage is not the exclusive preserve of the more affluent neighborhoods.

Planners propose installing a much smaller wading pool, and a slightly smaller basketball court with a rubber surface. Here is their first go at a new layout:

Chaudiere Park viewed from the south. Elm runs west>east across the top (north side) of the park

The rubber bball court might mitigate the sound of bouncing balls, which can be annoying to (very close by) neighbours. The existing play structure isn’t bad, but used to be much much larger, but play structures in Ottawa shrink at the same rate as cotton underwear in a too-hot dryer.

Natch, the planners propose a mechanical shade structure in the centre, shown as “sails” in the plan. This might, or might not, work well. But why does the City insist on planting toy trees that will never grow large, and favoring expensive-to-install and even more expensive-to-maintain structures instead? Guys, plant a giant chestnut or oak and in 20 years we won’t need the steel and plastic fake tree, or its successor, or its successor, or its …

I once attended the City’s “parks planning” session (reported here: ) which was more frustrating than educational. I had bad vibrations come over me at the public meeting last week as the planners started trotting out the old shibboleths.

For example, this park is small. Why not move the fence out flush with the sidewalk, so that about 6-8′ x 140′ more space could be incorporated into the park (about an 8% enlargement). Oh no, say the planners, that’s city road allowance, not city parkland. It is needed to dump snow on. We only plan people spaces on “official park land”.

At other times in the meeting, planners were asked about getting new parks. Nope. Too expensive. Can’t compete with Claridge and their 28 million storey condo towers. But what is wrong with landscaping the dead street allowances? There is one at the top of Primrose staircase that is quite large, has nice views, and is well used? Nope, it’s a street allowance and must stay that way. What about dead ends (like the west stub end of Primrose) or the turning circles of Walnut or Rochester? Nope, those are streets, we can’t encourage kids to play on the street. Someone might sue us. (the original neighborhood plans had both turning circles identified as semi-park space for kids on bikes, etc but the cars took over both spaces so thoroughly we cannot imagine anymore that we could reclaim this public space for our kids. Steel wins over flesh every time in Ottawa).

And in front of Chaudiere Park, why not push out the sidewalk onto a bulb out, and convert those parking spaces into the park? Heavens, shock from public attendees, where would the Bluesfest parkers park? We can’t take away any of their parking spaces! (I hear this argument all the time against anything proposed for the neighborhood: build a condo? No! Bluesfest people need parking. Build a wider sidewalk? No! where will the Bluesfest people find parking? Honestly, Dalhousie residents are so damn polite and considerate for Bluesfest parkers I’m surprised they didn’t suggest paving over parts of both parks for Bluesfest parking [oops, shouldn’t have suggested that …].

Here’s an example of what Centretowner’s used to do to improve their streets: 

landscaped bulb out shelter the sidewalk and apt building. Alas, we have lost the will to build these to protect a park or visually expand it.

Alas, I don’t see much of the imaginative thinking that got us the wonerf on Cambridge Street or the street closures of the 1980’s and 90’s. Instead, we are back to catering to car movement and car storage as the primary claimant on public space. We don’t seem to have the drive anymore to want to experiment with multi-use borderless streets, or to displace a few parking spaces for parks. Instead, we moan that we lack the $2 million dollars to compete with Claridge or Starwood to buy land on the market. Or pray for the replacement of the nasty Conservative government with someone more “progressive” who will shower us with buckets of money for parks and museums and transit. Who says cargo cults are extinct? And heavens help anyone who suggests building over the OTrain or LRT cuts to provide parkland above … definitely too expensive [for this neighborhood; I fully expect to see just that in McKellar Park].

In sum, Chaudiere Park is on its way to a decent rebuild. It is fortunate in having an articulate and energetic lobby group of neighbours and parents who will fight for what they want. Provided they stay within the official parks silo that planners inhabit. Imaginative solutions are reserved for expensive conferences, and are not to be implemented at the neighborhood level.


thanks to readeer Richard Thomas for the park diagram.


5 thoughts on “Parks Planning (ii)

  1. My two cents?: Those ridiculous metal shade structures (is that what the giant orange thing is in the primrose park post? – egads!) are blight in the making.

  2. I’m sorry — I have to comment again: was I born in the wrong time, or do other people find all this “noise” they design into these parks totally unnecessary? Like they have to earn their pay by over-designing things (this especially goes for the primrose park design). All the asymmetry and looping paths — aargh! I guess I’m just a classicist, but from a practical point of view, you can already see how dated a lot of these design elements will look in 10-15 years…

    1. I would guess they refer to other storyboards showing where views are (i.e. there is a picture marked “A” which shows you what the park looks like from point A looking along that line)

      Just a guess

  3. Gotta remember, the insurance companies rule! Big trees have big branches. Big branches sometimes fall down, crush things. Thing owner sues. Can’t have that now can we?

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