The green green grass of … synthetics

I used to be just as scornful as many when it came to synthetic grass. Fake. Artificial. Faux, to be snobby about it.

I’ve changed my mind.

I’m tired of seeing public playing fields beat to sh__ mud by over-use.

Here’s Elgin public school, to take one location currently in the news:


That picture is from July last year, but I don’t imagine it is much better this year, maybe just muddier. And kids are probably being kept off it till the frost is gone to reduce tracking dirt into the school building.

A dozen blocks west, there is another school yard that I used to walk past every morning for about 25 years … I cannot count the number of times it has been re-seeded, re-sodded, top-dressed, plowed under and started again, usually by the school board but once the redo was donated by Domicile who wanted green grass in front of his new apartments he was selling ¬†… it even had an irrigation system laid in it for a few years, but water wasn’t the issue, it is overuse:



Some high-use spots are the easiest to persuade people to convert, like under play structures:

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Or at prime public gathering spots, like this festival field in Toronto, which BTW looks an awful lot nicer and more useful than the lawn at Dewar slough in front of our city hall or LeBreton Common after a festival:


Further west, the Plouffe Park soccer mini-fields are always a mud slough in front of the goal posts. Drainage isn’t the issue … the field has under-grass drains criss crossing it.

Let’s face it, urban folks want to use the land more often than mother nature agrees. And more folks want to use the same space than the vegetation carrying capacity permits.

And its only going to get worse, as population density grows in the downtown neighbourhoods and west side.

Instead of sowing and sowing and reaping mud, check out this Montreal soccer field in a downtown park:

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This field was used for scheduled team sports, and between times for pick up games and day-camp activities. I saw it in use at 7am and at 10.30pm and every ninute in between. It was NEVER unused. That is good use of valuable park space.

This is not:


In a west side park, freshly reconstructed and rebuilt and then grass seeded in the foregound (Watson must have approved the money being saved by seed vs sod) the seeded area was out of use for months while the seed sprouted. And then out of use for months due to the noxious weeds that grew up (one reminder sign is still visible in the centre foreground if you squint enough). Some kids will have outgrown this park by time the grass was ready.

Not every park should be astroturfed. But if we are to get get better utilization out of our park spaces, we are going to have to make them more useful to more people at more times. Synthetic grass is one solution.

5 thoughts on “The green green grass of … synthetics

  1. Hello there my urban friend. Usually I have a good time reading your inner core insights, I even agree most of the time and share them. However, I for one still prefer mud over anything synthetic. Call me old fashioned but cement and plastic for our inner core neighbourhoods, not sure I want to see this happening anytime soon. In urban areas we will be heavily taxed for the disposal/treatment of storm water, plasticizing our parks is a not an option.

    Continue making sure we pay attention.

  2. I have to disagree with your assessment of Primrose Park. My son was born at around the same time as the work was done, and he uses that park every weekend in the summertime, and, yes, he plays on that grass. I see many other kids doing the same thing. He’ll continue to use it for at least another 5 years. I saw the signs for the wild parsnip, but I didn’t actually see any wild parsnip there the entire summer. You should wander past there more often and see the kids playing there before giving up on it as a bad job.

    1. We use Primrose park a lot too and while it is certainly wonderful to have the park in the neighborhood, I think the contractors who did the reno cut corners that they wouldn’t have if there was oversight from the city.

      I can go into more detail but here are a couple of examples.

      I can’t believe that fence is made as specified in the design. It looks terrible and, in at least one place, the wire mesh has come unattached- my toddler likes to crawl through the jagged opening to the dog park.

      The bricks were pulled up on the road to do work on the pipes for the splash pad and when they were replaced they were put in on a slope so now there’s a big puddle.

      The sod/seed issue: my conjecture is that they ran out of sod and finally just threw seed down. It was several weeks after the sod was laid that the seed went down. And there definitely is wild parsnip in the seeded area. I called it in. The first thing the city did was send the maintenance crew over to cut the grass (!) so there was no way to tell exactly where it was. Then they roped off the area and sprayed herbicide. We’ll see what happens in a couple weeks when stuff starts to come back.

      I remember at the public meeting where this was announced we all agreed that we liked the rise but realistically, if you’re playing ball on the open patch of grass…the ball is going to roll into the street. We really don’t play there as often as we should because of that.

      The city had one meeting about the renos to both parks where small changes were made but there really wasn’t enough time/interest by the city to let residents say what was needed and think through the design.

      Our councillor was retiring while the reno was happening and wasn’t really involved but the entire thing took way longer than it needed to. I called a couple times to ask why no work had been done for weeks. This is a great example of how city contractors deliver as little as possible without constant oversight.

      And don’t get me started on the hours at the pool at Chaudiere- noon to 4:45! I would have rather put the money for the renos in a trust and paid to have staff at the pool from 8am to 8pm…but I know the funds were earmarked for renos only.

      Anyway, I feel bad complaining because we do have great parks here but I think they could have been even better.

      And to respond to the post- artificial turf at plouffe park would be great. I have an automatic “no!” reaction to anything artifical but I do think there are limited instances where it could be an improvement over the constant resodding/reseeding that seems to be happening.

      1. the renovation of Primrose Park was certainly botched. It was rushed to spend a budget item before it could get claimed by some other ward. Removing the wall and steps and adult areas along the south side of the Park was make work for no benefit and indeed the sloped lawn is useless. There were few public meetings because the politicians wanted to avoid alienating the parks for children crowd from the parks for dogs crowd, during an election year. The spray pad is the single useful thing that came out of it. The light poles are worse than the predecessors, the double fence on the north side is truly bizarre … the previous design had good features which were removed and the least attractive features retained. A sad waste of money in the illusion of “action”.

  3. It reminds me of the grass pitch at Devonshire PS (currently under renovations). In the spring of 2013 they reseeded the patch of grass in the JR field. At about October 2014, they finally opened it up so kids could play on it. 4 or 5 weeks later, the pitch is back to dirt, negating all that work and time off that ground.
    There is a prime spot for artificial turf.

    As a side note, I was on the Toronto Waterfront last spring and found that they use artificial turf in the high traffic areas. It’s a fantastic idea and one that Ottawa should adapt.

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