Curbside Planters are the New Parks

On a stop-over in Montreal’s Le Plateau neighbourhood I noticed how well their curbside planters thrived.

Is it fertilizer? Watering regularly? Deep soil? Or just that they have someone to care for their trees and plants?


They don’t hesitate to use tallish grass plants to partially obscure side views, on the theory that it will cause motorists to drive more cautiously / slowly.

Ottawa still believes that open sight triangles or clear sight lines will cause motorists to … wait, I’m losing my line of thought here … just what do open sight lines accomplish? Ahh, of course, motorist to motorist safety.

And faster traffic to boot.

Pedestrian and cyclist safety? What of it?


Green streets make urban living more pleasant, and encourage walking instead of driving:


This paved-in-brick street is separated from the sidewalk by a row of planter boxes with cassava plants (aka elephant ears):


Ottawa hasn’t many large parks of its own in central urban neighbourhoods. Strathcona Park comes to mind … and then …

Of course, we cannot ignore the NCC, which pretty much monopolizes all the waterfront lands. Alas, their view of parks is till mired in the pristine nature model, even though in reality it becomes freeway-on-frustrated-golf-course landscapes that are not pedestrian friendly. But they are changing, albeit slowly, and only where there is focused political pressure. The rest of us just have to be happy with grass.

It’s a simply reality that there is no municipal appetite for acquiring parcels of land, large or small, for new urban parks. I don’t see this changing in the next decade.

Nor is there much appetite for covering things like the Trillium line cut running through Little Italy or the Confederation Line cut through Hintonburg and Champlain Park, even if that is the cheapest way to acquire / create park space.

And city hall still thinks the highest and best use of existing muncipal parks is for free car parking spaces. Someday that might change and we will see a sudden increase in usable park space.

And there is the single largest municipal land use in the City: streets.

argyle avenue bulbout 

There have been a few examples of well-greened bulb outs (eg Argyle at Metcalfe, Sunnyside Avenue) and lot of timid not-very green ones (everywhere). Most greened bulb outs look abandoned. As indeed they are.

Probably the single most cost effective way to increase green space in the city, and to traffic calm to boot, and to make walking and cycling more attractive, would be to budget for maintaining existing bulb outs and planters.

This doesn’t have to be city staff. The local BIA’s could have their  levy increased a tad … and let those concerned with local matters take charge. A great example is the West Wellington BIA which does an exemplary job with their planters and bulbouts:


And then start a program to expand every park in the urban area into the parking lane of the surrounding streets. And eventually (one can fantasize …) expand into one travel lane, then two.

Half a day walking around LePlateau in Montreal — barely three hours away Councillors! — would demonstrate how well this works in a city with our climate. It’d be like a trip into the future.

Heck, I’ll even rent a car and take them there, for free.


If you want to see lots of pic of how well LePlateau does this greening, enter Montreal in the search box on the right side of this site’s homepage and select some articles. Be prepared to be envious.