Calgary currently boasts 8,310 hectares of open space, which works out to 6.7 hectares of all types of space – or 3.2 hectares of mowed and manicured park space – per thousand residents. Courtesy Bill Longstaff

Calgary is no concrete jungle

In addition to the streets, sidewalks and skyscrapers that define most large cities, Calgary is blessed with enough parks and natural spaces to leave other major centres green with envy.

“It’s very important to have a variety of open spaces for relief from urban living, whether it’s pathways for exercise, parks with playgrounds or just a place to kick a soccer ball,” said Travis Shaw, planning and development lead with Calgary Parks.

Given the proven health benefits of exposure to trees and natural areas, and the impact on quality of life, the City of Calgary has made these areas a top priority. Currently, Calgary boasts 8,310 hectares of open space. It breaks down to 6.7 hectares of all types of space per thousand residents, and 3.2 hectares of mowed and manicured park space per thousand residents. The goal is for everyone to be within 400 metres of open space, and that is currently the case for 99.5 per cent of Calgarians.

“Calgary is blessed with outstanding river valley pathways and abundant open spaces, which are one of the jewels of the city.” – Travis Shaw, planning and development lead with Calgary Parks

When there are deficiencies, such as in inner-city neighborhoods where the population is growing faster than the City’s parks budget, the focus is on making the most of what’s available.

“In those instances, we try and have higher-quality park spaces, rather than just big open fields,” said Shaw. “We want those areas to work harder for us so they meet the needs of the community.”

Especially in new communities, Calgary Parks aims to provide different experiences for different users.

“Often, we see smaller parks, but as part of an interconnected pathway system, which is one of the most extensive systems in North America,” said Shaw. “We also like to build on natural features of a given area – such as wetlands, creeks or escarpments – to contribute to a sense of understanding about where we exist in the landscape that was there prior to development.”

Naturally, the effort to maximize open spaces must consider a range of users and perspectives.

“Calgary is blessed with outstanding river valley pathways and abundant open spaces, which are one of the jewels of the city,” said Shaw. “They’re important from a visual standpoint and serve as an integral piece of the puzzle in maintaining a healthy, vibrant city. At the same time, we must ensure we have enough schools and playing fields for other users. It’s a delicate balancing act, but I think we do a pretty good job of it.”

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