Parks are especially important in densely developed downtown
“Quality, not quantity” is how City of Calgary parks manager Keath Parker characterizes green spaces in Calgary’s downtown core, an area that’s not only home to tall office towers, but residential neighbourhoods as well, including the Beltline (Connaught and Victoria Park), East Village and Eau Claire.
Parker explains it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that the province’s Municipal Government Act (MGA) gave municipalities the authority to take up to 10 per cent of a development for open public space. Residential neighbourhoods developed prior to that tend not to have as much green space as those created after the MGA.
However, Calgary’s downtown is still far from a cold, concrete jungle. In fact, there are 24 parks in the downtown area covering roughly 65 hectares of open green space, according to the City.
“Our mandate is to provide all residents with accessible parks and open spaces. It’s a vital component of our urban fabric,” said Parker, citing several large regional parks, including Prince’s Island Park, St. Patrick’s Island and Calgary’s oldest park, Central Memorial Park, among those found in Calgary’s core. Moreover, he says, there are several smaller parks in the Beltline designed to serve community members, including Barb Scott Park, Connaught Park and Thomson Family Park, which opened last fall.
Tamara Marajh, who has lived in the Beltline since 2009, is one of those community members. “Parks are very important to us here. We don’t have backyards. A park is my open space,” she said. “It’s where I can go lay in the sun on a Saturday afternoon, as people who live in the suburbs would in their backyards.
“It’s nice to walk through a park and experience a little bit of nature in the middle of an urban landscape.”
A landscape architect by profession, Marajh worked on designing Thomson Family Park. She admits she found it surprising that community members wanted a new playground in the park, a testament to the oft-forgotten fact that children also live and play in the city’s core.
Over in the East Village, Calgary’s only master-planned community in the city centre, community developers have put a lot of thought into how people use the space to live, work, learn and play. That includes residents’ proximity to park space, including the 31-acre St. Patrick’s Island Park, which re-opened to the public in 2015.
“It’s a little oasis in the middle of the city,” said Jessa Morrison, senior manager of marketing and communications for the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, the organization spearheading development in the East Village. “We didn’t want to re-create Prince’s Island Park … We wanted to offer something different.”
Morrison emphasizes the “lush and wild” nature of St. Patrick’s Island. In fact, during the park’s re-development, there was a focus on re-introducing and nurturing wild plant species native to the area.
“We hope the experience of being accessible to nature in the middle of the city lends itself to people wanting to live here.” – Jessa Morrison, senior manager of marketing and communications for the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation
As with other regional parks, Morrison says St Patrick’s Island is not just for East Village residents. “All Calgarians have embraced it. It’s a spot where you can dip your toes in the Bow. And there are not many places where you can do that,” she said.
As to whether the proximity of St. Patrick’s Island is a selling feature for the East Village, Morrison says it’s difficult to know. “We hope the experience of being accessible to nature in the middle of the city lends itself to people wanting to live here,” she said.
In nearby Eau Claire, Jim Hughes, the chair of the Eau Claire Community Association, says the community is “passionate” about Prince’s Island Park and the associated Bow River Pathway system – a cycling and pedestrian pathway that runs along the banks of the Bow River and connects to other pathways and parks, resulting in a 48-kilometre-long network.
“It’s not just Prince’s Island Park, but the entire system of park and river pathways that makes this area special,” said Hughes. “As an association, we are very interested in protecting the character of the green space as an essential part of what makes our community work.”
Lately, Eau Claire residents have been occupied with the development of the new West Eau Claire Park, which stretches between the Peace Bridge and Eau Claire. Hughes says it’s an area popular not just with Eau Claire residents, but with commuters as well. Plans for the park include separating the existing pathway into two – one for cyclists and one for pedestrians – as well as constructing a sculptural flood wall. It’s scheduled for completion next summer.
Parker says one of the most important things when designing parks for the city’s core – an area with a mix of demographics and high traffic – is to deliver choice.
Marajh echoes that sentiment when she observes that, given the compact geographic area of the Beltline, there are many different parks residents can visit, whether you’re trying to find off-leash areas for your dog or tennis courts. “You can go to the one that makes the most sense for you,” she said.