The extra hot weather over the last little while has got me thinking about how we use our local parks and community green spaces in Hamilton.
Over the summer, chances are that you spend a lot of time at your local park.
Or maybe not.
Maybe you would like to spend a lot of time in your local park except the idea of a half hour slathering on sun screen, finding long sleeve sun shirts and sun hats seems like more trouble than it’s worth.
The fact is, most of Hamilton’s public parks fit a very outdated model of what a community space should be – a large open grass field with some sort of steel and plastic play structure in the middle.
I would like to re-imagine our public community parks to provide spaces that modern families actually want to use: open shade from large mature shade trees, naturalized playgrounds, quiet naturalized areas for families and seniors to meet and read a book, enjoy a picnic or play a game of chess.
Open Shade Must Be A Priority for Any Public Space
As a parent, sending my kids outdoors to go play in a park that has zero open shade feels a lot like sending them to go smoke a cigarette.
While this analogy may seem extreme to some – even if you ignore the very real concerns about sun safety – shady spaces with large, mature trees are just much more comfortable and interesting to spend time in.
When was the last time you decided to go sit in the sun for a leisurely picnic? When was the last time your kids played hide-and-go-seek in the middle of a grass field. When was the last time you went to a typical City park to see the fall colors?
As a local example in Ward 8, we can look at Sam Lawrence Park. A portion of the park is covered with large sycamore shade trees with picnic tables and an open shady grassed space below. Right beside that is a large open grassed space.
The shaded part of the park is in constant use by residents for picnics, sitting to read or even outdoor yoga and pilates classes – the grassed field section is rarely used by anyone.
Now, obviously it takes a long time for large mature shade trees to grow – but even in the short term it would not take much to drastically change the composition of our local public community parks in Ward 8 and across Hamilton.
As the say saying goes: “The best time to plant a tree was 40 years ago. The second best time is today.”
Naturalized Spaces Are Functional, Aesthetic and Low Maintenance
In addition to a commitment to provide shade trees, I also believe a commitment to more naturalized public spaces is long overdue.
I understand that the attachment some have to a perfectly manicured green lawn has a long and complicated history – and to many “naturalized” is still seen as a synonym for “unkempt weeds”.
However, with careful attention to proper landscape architecture, naturalized public spaces can be much more aesthetically pleasing and much lower maintenance than any expanse of green grass.
I would love to see the money that we currently spend mowing dandelions re-purposed to occasionally prune a few trees or thin the perennials.
(Please note – historically when the City has “naturalized” public spaces it has simply meant that they would no longer cut the grass – so understandably “naturalized” has gained a bad rap. This is not what I mean at all – when I mean a naturalized space I am talking about carefully selected plantings that have been deliberately chosen to maximize aesthetic impact and minimize maintenance).
A commitment to naturalized spaces starts with simply substituting naturalized landscapes for green grass and extends to walking trails, bike paths, picnic areas and even the types of play structures we build.
Speaking of play structures, we even have one of Canada’s leading natural playground builders right here in Hamilton – Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds.
Playgrounds are for Adults And Seniors Too!
I was recently in Vancouver and noticed that a number of city parks have workout equipment that is designed for adults and seniors to stay fit and agile.
Installing simple outdoor workout equipment designed for adults and seniors should be incorporated to all city playgrounds – it’s an easy and affordable way to help people get outside and stay active.
You take your kids or grand kids to the park to enjoy some play time and fresh air – and then you can get in a little workout while you’re there too – it’s a win-win situation!
All It Takes Is Commitment
The best part is that changes like these don’t have to cost a lot of money.
All that it takes is a commitment from the City of Hamilton and leadership from our local Councillors look beyond the status quo and commit to provide the kinds of public spaces that residents want to spend time in.
Well designed public space drastically increases the livability of communities – and increased livability leads to a better quality of life for everyone.
And if you’re looking for a business case for improving our public community parks (as I believe we always should for every City initiative) – increased livability has a direct correlation to increased property values and therefore sustained property tax revenue increases for the City of Hamilton.
Or in other words – making our City a better place to live benefits those who use our public spaces, those who pay taxes and the City itself.
John-Paul Danko, P. Eng.
John-Paul Danko Hamilton City Council Candidate
Ward 8 – West Central Mountain
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