Who are parks for?

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I recently read this article on a Toronto news site. It’s discussing disagreement regarding public park focus and amenities. In it a local architect is disagreeing with the premise that Toronto parks have become too child-centric and need more adult-friendly features, like benches. (There is a link to the original op-ed piece at the beginning of the article, and you can read that too for context.)

The architect says that she’s been to the parks with her children and sees them as successful parks that everyone is happy with. I suspect the fact that she is using the parks as a mother, and not for her own interests, has dramatically skewed her perceptions.

The architect goes on to say that polarizing people into groups isn’t effective. “If you start to break people into groups then you’ve got the dog people, the kid people, older people, and the people who just want to eat lunch.”

My response to that is: Yes. Exactly.

I’m just one person, and I still go to parks for different reasons on different days. To expect that an office worker on lunch break, a father with a toddler, a teenager on school break, and an elderly couple all have the same park-related desires is ludicrous.

The final quote from the architect was: “Parks are about congregation and community. People don’t come to a park to be alone, and often they say they enjoy watching a different generation use the park or bringing a different generation to the park.”

Again she seems completely out of touch. I don’t use the park closest to where I live because it’s small and full of families at all times of day. I am in my fifties and childless by choice. I don’t want to be around a bunch of shrieking children.

Don’t get me wrong. I think park features targeted at children are extremely important. I don’t at all begrudge the families using that nearby park. The fact that the park is always busy indicates just how vital it is.

And I think community and congregation is important to design for. While we don’t do it often, I love going on picnics with extended family. And I have engaged in some interesting conversations with friendly strangers on my park outings. I talked to an older gentleman from Port Townsend for over an hour at Golden Gardens one morning.

But usually I go to the park expecting I will be left alone. I intentionally go at times fewer people will be around.

There are many discrete populations within a larger community, and they don’t all share the same interests. Individuals often don’t even have the same interests on different days. Acting as if they do means a very limited and shortsighted success.

So yes, sometimes parks can seem too child-focused. Parks are definitely too often designed with only the robust and physically active in mind.

On a related note, I also read this article about park facilities for seniors. Great idea!

For what it’s worth, I fully support more benches in Toronto parks. And many Seattle parks too!

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