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  • Writer's pictureMatthieu Gagnon

Green Spaces and Green Places

Listening to a lot of people talking about green space as part of proposed developments, I wanted to think about the issue using a Strong Towns philosophy. Green space like everything in our built environment should make good use of land. This means that parcels that have green space should be a place that brings more value to the community than it costs to build and maintain. There are two ways of making this happen. The first is to make them places worth maintaining and the second is to reduce or eliminate the maintenance liability. 

Young girl climbing a yellow double slide while her baby sister looks from the other side.
My girls playing at the park

Making green space a place worth maintaining is definitely the most interesting. We should be looking at making sure that green space is a useful place. The way that I would approach the problem is to look at how people use their personal green space (backyards) and to enable those use cases in the public realm. We already do this in some cases since we have community gardens, dog parks, picnic areas,  play structures and, in lucky neighbourhoods, public pools. Having access to a variety of parks would increase the value of our built area and should be able to increase the tax base with little investment.

What we don't do is think about how available those amenities are to those who would make good use of it. If you look at a map of the city, you'll see that areas with the most public green space is in the suburbs where people already have access to their backyard for most of these activities. Urban areas where people do not have backyards are where we should have more and more diversified green spaces. We should think about where those places are to ensure that we have good coverage within walking distance of where people live. 

Map of Convent Glen and it's many parks
Map of Convent Glen and it's many parks

Map of Ottawa Centretown showing very few parks
Map of Ottawa Centretown showing very few parks

The major benefits of this is that we would reduce the need for private backyards allowing for more density in areas where land is precious. It would also enable community building and help address social isolation. 

The second consideration is to reduce the maintenance liability. When I walk in parks in Orléans, I do think that it is fantastic that we have places to walk without cars around but there are a lot of areas where the lawn is maintained but not used. Those areas should be returned to the wild by planting native plants and trees. I am not saying that we should not have groomed lawns anywhere, just that we should be more thoughtful as a city about where we spend our maintenance budget. The money could be diverted from maintaining areas that are not useful towards building and maintaining places that bring value to the community. 

Vast maintained field in Jeanne D'Arc Park in Orléans
Vast maintained field in Jeanne D'Arc Park in Orléans. Five hundred meters from the LRT station.

I propose that, if we want to have a strong town, we look at the distribution of the different green places in our city and ensure that people who need those places have access to them and to shift funds used to maintain green non-places towards creating useful green places. Alternatively, we should consider divesting of those spaces especially in areas where space is at a premium or give them back to nature.

What are the good use cases for public green space that should be available? What should we do to make the green spaces that we have into green places? Where are the places that we should make available for development or give back to nature?

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