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Jun. 18, 2021 | Friday
Local News
Arch-i-text: Something's missing
Parks used to be in every neighbourhood. (Supplied/Brian Marshall)

It seemed that each time my father was promoted up the corporate ladder, the new position came with a relocation.

In fact, our family lived in four different houses before I reached the age of 10. In those days it didn’t seem difficult to make new friends.

I recall on a couple of occasions, the moving truck had not left the driveway before one of the neighbourhood kids had come over to ask if I wanted to go to the park and play.

In the 1950s and '60s, parks were a central feature in every neighbourhood. Never much more than a short walk from the surrounding houses, the broad expanses of green were spotted with benches and nearly always contained a baseball diamond in which impromptu ball games occurred from spring to fall.

In late autumn, the boards would go up for the local ice rink and the park remained a hub of activity through the winter.

The 1970s saw the beginning of the shift away from large parks included in the plans for subdivision. As the size of the parks diminished, the word “parkette” entered the planners’ lexicon: small green spaces just barely large enough for a bench or two and early childhood play facilities. Where a large park had hosted community activities for all ages, the parkettes supported only periodic visits by parents with young children.

This trend seemed to suit both the developers and municipal governments. More lots/dwellings per acre worked for the developers’ financial return and the small parkettes cost the municipality much less in terms of ongoing maintenance.

The only problem that remained to curb this gradual movement away from parks was the “parkland dedication” requirement (currently set in Ontario legislation at one hectare per 300 dwellings) for approval of subdivision plans. But it was not insurmountable for the creative.

Whether it was a government or developer that first broached the concept of payment in-lieu of parkland dedication is unknown but the idea caught on like wildfire.

After all, both sides got the result they most desired: the latter maximum yield per acre and the former lower maintenance costs plus additional revenue. Unfortunately, no one at the time stopped to consider the long-term negative impact on the neighbourhoods built without open communal spaces.

In fact, it’s only been quite recently that experts have recognized the social and health issues associated with the absence of green space, which has resulted in a theoretical shift (see the region’s “Model Urban Design Guidelines,” April 2005).

A shame it hasn’t trickled down in practice.

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