Green Spaces Built for Everyone

Green Spaces Built for Everyone

In summary: 

- Green spaces are key components of thriving neighbourhoods, and Ward Metis is filled with excellent parks

- However, outmoded methods of public design exclude certain groups — for example, teens — from using public spaces

- By changing our design perspective from exclusive to inclusive, we can create spaces that benefit everyone in the community

When coming up with ingenious ideas on how to use green spaces in urban areas, it’s easy to find brilliant examples across the country: A park in Halifax’s Dartmouth has a communal bake oven for pizza; Calgary and Toronto have public tandoor ovens, and Regina consulted Indigenous elders on which herbs, fruit trees, and berries to plant for public use outside their mâmawêyatitân centre. Edmonton and Calgary are even testing the idea if we might be able to have a glass of wine in public while out at a park. 

What makes these ideas effective is how they include a broader perspective into our design of public spaces, a variety of ethnic voices and demographics. It shows a shift in design practices from what’s known as hostile architecture or defensive urban design to inclusive design, both of which can have a cascading effect on how public spaces are used. As a small example, I’d like to talk about how public spaces are currently designed to exclude teens, and the benefits that would instead come from designing for them. 

Recent research has shown that while teens have as much a right to public spaces as any adults, they are often found to be excluded. These practices come from systemic policy that has been ingrained in public planning for decades, and based on outmoded thinking that creating welcoming public spaces may in fact welcome those we don’t want. These design philosophies manifest in a number of ways, such as creating spiked brackets to keep skateboards from grinding on edges). But if you design to create a hostile environment, you’re likely to exclude more people than you originally intended. For example, by placing spikes on public property, the intent may be to keep unhoused people from sleeping on the surfaces, but it also makes it less inviting for other users.. 

While I was on the Giovanni Caboto Park revitalization team in McCauley, we spoke with various stakeholders from business to seniors to teens and children. I saw what it took to bring together a community of voices and create something that could be used by everyone. My experience in this project lead me to numerous ideas on how to create better community green spaces. One is for the city to focus on inclusive rather than exclusive design practices. The second is to ensure all needs of the community are considered when developing parks.

I would love to see the addition of basketball courts, skate parks, and more teen-centric gathering places around Ward Metis. However, welcoming teens to the spaces we have now doesn’t require tens of thousands of dollars in design work. It can be helping a park receive Wifi through the City of Edmonton’s public Wifi policy(which is just as much a safety feature as it is for posting videos with their friends), creating a schedule for outdoor movie nights, or adding in something as simple as a water fountain and a gazebo for teens to hang. It can even bring business into the community with food-trucks or a public concert on the weekend. 

By making these changes, we’re doing more than just giving teenagers an alternative to exclusively communicating over social media and technology. We’re enabling marginalized groups who are historically banned from spaces due to systemic and archaic design to take part in our communities. And by inviting teens, we invite their families. By inviting families, we invite the community. And with the community coming together in tangible ways, we create opportunities for providing and sharing across our Ward. 

Help me share this vision. Please forward this article to a friend in the Ward, donate to my campaign or come out and volunteer, and we’ll create communities together where everyone belongs.