Parks: Calgary vs Dublin, Florence & Rome

It’s true - you have to travel to appreciate what you have back home.  After six weeks in Europe, specifically Dublin, Florence and Rome, I have a much better appreciation for Calgary’s parks, especially those in and around our downtown. 

While Dublin had several nice parks including St. Stephens Green and St. Patrick’s Cathedral Park, it had nothing to match the quality and quantity of Calgary’s urban parks.  The public parks in Florence and Rome, are in a word, “disgusting” with their uncut grass, weeds, muddy pathways, tired playgrounds and dog crap.

The river pathway in downtown Florence. 

The river pathway in downtown Florence. 

A weed infested playground in Rome.  This was the norm for public playgrounds in both Rome and Florence. 

A weed infested playground in Rome.  This was the norm for public playgrounds in both Rome and Florence. 

Not only does Calgary have great parks, but also on the verge of getting even better. Recently, the City of Calgary announced $75 million in park funding from the ENMAX Legacy Parks program for 18 parks, including mega makeovers of Century Gardens in downtown’s west end, the Beltline’s Thomson Family Park (the former Calgary Lawn Bowling site on 16th Avenue at 11th Street) and Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s Bow to Bluff Park.

In addition, to the park improvements being completed using ENMAX funds several other urban parks have been recently completed or in the process of being completed.

The site of the new ENMAX Park at Stampede.

The site of the new ENMAX Park at Stampede.

Rendering of what ENMAX Park will look like.

Century Gardens today looking from the top of the fountain on the northeast corner of 8th Street and 8th Avenue SW.

Century Gardens today looking from the top of the fountain on the northeast corner of 8th Street and 8th Avenue SW.

The iron gate to Calgary's historic Calgary Lawn Bowling field. 

The iron gate to Calgary's historic Calgary Lawn Bowling field. 

Plans for renovations of Century Gardens Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Plans for renovations of Century Gardens Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Information panel informing residents of plans for new park space with a mix of uses. 

Information panel informing residents of plans for new park space with a mix of uses. 

Information panel.

Information panel.

Concept plans developed by Ground3 Landscape Architects for the old Calgary Lawn Bowling site.  This is just one of several information panels on the fence allowing everyone to know what is being planned. It doesn't get more transparent than this. 

Concept plans developed by Ground3 Landscape Architects for the old Calgary Lawn Bowling site.  This is just one of several information panels on the fence allowing everyone to know what is being planned. It doesn't get more transparent than this. 

New Urban Parks

This past May, the City completed the new Barb Scott Park on the west side of the Calgary Board of Education headquarters on 12th Avenue at 9th Street.  It has added much needed green space to Calgary’s most densely populated community and is home to the popular “Chinook Arch” public artwork.

The City is also in the midst of creating a new park in a somewhat strange location - Macleod Trail and 11th Avenue SE.  Enoch Park will incorporate the historic Victoria Park Queen Anne house built by clothing entrepreneur Enoch Sales in 1905. The new park will hopefully become a meeting space for the many new condo dwellers surrounding the park.

Aerial view of Enoch Park looking west. 

Aerial view of Enoch Park looking west. 

Signature Urban Parks

Prince’s Island is currently Calgary’s signature urban park, but soon it is going to have to vie with St. Patrick’s Island for that stature.  St. Patrick’s Island is getting a seasonal beach, an outdoor amphitheater, tobogganing hill, firepit and picnic areas as well as a wetland area. Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, after extensive public consultation, has delivered on almost everything on Calgary’s wish list for this park.  

And let’s not leave out Fort Calgary, which is in the middle of multi-million dollar upgrade and expansion. Shaw Millennium Park too has to one of the most unique urban parks in North America as a combination festival/skateboard park.

Kudos to CMCL for its community engagement and ability to incorporate almost everything on my wish list for St. Patrick's Island. 

Kudos to CMCL for its community engagement and ability to incorporate almost everything on my wish list for St. Patrick's Island. 

NoBow Parks

The north side of the Bow River also has its fair share of urban parks.  Riley Park is over 100 years old and is unique with its cricket pitch. Plans for the Bow to Bluff Park will see the public corridor along the Sunnyside LRT line from the Bow River to the McHugh Bluff transformed into a linear urban park.

Also in NoBow is the 6th/5th Avenue Parkway, from 10th Street to 26th Street, where there is a park/playground space every few blocks – Riley Park, Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre Park and Community Gardens, Queen Elizabeth School Park, West Hillhurst Park/Bowview Pool, Grand Trunk Park and Helicopter Park. 

Bow to Bluff Park along the Kensington/Sunnyside LRT line. (image credit: City of Calgary)

Bow to Bluff Park along the Kensington/Sunnyside LRT line. (image credit: City of Calgary)

Detail of one of the nodes of the Bow to Bluff Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Detail of one of the nodes of the Bow to Bluff Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Playground Parks

It is crazy how many cool urban playground parks there are in the greater downtown.  I expect there are over 30 vibrant relatively new playgrounds in the schools and parks from Mission to Crescent Heights and from Inglewood to Parkdale.  

Did you know that there are over 1200 playgrounds in Calgary - that averages out to about 6 per community.  Since 2010, the Parks Foundation of Calgary through the Playgrounds and Communities Grant Program, has funded over 100 new playgrounds valued at $15 million.

Last Word

These are only some of Calgary’s awesome array of urban parks.  I haven’t even mentioned lesser-known parks like Humpy Hollow Park, the tiny Paget Park, Chinatown’s Sien Lok Park, the Nat Christie (sculpture) Park along the Bow River. Indeed, when it comes to parks and playgrounds, Calgary doesn’t take a back seat to any city in Canada or around the world.

Our beautiful parks are a big reason Calgary is the 5th Most Livable City (Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2014 Global Livability Index) in the world and Canada’s Best Place to Raise Kids (Money Sense Magazine, April 2014).

When it comes to making Calgary a better place to live, work and play (downtown or in the suburbs), the investment of $75 million into new and improved parks across the city will pay dividends for decades to come.  I think it is wise for a city to build on its strengths.

By Richard White, January 11, 2015

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