Public Works: How to Make Parks More Accessible
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Public Works: How to Make Parks More Accessible

The New York City parks department is soliciting suggestions from regular people on how to improve park borders

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

NYC Parks Without Borders

A rendering of improved an improved park edge—no fences and plenty of seating room. Courtesy NYC Parks.

New York is a city of great parks. Big, famous, sprawling, majestic parks, like Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Paved, yet regal ones, like Washington Square Park, its arch immortalized in a thousand holiday pictures. Tiny, triangular parks, wedged into bicycle spoke intersections, their benches packed tight on summer nights with necking couples, pre-drinkers, time-killers. And what about the strange one, the High Line, a former elevated railroad, now more than 2.3 km of snaking lateral park?

Still, the City says, these parks could be better. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged $50 million for Parks Without Borders, a project aimed at improving parks’ entrances, edges and surrounding spaces. The goal is to make parks more welcoming and and to better integrate them with their surrounding communities.

“The perimeter or edge of a park belongs to the neighborhood,” states the New York parks department website. “More open park edges allow better views into the park. They make nearby streets feel connected to the park and park spaces accessible to the neighborhood.”

Improving these transition points from city to park could mean tearing down or shortening gates and fences, repairing or adding pavement, planting greenery, adding benches. The choice is really up to park users.

Eight spaces will be upgraded under Parks Without Borders, and to decide which parks get what, NYC Parks has asked the public to fill in an interactive online map with suggestions. The parks department is, in the buzzwordy parlance of the day, crowdsourcing suggestions. Anyone can visit the project website, and browse an interactive map of New York with city parks delineated. By clicking on the park of your choice, you can fill in a form stating what improvements the park could use.

Comments will be accepted until the end of February 2016, and the roster of eight parks to be given the Parks Without Borders treatment will be announced in the spring.

The two big takeaways here? Cities can always improve upon their public space, and the people who interact with that space on a regular basis are best equipped to offer their insights.

The Parks Without Borders feedback form and interactive map. NYC Parks.

Toronto has more than 1,500 parks, covering 13 per cent of the city’s area. But access to some of these parks can be a problem. For instance, driving along the Don Valley Parkway and seeing the trails running alongside is one thing. Finding out how to use them is another.

Local park advocates Park People have been working on ways to increase connectivity for our parks—both with other parks and neighbouring communities.

In April the group released a report called “Making Connections,” proposing ways to connect Toronto varied public spaces, from parks to laneways, schoolyards to ravines.

Think of it as park marketing. Through better connection and access, we can draw more people to our parks, and ensure we get the most out some of our city’s greatest assets.