On those spectacular sunny days we get here in Revelstoke in the spring, summer, and fall, my wife and I often plan to meet for lunch or a quick coffee break. We pick up our fares and spend the rest of the time deciding where to go to sit and enjoy them. More often than not, we end up at Centennial Park on one of the picnic tables. And while we enjoy the spots by the river, on short lunch breaks or even shorter coffee breaks, there never seems to be enough time to make it there and back to work without feeling rushed.
After several Centennial Park trips I began to wonder if it was time Revelstoke considered creating an urban park. This idea, I realize is somewhat self-serving, but there are good community-building reasons to do this.
At critical times in other cities’ histories, local governments have recognized the value in setting aside space within their growing downtowns for parks. New York did this in 1857 with Central Park, and Vancouver did it in 1888 with Stanley Park. As Revelstoke sees development increase over the next few years, it’s worth asking if we should look into this before there’s no land left downtown.
In Revelstoke, we do the playground parks and plazas with benches really well. So, how is an urban park different from these types of public spaces? They are smaller, designed to be flexible gathering spaces that offer several different experiences all at once; Almost like a plaza, but with more landscaping. Urban Parks also tick all the “sustainability” boxes.
From an environmental perspective, they bring nature, and natural processes into the downtown area. Our downtown is mostly hard surfaces (buildings, sidewalks, roads and sewers). Urban parks bring more greenery into the downtown, which has several benefits. We all know that plants help clean the air, but they also perform other ecological functions like reducing the urban heat island effect and providing shade, improving water quality through natural stormwater treatment, and providing space to plant native species to reduce water use and celebrate our local sense of place.
Urban parks also can have a positive impact on local businesses. They can be supportive spaces for start-up businesses (such as food trucks) to test their wares, and allow local food service businesses to grow their sales through take-out. When I consider what I look for when travelling in other cities, urban parks are number one. The potential to grow and create flexible business opportunities through a downtown park can be a positive boon to the local economy.
In addition to the environmental and economic benefits of an urban park, these places can have a positive impact on our social systems. What we don’t see, beyond Williamson’s Lake, is a place where all age groups hang out and intermingle. Children and teenagers take their social cues about how to behave in public from older peers. Having a space where children, teenagers, young adults, families and seniors can all interact helps social cohesion. This informal meeting space can help increase tolerance and understanding of other social groups.
Urban parks do some really great things. But they are at their best when they can do multiple things at once. This is especially critical in a smaller community like Revelstoke where we don’t have the municipal funds to build single-use parks. Our public spaces need to be more multifunctional. In many places around the world, cities are designing their urban parks with this in mind. Tåsinge Plads and Enghaveparken (planned) are two urban parks in Denmark that fight climate change by filling up with water and treating stormwater. Tanner Springs Park in Portland, Oregon is another great example of an urban park that does more than just provide green space in a dense urban environment, but also provides habitat for local species, treats stormwater and incorporates art and design. Many places in Europe do these small urban parks really well.
There are many great examples throughout the world of urban parks, functioning as oases of greenspace in dense urban environments. As Revelstoke continues to grow and compete with other mountain towns for tourists and business opportunities, an urban park would be a great addition to its already fantastic offerings of downtown amenities.
This article first appeared in the February print issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.