I fondly remember my teenage years growing up in Winnipeg where I would spend every spare moment outside, feeling the sun on my face.
Every time I look at the beautiful blue sky in sunny Manitoba, taking in the white clouds and warm sun, it takes me back to my youth again when I would take long bike rides to our local park, and play football in the summer and street hockey in the winter.
I spent many hours each week outdoors—relaxing and enjoying the fresh air and greenery. I was also healthier, often engaging in a myriad of physical activities. As I grew up, however, I became busier with school and worked part-time to pay for my education. This significantly reduced the time I spent outside, encouraging me to spend more time on the couch than on the field.
Even decades later, working full-time in an office building, I struggle to get outdoors except for the short walks I take at lunch to grab food or coffee or site visits to monitor landscape work. Scientists and psychologists have long studied the benefits of walking, finding that it increases productivity, concentration and creativity. Unfortunately, these walks are neither long nor vigorous, and I often spend the majority of my time in front of my computer.
It's only when I get home where I find time to get outside, either by taking walks with my wife and daughter around our neighbourhood or when we go to the nearby park or drive out to a regional park to explore the trails. The time I spend outdoors recharges my energy levels, and I wonder what it would be like if I took more opportunities to walk to nearby parks and green spaces closer to work in Downtown Winnipeg?
Within a 5 to 10-minute walking distance of about 400 to 800 metres (reflecting a typical "pedestrian shed", which is the average range people will walk within before opting to drive) from Nadi's Winnipeg office on Garry Street, there are some lovely parks, green spaces and 'sittable places'. Within about 300 metres, there is a beautiful plaza and park at the Millennium Library, which I walk through on my way to work. This space has beautiful seating areas with tables and chairs, water ponds, and a cool sculpture of a giant flash with water mist and lighting that Vancouver based Pechet Studio designed. At about 600 metres, I can walk to Old Market Square, a small pocket park surrounded by beautiful historical architecture in the Exchange District. Nevertheless, my lunch breaks, which are usually about 30 minutes, don't provide me with enough time to walk there and back and actually experience the space I'm sitting in.
However, I wonder how many other people who work (or live) downtown feel the way I do? Wishing there were more outdoor public spaces, greenery, pedestrian walkways, paving patterns and different uses of hard surface materials instead of concrete! I believe our society is moving toward placing more emphasis on pedestrian-first policies and planning. However, for this article, I want to focus on three small parks, highlighting Paley Park in Manhattan, N.Y., the Garden at 120 in London, England, and Tanner Springs Park in Portland, Ore.
Paley Park – Midtown Manhattan, New York
I visited this beautiful "pocket park"—as I like to call it because of its small size—which is about a 390 square metre space located in Manhattan, New York. I was surprised at how a relatively small area, surrounded by buildings on three sides and a busy street in front, could offer people a charming retreat from the bustling neighbourhood.
The William S. Paley Foundation Inc. commissioned the landscape architectural firm of Zion Breen Richardson Associates to design the park, which opened in 1967. So, interestingly, it's a privately-owned public space.
Zion Breen Richardson Associates designed the park so it would sit back from the street, elevated slightly with trees and planters that are all on a grid. There are also several sitting tables for people to relax and have lunch, drink or read a book, and the base plan (ground) is covered with granite pavers.
However, the most significant feature of this space is an impressive six-metre waterfall located on the rear wall of this park. I loved listening to the white noise from the waterfall, enjoying how it helped reduce the noise from the street and provide a cooling sensation from the summer heat.
Paley Park is an excellent example of how we can transform a small metropolitan area into a public haven instead of another building or a parking lot. And I would love to see a park like this designed and built in Downtown Winnipeg. There even exists a vacant space, located adjacent to the Boyd Medical Building. It's a space that I pass by every morning as I walk from my wife's office to my work. I often think about how this space can be transformed into an exceptional urban area, like Paley Park.
The Garden at 120 – London, England
Located in London, England, the Garden at 120 is a rooftop pocket park situated 15 storeys up at Fen Court. It's open to the public on a trial basis right now, accommodating about 200 people and offering up great views of the city. The park is filled with beautiful plants and iridescent lighting strips that immerses visitors in a wash of vibrant colours.
Tom Oxtoby, the co-founder and director at City Matter (a London publication), writes, "Fen Court is an exemplar of the type of developments that the draft local plan (City Plan 2036) proposes for the future of the city. A free public space, a pedestrian route between Fenchurch Street and Fenchurch Avenue, creating more space at ground level, and the garden, goes above and beyond our urban greening proposals."
Downtown Winnipeg has many buildings with rooftops that can be used to create spaces like this garden and we could significantly increase the green spaces that we have available within the pedestrian shed by looking at how the Garden at 120 provides an excellent model of how we can repurpose spaces, like rooftops, into public areas that promote inclusivity and engagement. As well, rooftop parks do not take away space at street level, which is at a premium.
Just, imagine what it would be like to go for a nice walk to a beautiful rooftop park, sit down and have lunch 15 storeys up while hearing the sounds of a lively city below? It sounds nice.
Tanner Springs Park, Portland, Oregon
Atelier Dreiseitl and GreenWorks PC designed Tanner Springs Park on a former contaminated industrial site, using sustainable methods and processes. The city park is located in an old industrial site and intended to reference its original character as a wetland by including features that use reintroduced groundwater from rainwater that runs off hard surfaces into a pond situated about 1.8 metres below street level. There is a massive 60-metre long wall with artwork alongside images of insects and creatures that had once lived in the wetland before the city developed the area.
The significance of the park is that it is environmentally friendly as all of the rainwater is collected and treated in this park through ultraviolet light and natural soil filtration, and it is not being channelled into the stormwater system through drains in the street. The fascinating aspect about this project is that it reconnects this neighbourhood with the wetland that once existed on this site, by showcasing this closed-loop water system.
This park is an excellent example of what can be done in a space like a large surface parking lot. An area that has contamination and requires remediation. There are a few parking lots close by, which come to my mind, that I think would be amazing if they were then transformed by using sustainable design methods.
These parks are good examples of how public space can increase the enjoyment of people and offer them places to enjoy outdoors. I find them to be very inspiring, and if we built something similar in our city, we could transform our downtown. It is going to take people, including developers, businesses and government to start building, investing and planning for these types of spaces and to get the ball rolling in creating more green spaces in urban environments. I believe it begins with raising awareness of the possibilities of what can be done in smaller areas like the ones discussed in this article.