Conflicting desires over the remake of Berczy Park

Friends of Berczy Park volunteers paint outdoor furniture

Friends of Berczy Park volunteers paint outdoor furniture

Dwight Peters —

Berczy Park will be redesigned in 2014. A lot is at stake as the local community has changed dramatically over the past three decades. If Berczy is to succeed, the redesign process must focus on what the new park needs to be and what it can be, not what it was or shouldn’t be.

Public parks in North America were traditionally conceived as respites for residents in gritty urban neighbourhoods; places to breathe clean air roll in the grass and meet neighbours. They were green places for people. To me that stills sounds like a good idea and an appropriate blueprint for the new Berczy Park.

When Berczy Park was created in 1982, there were few local residents and so the concept of a minimalist park probably made sense. But then something happened. In the last 30 years, more than 2500 residential units were built within two blocks of the park, roughly the King-Church-Front-Yonge quadrant. This will grow to more than 4300 by 2016, which translates to over 6000 residents. The size of a small town with Berczy as their natural local park.

A few other things have changed. Dogs, especially small ones, are now a part of the urban landscape. A survey by local advocacy group Friends of Berczy Park (FOBP), suggests that about 25% of local households have dogs. That means there will be 1000 local dogs very soon.

And it’s not a matter of whether they will visit Berczy Park. Dog families are already one of the biggest users of the park especially between 6pm and 9am. Their presence is building community and also serves to keep the park safe. But dogs also soil the grass which is also used by office workers and children. A solution for dogs needs to be part of the new park plan. It’s naive to think they will actually go away.

We’ve also seen an influx of children into the Berczy Quadrant, estimated to peak at 600. Kids are an integral part of a healthy community and Berczy needs to change to acknowledge their presence and their need for recreation. FOBP has tested three library readings in the park this year. The presence of 30 children (noisy yes, screaming no) didn’t appear to affect others’ enjoyment of the park at all.

It did raise the need for a safe kids area away from dogs and contained from the noisy surrounding streets. There are dozens of examples of play structures from around the world that show how this can work in Berczy if we strive for what can be not what shouldn’t.

A new small town has grown up around Berczy Park and it is imperative that the Park change to meet its needs. Expecting parents and dog owners to walk to Crombie or St. James Park daily is simply not realistic. The suggestion that Berczy is too small is also misinformed. Regular users see the full potential of the space to do more. People who don’t use the park much seem to be full of limitations. Berczy can be an exciting place that celebrates our past while serving our present and future. It can be the beating heart of the new Berczy Quadrant. Let’s give it that opportunity.

Dwight Peters has lived in St. Lawrence for over 20 years and plays in Berczy Park several times a week.