Thursday, December 17, 2009

Parks in the city

I sit on our Standing Committee on Environment and Infrastructure and today we had our last meeting of 2009. It's myself and a couple of other councillors, Chris Coleman and Philippe Lucas, assessing issues and making recommendations back to Mayor and Council.

Today we heard presentations on Victoria's parks and peppered staff with questions about management of parks, natural areas, boulevards, urban trees, playing fields and a few other issues where they are the lead for the city's work.

They do a lot with never enough resources and Victoria is a city of parks and gardens. Hanging baskets cover downtown through spring and summer; many of our streets are awash in pink snow in March when the flowering cherry blossoms give us a burst of colour. Playgrounds in all neighbourhoods are busy with the sounds of children and playing fields are always alive with soccer, baseball and other sports. Parks and boulevards are green with chestnut, garry oak arbutus and Douglas fir towers overhead in many of our parks.

New and exciting projects will be underway over the coming months and years. My questions revolved around some of the impacts that we will face as climate change impacts local species. Are we planting trees that can adapt (yes we are and more than 400 have been planted since September), and are we planning to deal with the migration of new pest species that will appear here as climate zones shift? Our parks and our urban forest will be ready.

Parks also manage extensive expanses of beachfront and strategies to shore up the bluffs of Dallas Road are in planning and yes, they will anticipate scenarios where sea levels may rise, this too a looming consequence of global warming.

Elsewhere, we are examining traffic loads in our cherished Beacon Hill Park. Too many people are using it as a commuter corridor, with cut through traffic trying to avoid busy streets nearby. We are working on designs to move towards a park that welcomes fewer cars but still provides appealing routes for cyclists and pedestrians.

Our boulevards are sometimes under stress too, and we would like to be able to let residents use some of them for "edible landscapes" and in some areas, like busy Cook St. Village, perhaps we can turn the sad, brown spaces over to bike parking and streetside cafe use.

More work is ongoing with parks to restore natural areas and "daylight" watercourses, too long confined in culverts and drainpipes.

Most exciting is our waterfront greenway that will connect downtown and the James Bay neighbourhood along to Beacon Hill Park. We'll need Parks and our engineering department to look more closely at connecting people to the waterfront with perhaps more or better crosswalks and safer crossing opportunities to get them to the path from the adjacent residential neighbourhoods. It's something I've been hearing from residents and I've spent some of my time exploring with them some key locations where people want better supports for pedestrian travel.

Along the way, the path will also find its way to the Johnson Street Bridge, and our new design will include a connection under the bridge and through the wheel that tilts the drawbridge. You'll be able to walk through on the path while the bridge is in operation, a unique and enticing way to gain a new perspective on this important new feature of the new bridge. Check out the video animation to follow a virtual path through the bridge. There's a link to the video in one of my earlier posts.

And come back again and follow along with more of my work at city hall. There's always something new to report on.

Have a happy holiday!

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