Greenspace and Public Art
Everyone seems to like a park or a well maintained greenspace with plants and shrubs and maybe a bench to rest ones load. The hope being that the park bench or the childrens playground equipment function for those it was designed for. Where things go wrong is when the wrong people take possesion of public and semi public realms. Grafitti sprayed on playground equipment or a piece of public art is something we can do with out. 16 year olds hanging out on children's playground equipment is not the demographic park designers had in mind. Greenspace with unkempt gardens beds and litter moves the neighbourhood in the wrong direction.
Public Art needs to be situated in high traffic and highly visible locations to discourage vandalism. The issue about street art and advertising is also something the city has to come to terms with. The art installation at the corner of Winchester and Parliament is part of the Luminato Arts Festival and cleverly made use of old advertising placards from condo promotions. The city in the past has been very reluctant to allow "art" installations that could be read as advertising and promotion of a corporate brand.
The fact that this is a temporary installation keeps it fresh and less likely to be a target of vandalism or grafitti. The parties involved in mounting the piece take responsibility for the cost installation and removal of the piece. Public art often becomes an eyesore when not maintatined when no one takes on the long term care of such things.
Often when the ribbon cutting photo op is over the question of ownership and responsibility for urban public spaces needs to be asked. We need long term solutions to tackle the upkeep and maintenance of our public spaces. We need people using the park or the pedestrian walkway and a better solution on how we maintain these spaces. Local businesses, condo management and caring neighbours can make a big difference.
There has been a recent explosion of households with dogs who make good use of the neighbourhood greenspace as part of the daily exercise routine. Our area greenspaces have become a meeting place for neighbours with dogs to co-mingle with other area residents. Area parks once avoided especially after dark have become busier, safer and better maintained thanks to dog owners who take ownership and responsibility for area parks, laneways and greenspace. By instilling a sense of pride, ownership and stewardship in neighbouhood residents take charge and responsibilty for the look and feel fo the area greenspace.
A simple art installation at Ontario Street Parkette called "Treehouses" helps to make the area park look more inviting and cared for.
Recently a group called Ward 28 Greenspace Committee brokered a small grant to spruce up the Parliament Street Library. They organized volunteers and purchased plant materials and commissioned a piece of sculpture for the library grounds. The question is what next? Who will maintain the garden and the sculptural installation? Libraries often have greenspace and grounds but there seems to be minimum funding to maintain their greenspace. Generally it is outsourced to a lawn care company who do only that. Cut the lawn and run on to the next one.
Parks and Rec again seem to deal with the fundemental task of cutting grass and emptying garbage bins but do not deal well with playground maintenance or tree and plant materials unless dealing with the more showy gardens such as the Edwards Gardens or St James Park. Neighbourhood volunteers recently spruced up the eastern entrance to Winchester Square Park. Hopefuly this group of volunteers will be able to keep up the interest and sustain a volunteer base and funding to create flower beds that look good and cared for thourghout the seasons.
Schools also do minimal landscaping and maintenance around their properties. The Neighbouring Garden District has created a wonderful garden and reclaimed an abandoned corner abutting Gabrielle-Roy French School on George Street and Dundas. Sadly the school itself is surrounded by security fencing and barbed wire to keep out unwanted visitors. Schools providing community meeting space and evening classes and activities would also deter unwanted activity after hours. Public Buildings need to better maintain buildings and grounds and be a better neighbour. Public Housing Providers and Government Services need to better maintain and build pride in their surroundings. Many area buildings have large blank walls that could be used for murals depicting the neighbourhoods history.
The City needs to reconsider how employees are assigned to the task at hand. Perhaps concentrating staff in particular neighbourhoods to oversee all greenspace in a particular area rather than park staff doing only parks, library staff only library grounds and school staff only school grounds. One overseer could better coordinate both maintenance and the look and feel of the neighbouhood public realm.
BIA's do a pretty good job at beautifying and maintaining planters and dealing with litter in their boundaries but there is a lot of territory that is not covered by BIA's. The money for such spruce ups come from the BIA membership levies. Residents Associations do their bit to try to encourage area residents to help keep area greenspace clear of litter but have minimal resources to cover planting beds and then maintaining them. Volunteers show for a spring planting but few volunteer to follow up through the season.
Perhaps the solution would be to offer some funding to BIA's and Residents' Associations with a piece of the property taxes or funds garnered through area development fees. The two could combine their resources to hire part time students to deal with maintaining area walkways, parks and greenspace.
Murals rather than grafitti are an excellent way to encourage neighbourhood identity and pride. The example shown here depicts a farmer's market on the exterior wall of the North Market building at the St Lawrence Market.
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