Parks are special places.
They encourage you to get outside and pay attention to your surroundings: the natural environment—which alone is good for your health.
But as well, they conserve natural habitat for insects, plants, birds, wildlife and often fish as well.
Sometimes, they’re not about wild places, but are maintained as green and treed areas for recreation: active ones for games and passive for walking and finding peace.
Generally, you don’t find as many parks or as large parks the closer you get to well-developed downtown areas, where property simply becomes too expensive to protect without any visible economic returns and the pressure on land becomes difficult or impossible for public authorities to withstand.
Yet, that’s where such parcels of green are most needed.
They contribute immeasurably to the quality of life for all who live in or visit downtown areas and in that way they give back huge economic returns in both human health and property values for owners living in proximity to parks.
Waterfront parks provide even more value, along with access to the enjoyment of water and shorelines for everyone, rich or poor.
Kelowna’s City Park is just such a valuable green space in the middle of a bustling downtown area that is otherwise carpeted in blacktop and populated with concrete and glass buildings. The occasional street tree and hanging basket of flowers are the only reminders of past glory for such commercial areas.
Never again will they grow a carpet of wildflowers and wild grasses or provide adequate habitat for the wildlife that once called it home.
The City of Kelowna has embarked on a process to re-design City Park, with a variety of options thrown out to citizens to consider including, removing or altering within it.
However, the city fathers have tasked those coordinating the re-design to include a building within the park, both for practical reasons, to provide a supervised place for washrooms that could service the downtown as well as the park, and also to provide some other public services.
On the whole, I can’t disagree with that, particularly if you take into account there’s almost always been a building in City Park, but the last one burned down, after being inadequately used for a number of years in any case.
However, I have been disappointed to see an erosion of the quality green space in City Park by incursions such as the approach to the new bridge, loss of large trees to poor health or accident in the park, and to facilities which require a ‘hardscape’ instead of living things like grass or plants.
Project manager Patrick McCormick at the city says a facility for Tourism Kelowna staff and the information centre (currently sharing space with the Chamber of Commerce on Harvey Avenue) will be included in the plans, at the direction of council.
Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray explains the city has been on the lookout for a better site for a new, iconic, attractive tourist information centre for Tourism Kelowna for several years, and there would not be a land cost if it is in the park.
He hastens to explain it’s only an idea still, but the thought is to locate it on Abbott Street near Bernard Avenue where year-round public washrooms could service those using the downtown area as well as the park; and where there will be a piazza-type, pedestrian-oriented space.
Nancy Cameron, CEO of Tourism Kelowna, explained with today’s technology, visitors can get directions from their GPS, plus other information from it and hand-held devices, so a visitor centre needs to encourage people to stop. It should be located where visitors are walking; a place of energy and activity that highlights some of the area’s beauty, like on Okanagan Lake, she says.
She didn’t know how many of the 40,000 visitors a year who now stop operate a recreational vehicle such as a large motorhome or travel trailer—vehicles that need more than the usual parking space in which to stop or turn around.
I think that’s critical information.
It would be a dreadful shame if more of the green parts of City Park were sacrificed to make asphalt space for our visitors’ large vehicles to turn around in, or even to park in.
I’m delighted to share City Park with visitors, but not if it means turning it into a parking lot. I mean, what would be left to share?
However, at present there are no suitable places for RVs to park near downtown Kelowna, and often our tourists will be driving big rigs. They probably have money to spend too.
Perhaps that’s something we should turn our attention to, instead of destroying City Park to accommodate those visitors.
Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.