Playgrounds needed as more families move downtown

Mayor Lisa Helps can’t help but get excited about the thought of possibly having a playground built on the land outside the courthouse.

As the province decides what to do with the former green space that recently housed more than 100 campers outside the Victoria courthouse, Mayor Lisa Helps can’t help but get excited about the thought of possibly having a playground built on that land.

Work is now underway to to remediate what’s left of the property on Burdett Avenue. Last week, Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the province would like to put something in there that could be a benefit to the community, rather than “just some passive space,” adding a playground is one of the ideas being floated.

Helps has noticed families who can’t afford to buy houses are now scooping up condos downtown instead. The city, however, has no playgrounds in the core for children to play.

“We’ve heard repeatedly about the need for a playground downtown,” said Helps. “I would like a playground at that site that can be used by kids and families. That would be awesome.”

Working as the manager of the city’s parks planning, design and development, Leigh Campbell is in the midst of developing the parks and open spaces master plan, which will serve as a road map for the next 18 years and move the park system forward.

Even though there are 40 playgrounds currently in the city, Campbell has also repeatedly heard the need for parks and play spaces downtown, and has been looking for various ways to make that happen. At the moment, the closest play space for children living downtown is Franklin Green in the North Park Village or Beacon Hill Park.

Campbell isn’t sure why a playground has never been built downtown, but suspects there was never a big trend to live in the core until recent years.

In 2015, the city received applications for 965 net new housing units, marking the highest number of net new housing units applied for construction in more than a decade. The neighbourhod with the largest number of housing units applied for was downtown (430), followed by Harris Green (134) and Victoria West (116).

According to Campbell, one of the challenges for playgrounds downtown is the lack of available park land. In an effort to address the immediate need, the city is looking to install a playable features model in Centennial Square.

“It won’t necessarily be manufactured playground equipment, but something that enhances or gives children an opportunity to play,” said Campbell, adding the space at the courthouse has great potential for children and families downtown.

“We’d be more than happy to collaborate with the province on something like that. It would fill the need in an area where we know play is desired.”

A draft of the Parks and Open Spaces Master Plan will be brought forward to council early in the new year. Several improvements are already planned for Victoria West Park, Topaz Park and Reeson Park.

For more information on the plan visit victoria.ca.