When Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is 70 years old, she hopes to be able to walk around local streets and feel like she’s a part of a living city.
A city with open spaces, playgrounds for children, naturalized areas, and green spaces that serve as vertical parks to connect neighbourhoods to the downtown core — a city within a park rather than a park within a city.
While Helps’ vision is one of the future, the city’s parks and open spaces master plan is beginning to take shape now.
The plan will be used as a roadmap to help the city in planning and managing parks and open spaces over the next 25 years, including identifying investment priorities.
Over the past few months, more than 1,200 residents have provided feedback through online and phone surveys, open houses, and focus groups on what priorities they hope to see identified in the plan.
So far residents have identified natural areas, sensitive ecosystems and climate change as top priorities. Other priorities include accessible parks and open spaces, access to waterfronts and beaches, and more flexible, unprogrammed spaces and play spaces.
“We’re thinking 30 years out. That’s our job as elected officials. I expect when I’m 70 anywhere in Victoria I’ll feel like I’m in a living city...it’s going to save us money in the long-run. That’s what this plan should reflect, I think,” Helps said recent meeting. “It has to be sustainable.”
Other topics residents brought up include the importance of community gardens, incorporating arts and culture into parks, and creating more diverse parks to be used for various activities such as pickleball, chess, parkour or pop-up events.
Another issue was that of food security and re-establishing natural areas on boulevards, issues Coun. Ben Isitt agreed should be top priorities in the master plan.
“Natural areas are a top priority, that involves protecting natural areas within the parks system and a transition to more native species,” he said.
“Looking at food systems ...when we look at how vast they city’s land-ownings are, there’s the possibility within the parks system for people to harvest nuts and fruit.”
Councillors Marianne Alto and Jeremy Loveday said the accessibility of parks for all residents is also a crucial element.
“As we increase the number of residents downtown, it’s critical that we invest in the public realm, including new parks,” Loveday said. “We need to be reinvesting wealth to make sure those people that live here have a chance to make the community the backyard that they don’t have.”
Helps added it is important to find a way to get volunteers involved to help maintain, enhance and build the city’s parks system.
“People love our parks, they’re their parks,” she said.
Public consultation for the plan will continue in October and the final plan will be presented to council in early 2017.
There are currently 132 parks and open spaces varying in size from 0.025 to 183 acres, 12 off leash-dog areas, 40 playgrounds, a bicycle park, 25 tennis courts, five outdoor fitness locations and 32,753 city-owned trees within Victoria.