Parks in a Post-COVID World
If you’re like me, you remember witnessing in the first few months of the COVID-19 quarantine the huge number of people out walking and visiting local parks and thinking “I sure hope this reconnection to nature and the neighbourhood sticks around”. Unfortunately, we found that many of the local parks we visited aren’t big enough for proper physical distancing, and in many cases, there weren’t enough of them in an area for everyone to enjoy. Realistically then, if we have to settle for these smaller sized parks, then we need to have more of them. Especially because as our communities grow, we lose much of the land that would make for good ‘pocket’ or neighbourhood parks. Consequently, in my opinion, there is not enough care or attention being given by our elected leaders in ensuring we set aside and preserve space, both large and small, for current and future parkland. This is especially true for land suitable for larger, grander parks.
As Langley, and many other growing communities, lose more of its tree canopy to development of all kinds, especially residential, it becomes even more important to create more neighbourhood parks - both large and small - to preserve pockets of the natural world for both people and wildlife to enjoy. Quite frankly, there is no defensible reason that every neighbourhood should not have a ‘Grand Park’ in close proximity: large Regional Parks like Campbell Valley and Aldergrove are jewels, but the vast majority of the population can only reach them by car. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do after a long work-day commute is to hop right back in my car and drive to a park. One of the many wonders of parks, especially those with green space, is how good they are at reducing stress. However, there’s no point in trying to reduce stress from the workday if it means having to deal with other drivers again or having to travel any kind of distance by any means besides walking or biking to get to a park.
Whether or not people continue to shy away from transit in the long-term (I don’t think they will), and whether or not we continue to see the livability of our neighbourhoods diminish (I am hopeful we won’t), the neighbourhood will still be the bedrock of people’s lives, and neighbourhoods that are built with resiliency will be the ones that people choose to live in. Resiliency means, among many other things, that there are enough residents, supported by good municipal planning, to support the parks, the commerce, and the infrastructure necessary to make communities thrive. Now, these are all buzzwords we’ve heard time and time again, but nevertheless are still words that hold meaning. In my opinion, the political will hasn’t yet evolved to create these types of neighbourhoods - but that’s a conversation for another time.
The truth is, one of the most significant factors in creating strong, healthy neighbourhoods is to ensure residents have easy access to stress-reducing, pride-creating parks. These include neighbourhood parks that offer a small oasis, as well as the Grand Parks that often serve as destinations and that provide the space necessary for a whole range of activities. Importantly, all of these parks, regardless of their size, should be within walking or biking distance. The fact that we are running out of green space for parks in our growing neighbourhoods is an indictment against years of poor urban planning and misguided politics. But we have not passed the tipping point and if we take the proper steps now, we can still ensure easy access to much-needed parks for all.
One silver lining from COVID-19 is that it has reinforced how important the neighbourhood is. We all witnessed the number of people who were out for nightly walks, and we’ve seen the push to buy and support local businesses driven to new heights. Whether they are large or small, parks give us the chance to get away from our stresses and give beauty and peace to daily life. The fact is we need more, not fewer parks. As always, it is a question of balancing our municipality’s finances with the drive to preserve more green space before it is paved and made into a parking lot. With our world changing so drastically over the past few months and no doubt even more in the coming months, one constant certainly remains: parks will be a crucial backbone of our cities. Building safe, accessible, vibrant, and healthy communities should start and finish with beautiful public spaces, and it’s time we took seriously the job of building more of these spaces closer to where we call home.