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Calgary eyes up new life for low-use athletic parks

Calgary is looking at pulling low-use athletic fields off the city booking system and working with communities to find ways to draw more users to an area.

According to Tammy Robinson, business operations analyst with Calgary Parks, there’s little to no use at several athletic fields across the city, primarily the smaller baseball diamonds built in neighbourhoods around Calgary.

When LiveWire asked via social media about athletic field use in communities, people suggested a variety of neighbourhoods had low use: Fairview, Acadia, Scenic Acres, Silver Springs and other areas in the north and southeast.

“If they’re not being utilized to their full potential, we’re just going to start taking them offline and allow people just an opportunity to just go out and play,” Robinson said.

Robinson said they’ll pilot the new Community Park Initiative by working with communities and other user groups to determine how they can reinvigorate some of these underutilized neighbourhood spaces. In some cases they’ll just remove the backstop and other fixed items and rehab the area, Robinson said.

Kourtney Branagan, president of the Haysboro Community Association is worried the city might be creating a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

“The only data source is if it’s being booked. They’re theorizing on the premise that someone won’t come and do something there,” Branagan said, noting that in order to assess this, regular monitoring would be necessary.

“No one’s booking them, but they’re still being used.”

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Robinson said that what they’ve found is that if a space is in a traditional booking system, people have a tendency not to use the site as often.

“It’s kind of like when you see a reserved parking spot you’re under the impression that it’s going to be used by someone,” said Robinson.

“What we want to do is reduce that stigma, if possible, and just allow it to be used as an open recreation space.”

While Branagan admits that some parks may not be utilized as much as others, she’d like to see the city incentive the use or partner with the communities to come up with a plan for these areas.

“If the city wants people to use things, they have to make it accessible for them. They need to provide some suggested uses for what they think might be applicable – give people some thoughts and ideas. Maybe even give examples of what’s working well in other communities,” Branagan said.

The community of Renfrew recently struck a committee to look at how they could reinvigorate some of their underused public areas.

Nathan Hawryluk with the Renfrew Community Association said he suspects that some of the fields in the neighbourhood aren’t being used regularly.

“But the question is, how do we make those green spaces real places where people actually want to spend their time,” he said.

They struck the committee to identify ways to use the Activate YYC grants available to communities for space activation projects, but also to address the longer-term use of these community spaces through consultation with area residents.

Hawryluk suggested small improvements like spray painting picnic tables with chess or checker boards, installing fire pits and creating gathering spaces for people and even planting more trees to improve the urban forest could draw more people in.

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“What are the little things that we can do to improve the places that are closest to us,” he said.

He surmises that a combination of a confusing booking system, changing communities and how youth sports are administered likely have a lot to do with the low use in some areas.

Branagan suggested that kids play differently than they used to and reimagining the spaces is a good step forward – provided the city is flexible in what it will allow, she said.

“I think people have great ideas for how these spaces could be used,” said Branagan.

Robinson said the city will work with communities if they have ideas on how to boost citizen use of the public spaces, but for now, they one they identify and move forward with will just be open for free play.

“Not every solution is going to be able to be implemented but we’re willing to sit down and have those discussions with them,” she said.

Robinson also pointed out that although these parks will be pulled from the city’s booking system, there’s no danger communities will lose the green space, since it’s municipal reserve.

“Our intent is literally to give citizens a different opportunity and a new space to go out and enjoy being in the parks system,” she said.