There’s a forgotten green space in the southwest Calgary community of Haysboro; if you’re not watching for it, you’d likely just drive by it.
It’s a narrow strip of land with a well-past-its-lifecycle old metal playground tucked 50 metres back from the street. It’s right next to a Calgary roads depot on Haddon Road SW that has a 10-foot fence with barbed wire guarding the top and privacy slats casting an unfriendly shadow over the area.
It’s so much an afterthought, the northside playground zone sign is nestled into a tree, one likely planted more than 30 years ago.
It’s a green space, however, the Haysboro Community Association wants to revitalize and even expand, to give an otherwise utilitarian corner of “east Haysboro” a much-needed lift.
“No one wants to come here,” said Haysboro Community Association president, Kourtney Branagan. She’s compared the neglected space to the refurbished Flyover Park under the 4 Street flyover, where the community turned that urban design remnant into a public green space.
To compound the problem, the nearest playground is roughly one-and-a-half kilometres away and stretches the City of Calgary’s own guidelines around park space being within a 10-minute walk for people in that area, Branagan said.
Room to expand
She pointed to the city lot next door – a staff parking lot that was sparsely filled on a Tuesday afternoon at 2:30.
“That’s where baseball diamonds used to be,” Branagan said.
“So, we said, ‘what if this fence line got pushed back 10 feet, 20 feet? And then we walk a little further east and there’s actually an opportunity to go under this bridge (Southland Drive) to connect to the LRT and have a pedestrian corridor.”
They’d like to tear down the existing, battered playground and replace it with a new one closer to the street. Among other things, it would make the playground zone on the street relevant again. With the rest of the green space, Branagan said the community envisioned a pump park – a dirt-hilled site where people can ride their bikes. But, there’s one of those in nearby Fish Creek and so they pivoted to something different.
Right now, Branagan said they’ve recently considered turning the space into a pollinator park. They’re set to discuss with the city if that could work.
“It’s about activating the park, so we need to think of other things,” Branagan said.
City of Calgary Parks Community strategist, John Merriman, said they’re aware of the beleaguered park and are interested in the community’s vision. Still, there are no immediate plans to rehab the area.
“We look to the community to come up with ideas… They know who lives there and what those residents are looking for out of their green spaces,” Merriman said.
“Let’s bring forth your ideas, suggestions and see if any of those have traction.”
Merriman said even though the playground structure has reached its end of life, “At this point, it’s one of those little green spaces off the radar.”
He added that recently there have been discussions among business units at the City of Calgary, focusing on certain communities, to review their land footprint and whether or not there are opportunities “that trigger the opportunity to revisit these spaces and the connectivity in the community.”
The area’s city councillor, Ward 11’s Jeromy Farkas, said there’s huge potential for that spot. He even mentioned the roads depot, which he said, “in the long term may not need to remain that.”
“So, you have a city facility that in the long term could potentially be redeveloped, you have a corridor along the rail tracks, which I think all the way straight north could be fashioned into a much better pedestrian experience,” Farkas said.
Farkas said he’s been impressed with the community association’s level of resident involvement in coming up with solutions for the area. He said it’s much needed, as the area goes through a transition in terms of demographics.
“So, I think rebuilding the playground is going to be really important to bringing up the community and providing children in the area with a safe place to play,” he said.
But, he said the city’s got to make good on its promise. There are redevelopment pressures in these established communities that come with increased density. He recently signed a letter in support of funding a new playground.
“You need to have a corresponding level of (city) investment. So not just cramming more people into a neighborhood, but actually giving them more amenities so that you don’t have that not-in-my-backyard kind of reaction,” Farkas said.
Branagan said the modern playground structure they’re looking at is roughly $110,000 to $125,000. They’ve got a plan to fundraise for it, either through grants or other means.
They’re willing to do their part; they just need willing partners that see both the need and the potential for the green space. Branagan also recognizes they’re not alone. Dozens of established Calgary communities are in the same situation.
It’s a big reason she’d like to see a change in how the city reinvests in established communities. She believes the city would reinvest in these areas if the density was there. But without the amenities the density won’t come.
“I think it’s a chicken-and-egg situation,” Branagan said.
This tiny park and playground at its end of life. They have two others close behind in Haysboro. That means they’re looking at $500,000 to keep those as vibrant, useable park spaces within the next decade.
They’d like to set in motion a plan to breathe new life into this one, for now.
“And so, how do you tell people, ‘you matter’? ‘You’re valued.’ ‘We care about you.’ You invest in the spaces that they that they want,” Branagan said.
“It’s mental health. It’s physical health. I mean, the kids that are around here will have an opportunity to come play somewhere safe, somewhere close to home.”