A good plan for a great park

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

TAKE A WALK through Bowness Park any weekday morning and you’ll find it pretty much as you like. A quiet, reflective, Class A greenspace—the crown jewel in our landscape, and a calling card to the greater northwest to come on down and stay awhile. Problem is, every weekend between May and October, that invite is accepted in spades. Visit the park at high noon on any given Sunday and you’ll wonder when picnicking became a strictly drive-in experience. It’s bumper to bumper, packed to bursting, and suddenly the park is the last place you’d ever want to be on a stat holiday.

More than two years ago, a team of City Parks planners began an ambitious design consultation process intended to relieve the park’s congestion, reclaim it for pedestrians and cyclists, restore its natural environment and revisit long-gone historic elements. When their vision was revealed to Bowness residents in a series of open houses, the response to the planned changes was overwhelmingly positive.

Local planning and development decisions affect every one of us. It’s about what Bowness will look like for our children and grandchildren.

City planners, property developers and local businesses benefit from broad community involvement in these issues. Your point of view is valuable!

If you’re interested in being part of this fascinating discussion, come to our BCA Planning and Development Committee meetings and speak up. We meet the second Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Bowness Community Hall.

Next meeting dates: Sept. 8 and Oct. 13. We welcome your input!

The first phase of the Bowness Park Redevelopment Plan (BPRP) involves the least expensive, most functional and immediate changes that can and should be made. Turf areas previously mowed and manicured will be encouraged to go to seed, creating habitat for wildlife and indigenous plant life without impinging on the large central lawns intended for recreational use. As the parks’ great poplars reach the end of their lifecycle, native species of trees that once populated the area will be reintroduced. Riverbank and lagoon edges eroded from overuse will be re-stabilized. And, practically speaking for a park that reaches capacity every weekend, emergency exit routes will be established at the 85 St. bridge location.

Phase two directly addresses “circulation” concerns; that is, how we access and move through the park environment. Currently, the roadway roundabout allows vehicle to drive to the far west reaches of the park. Some days, traffic on the roadway clogs to the point of being impassable. Part of the problem stems from day rafters who drive to the site, put into the river and float away—monopolizing parking and roadway space late into the evening. The boldest decision of the redevelopment plan proposes closing the roundabout to vehicular traffic altogether, prohibiting rafters and boaters from the area, and redirecting the boat launch across the river to Baker Park. It’s hoped that promoting Baker as an equally accessible and appealing sister park to Bowness will provide the former some exposure and the latter some much needed breathing room. Also in the works, in partnership with the City’s Roads department, is a planned improvement to the park’s entrance and bridge off 48 St. NW.

The final phase requires the greatest financial commitment and a considerable timeline to complete. Attempting to reconnect with the past, the BPRP suggests that certain amenities and attractions that once defined the park be rebuilt at the site of their original locations. The east lawn beneath Silverwood apartments, once a public swimming hole, would become a children’s water park. More than just a nod to the past, this would provide a much-needed warm-weather hub for Bowness family and youth. Most ambitious of all is a planned reconstruction of the park’s original café—a sizable heritage project akin in scope to the restoration of downtown’s Reader Rock restaurant. Finally, honourable mention goes out to a proposal to recreate and reinstall a local oddity—the “orthophonic,” a giant floating musical loudspeaker that once graced the original lagoon. Residents on nearby 48 Ave. NW should at least get choose the soundtrack.

It’s a good plan for a great park. But between an idea and an act lies a whole kingdom, and since the heady days of that last open house, not much has happened really. Speaking with Michelle Reid, landscape architect/parks planner and part of the brain trust that conceived the BPRP, she explains that funding was in place for the design component only and that phase one awaits a vocal and united show of community support followed by City approval.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, please consider again the rapturous, landscape-loving quote from Joan Didion on the front cover of this issue—and then call 311, call Parks planning, call our alderman and make your views known. Our grand old park is calling out for help.

—Scott Penny

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