• Play Your Way! Parks, Arenas, & Recreation Centres Matter

    Photo of Play Your Way Input Session

    Whether we are talking about big parks with lots of amenities or small ones, like Vimy Ridge Park at the Hale and Trafalgar roundabout, the evidence is in: Park spaces are good for our bodies and our minds, green space matters.  And good recreation facilities are key to encouraging an active, healthy lifestyle.

    Last week I attended the “Stakeholder Input Session” for the City of London’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan.  Especially when it comes to Parks and Recreation programs and facilities, the reality is very different for Londoners depending on what part of the city they call home.  Amenities at Argyle Arena or Kiwanis Park are quite different from Earl Nichols arena or Springbank Park. And of course, the people in Stoney Creek, with a great state-of-the-art community centre, have a much different experience than those in Argyle who have been waiting 18 years for an East London Community Centre to be built.

    One issue I raised was the need for free public WiFi at Argyle Arena and indeed at all city-owned arenas, pools, and recreation centres, both as an amenity and as a safety feature. A coach should be able to post a score, or a parent should be able to send an update home during a game or activity without having to use personal data. Older youth should be able to message for a ride home or let a parent know they are staying later than expected without having to worry about having enough data. Other Ontario cities have free public WiFi in arenas, but London lags behind.

    Many people raised the issue of accessibility for people with differing needs and abilities. From paved pathways that people in wheelchairs can access to colour contrasts that make the experience better for people with vision impairments, we still have a long way to go for our community to be fully accessible.  People realize this will take time and requires funding commitments, but it is a goal to work for and an issue to keep top of mind in new facility developments and during renovations of existing facilities.

    Sadly, another concern I heard both at this meeting and from London Tecumseh baseball volunteers this week is the growing problem of needles in our parks, playgrounds and sports fields. A 10 or 11 year old baseball player shouldn’t have to worry about a discarded needle on the infield sliding into 2nd base. Coaches and parents shouldn’t have to do a sweep of a baseball diamond and pick up “sharps” themselves before games. But, that is the reality.

    Lighting in parks was also a concern raised. For a long time the “established wisdom” has been you don’t light parks at night to discourages people from being in them. Maybe it is time to revisit that. We don’t live in a 9-5, Monday-Friday world anymore. In fact at least a couple times a week I can be found out for a walk at 11pm, listening to music and letting my mind wander before bedtime. And for some it isn’t just a night time walk, it is the walk home from work (often after the buses have stopped running). While the lack of light hasn’t discouraged me from using the trail through the park, I’m sure some feel less safe. The cover of darkness may also be contributing to that discarded needle problem. So maybe we need to look into lighting our parks strategically to encourage positive use and discourage undesirable use.

    Keeping up with the times and planning ahead were also topics people raised. As summer temperatures rise, the need for shade rises too. The aging population means changing demands for recreation. While the demands for tennis courts fade, pickleball is picking up in popularity, and we don’t currently have enough baseball diamonds to meet the demand for children, youth, and adult leagues.

    Parks, arenas, recreation and community centres are often the municipal spaces and services people choose to use most often. It is important the City of London has a plan that’s refreshed every few years. It is also important to ensure all neighbourhoods have good amenities. We shouldn’t overlook the needs in established neighbourhoods like Argyle in favour of new neighbourhoods, but too often in the past it has come down to which area councillors are most effective at getting things done. That certainly hasn’t been the Ward 2 councillor for the past two decades.

    One of the issues I raised with city staff was that once again all three sessions for this issue were held at a venue in the city’s downtown area. I have no problem going downtown. From Knights and Majors games at the fantastic Budweiser Gardens and Labatt Park venues to a treating myself to a special dinner out or taking in a movie, I’m a supporter of a more vibrant downtown. But when it comes to community engagement, City Hall has to do a better job of going to the people instead of expecting the people to come to them.

    One commitment I can make to Ward 2 is if I’m elected the new ward councillor, not only will I be more effective at getting east London’s needs on the “to-do list”, but I’ll do it by consulting with you, hosting community meetings in our area of the city, and inviting  your direct input online as well.

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