Here are some ideas:
- get rid of the fixed tables and uncomfortable seats in the centre, and replace them with movable chairs and tables
- replace as much of the cheap aggregate (concrete), asphalt, and falling-apart treated wood as possible – in particular do nice permeable pavers in the central area
- the garden plots could be extra seating areas if you elevated them (built them up higher) and put a wide ledge around
- the areas around the trees will never grow grass and in fact the scraped-away dirt exposes the roots to damage, so put raised beds of pebbles around the bases of all the trees (another opportunity to do ledges for sitting)
- the areas around the picnic tables will never grow grass, so put permeable pavers under and around the picnic tables
- the number and location of the garbage cans is good, but they could use replacement with higher-end, nicer-looking metal ones, all with a Dundonald Park logo or brand
- the aggregate (concrete) planters in the middle of the central area should be replaced with a fountain – it doesn’t have to be a fancy fountain, just something nice and simple with running water
- The drinking fountain should be replaced with a nicer one, and ensure it is accessible – may need multiple heights to serve standing and wheelchair. A bottom outlet for water for dogs would be nice too. There should be some signage indicating the drinking fountain.
- The lighting is crap. Dim and wasteful (bulbs put most of their light up into the sky, not dark sky friendly and waste of energy). As a bonus: more ugly concrete aggregate. Get some bright, downward-pointing, high-quality lights.
- Post signs with numbers to call under what circumstances (for example, if someone is being disruptive in the park, who do I call? 911? 311? Bylaw? Somerset CPC?).
- Post signs saying how you can join e.g. Friends of Dundonald and contribute money or time to the upkeep of the park.
- Some kind of food cart surrounded by tables and chairs in one corner done with permeable pavers (the park has lots of unprogrammed green space, it could use another space for sitting).
- Have programming in the Beer Store parking lot every weekend. Farmer’s market, children’s fair, pop-up coffeeshop, whatever.
- A single striking piece of public art would be nice, ideally something that kids could clamber over.
- UPDATE 2012-05-21: The entrance area of the playground (the area just either side of the gate) needs to be paved, as it is high-traffic and worn down. Right now when it rains it turns into a big muddy puddle.
- Bike racks at the east end and in the centre. ENDUPDATE
Other than replacing the lights, and maybe the public art, those should all be fairly inexpensive.
UPDATE 2012-05-20: There’s no reason that Dundonald couldn’t look like a corner of Bryant Park
If you wanted to go a bit further you would replace ALL the asphalt with permeable pavers, and ALL of the concrete-backed benches with higher-end ones. And put in a carousel.
It would also be very good to replace the Beer Store and its useless parking lot entirely, with a six-storey condo with ground-level retail (it used to be a row of housing before the Beer Store). At a minimum, price out the cost for the community or the city to buy the land and/or buy the store, see if it can be done with community fund-raising.
I’d also like to see traffic slowed around the park, particularly on the Somerset side. I’d almost like to have a fence around the outside of the park as a whole, so kids can’t run or ride into the street, but all the urban planning advice is to make parks as open to the sidewalk as possible.
The park’s outer green strip between the inner path and the sidewalk is not really usable, particularly on the Lyon and Somerset sides. In fact it is used as a convenient location for Ottawa’s ever-popular giant metal boxes sitting in the open. (They are sometimes traffic control, others I think are local cable & phone connections.) This empty strip around the edge of the park seems a bit of a waste – it would be nice to have some kind of landscaping or something to make it more usable, and to get rid of the invading metal boxes.
William H. Whyte did great observational studies of how people use public space, mostly in downtown New York. My ideas above are in part based on the video that accompanyed his book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980), and reading his follow-on book City: Rediscovering the Center (1988; reissued in 2009).
In particular he emphasizes having movable chairs, lots of seating in various configurations, food vendors, water features, and high-quality spaces. New York had plenty of (his words) “undesirables” in its public spaces – his solution was simply to increase the quality of the space, attracting many more people and outnumbering les marginaux. He said very clearly that the only result of making a place unfriendly (by say having dim lighting as in Dundonald) was to make it a magnet ONLY for undesirables.
There are lots of good features to Dundonald, and with some more attention I think it can be a great small park.