powerbars in the park: adapting to the new social

People gather around things they need.  There are some fundamentals: water, food.  The company of others.  The central fountain in many European villages was the primary gathering place, the heart of the community.

(Central fountain in Saillans, France)

One of the things I was trying to get at in my question to Paul Goldberger is that mobile devices with embedded social features may enable new ways of interacting with the city.  What I didn’t say, but what is also obvious, is that they bring with them new needs.

I’m not saying that power and wifi are the new food and water, but they are essentials for modern life.  And they attract people.  You only have to look in Ottawa’s packed coffeehouses to see that people like to be where there is power, water, coffee coffee coffee and food.  And washrooms.

There are some iconic photos of post-Sandy Manhattan with people basically clustered around powerbars, charging their digital connection devices.

We know what people want: water, food, social.  Now also power and WiFi.  Sanitation and coffee are nice too.  Comfortable chairs and tables a bonus.

What do we offer people in Ottawa’s parks?  Few water fountains.  No food service.  No power outlets.  No powerbars.  No WiFi.  Rare washrooms.  Some benches.  Very rarely tables.

We can reclaim our public spaces as modern social spaces.  We just have to provide the modern essentials.

Dundonald Park should consider this as part of its redesign.

Make Dundonald Park better

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Dundonald Park is a wonderful green space in a downtown core that doesn’t have a lot of central park space.

The Centretown Community Health Centre (Centretown CHC) successfully applied for some help from the 8-80 Cities Make a Place for People initiative to work on a Dundonald Park improvement plan.

There are two upcoming meetings:

  • June 7, 2012 at the Legion (330 Kent) at 7pm (see flyer)
  • June 9, 2012 in the park from 10am to 2pm (see flyer)

The Centretown CHC also put out a call for volunteers – you learn how to do placemaking analysis, and observe how the park is used, or help to animate the park:

They also have more volunteer opportunities listed on their site.

You can follow their Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/ParcDundonaldPark for more information, they also tweet about the park and other things @CentretownCHC and you can email them specifically about the park at dundonaldpark@centretownchc.org Also 8-80 Cities’ Gil Penalosa tweets at @Penalosa_G


If you want to tweet about the park the hashtag is #dparkott

I’ve written a list of ideas for improving Dundonald Park – feel free to add your comments and ideas.  It’s worth mentioning yet again that the single biggest improvement would be to replace the Beer Store and its mostly-empty parking lot with a mixed-use, mixed-income residential complex with ground-level retail (a cafe, butcher, baker and cheesemaker would be all great additions to the area).

Screen Shot 2012-05-21 at 7.57.25 PM

What used to be there was a nice row of traditional Ottawa houses

Somerset houses before Beer Store – from Urbsite Beer Store blog post

You can read more about the 1960 arrival of the Beer Store in a great Urbsite blog post.  Ah the 1960s.  Was there anything urban they couldn’t screw up?

It’s worth mentioning that the Centretown Community Design Plan (CDP) also covers the area of the park.  Section 2.4 Heritage (PDF) has a map that I think shows both the park and the Beer Store are not part of the Heritage overlay (someone please correct my understanding; I’m not an expert).

Screen Shot 2012-06-05 at 9.26.55 AM

This is what the CDP Chapter 5. Greening of Centretown (PDF) has to say about Dundonald.

Dundonald Park

Although similar in scale to McNabb Park, Dundonald Park plays a very different role within the community. First established in 1905 as passive recreation space, this role has been retained over the past century. Dundonald Park is an important heritage park in the neighbourhood. The importance of this park from a heritage perspective is reflected by the Heritage Overlay controls it is subject to. Similar to Centretown’s other heritage park, Minto Park, the role of Dundonald Park is to enrich the wider heritage context and act as a community destination for less active recreation.

As a heritage park, Dundonald Park should be of the highest design quality. To achieve this, the following improvements are recommended:

  • Existing asphalt sidewalks that edge the park should be removed and replaced with concrete.
  • Existing asphalt paths internal to the park should be removed and replaced with brick or textured paving that reflects a heritage sensibility.
  • When furniture is replaced over time, a coordinated palate should be introduced across the entire park (for furniture and paving materials).
  • Planting should be maintained by season (spring, summer and fall).
  • The existing fencing around the children’s play area should be used as the model for all Centretown’s park fencing.
  • The City should continue to support the impressive efforts of the Friends of Dundonald Park to enhance the park. The City should work with them in partnership to implement improvements to the park space.

If you don’t agree with the Design Plan’s view (or if you strongly agree with it), you should provide your feedback to the CDP (e.g. email the planner Robert Spicer at midcentretown@ottawa.ca ) and contact your councillor to make sure that the proposed improvements GET FUNDED.  (In general the city needs to provide more funding and maintenance of Dundonald.)  You can also contact the Centretown Citizen’s Community Association (Centretown CCA; CCCA).

ideas for Dundonald Park

The next meeting as part of “Dundonald Park: Make a Place for People” is June 7, 2012 at 7pm at the Legion (330 Kent).

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.
  • WiFi
  • 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.