Public Opinion ROCKS ... and Matters
Parks, Pride And REcreation
Kitchener Ontario – On Saturday, October 5th, Mayor Berry Vrbanovic was joined by Councillor Debbie Chapman and members of the city’s Parks team to celebrate the reopening of Sandhills Park. The redesign of the park was achieved through an innovative participatory budgeting process that invited local residents to select the park features that matter most to them.
“I’m excited about the collaborative process used for the retrofit of Sandhills Park,” said Niall Lobley, Director of Parks and Cemeteries at the City of Kitchener. “Green spaces, especially smaller parks like this, are so important to the character of a neighbourhood. It was wonderful to see residents take such an active role in the park’s new design.”
Sandhills Park, located between Peter Street and Cedar Street, is similar to many small parks located in residential neighbourhoods throughout Kitchener. With a small trail system, play area, basketball court, informal soccer area and community event space, the park is an integral part of life in the neighbourhood.
The rehabilitation of Sandhills Park began in 2017, when the space was identified for a playground retrofit. In partnership with the University of Waterloo, community members took part in a series of participatory budgeting workshops in 2018 and 2019 that allowed them to vote on the allocation of the project’s budget. These priorities were consolidated into a final design, which has been implemented by city staff throughout 2019.
“Participatory budgeting is a natural fit for this kind of project,” said Ward Nine Councillor Debbie Chapman. “Green spaces like Sandhills Park are a part of our residents’ everyday lives, and they know better than anyone how to make these spaces more usable and inviting.”
Upgrades completed at the park include:
· Removal of the old play equipment
· Installation of a new swingset with all-abilities access and equipment
· A large sandplay area
· A natural play area with logs and seating
Alongside the play equipment and new features, significant landscape work was undertaken to improve sightlines and enhance access from Cedar Street, making the park significantly more accessible. The final upgrades will be installed in the coming months, including a chess table and a set of picnic tables. The project team is considering a followup neighbourhood meeting, to solicit feedback on the participatory budgeting process and the final design of the park.
“I was happy to see that the event on Saturday was well-attended, especially because it gave us a great opportunity to discuss the final product with community members,” said Lobley. “Opening up park upgrades to a collaborative process is a bit of a risk, because inevitably there will be those who would have preferred that we go another route. In talking with the residents in attendance, though, it seems like everyone is very pleased with the final result.”
The opening event on Saturday saw nearly 100 people participate in four hours of activities, starting with a community-led planting of native plants surrounding the sand and swing area to support local biodiversity and act as pollinators.