Located on the borders of the Village and Chinatown, Dundonald Park is widely considered a crime-ridden public space. Police cruisers parked in the adjacent Beer Store parking lot are a common sight, as officers keep an eye on the sparse tract of land on Somerset Street.
But Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC) has teamed up with non-profit organization 8-80 Cities to transform the century-old park into an green oasis for queer Centretowners seeking an outdoor community hub.
Funded by the government of Ontario, 8-80 Cities’ two-year project will improve select public spaces across the province.
Emily Munroe, director of partnerships and programs for 8-80 Cities, says the Dundonald Park proposal was one of eight successful entries chosen from 34 applications because of the park’s unique attributes and the CCHC staff’s dedication.
“I think it’s a great model for community health centres across the province to look at. It’s inspiring to see that CCHC saw the connection between improving the environment, making the park a better place and contributing to healthy lifestyles in the neighbourhood,” she says.
“The Village is looking to revitalize itself. Dundonald is only a block away. There’s some definite synergy there,” he says.
From January to August 2012, CCHC and 8-80 Cities worked to strategize, design and conceptualize programming at Dundonald Park. Employees of 8-80 Cities monitored the park to gain insight about its users.
The two organizations held focus groups and public meetings, attended by City of Ottawa representatives and Somerset Ward Councillor Diane Holmes, to gauge the temperature of what downtown residents would like to see the park become.
Data from 8-80’s onsite observations show that 57 percent of users simply walk through the area, with 75 percent spending fewer than five minutes in the park.
In addition, women frequent the park much less than men, with 38 percent of park users being female. Munroe says this is a serious indicator of how Centretown residents view the park.
“Women tend to be more choosy when it comes to parks and public spaces,” she says. “They are more selective. They want a place that is perceived as being safe and is clean.”
The Ottawa Police Service’s online crime-tracking tool shows there have been two assaults close to the park within the last month.
8-80 Cities’ data notes that the park becomes a destination for substance abusers and drinkers by mid-afternoon.
Christina Marchand, director of community health promotion and early years at CCHC, says the model of any good health centre is “everyone matters.”
“The more people that are in that public space, the less impact those users that might make people uncomfortable will have on the overall ambiance of the park,” she says.
Both Munroe and Marchand say it’s not the mission of the project to push out a vulnerable population. “We want to make sure there is a positive way to engage them and a positive way of encouraging better use of the park,” Munroe says.
She emphasizes the importance of viable public parks for the health of a community. “Sometimes in our cities people are satisfied with having a patch of grass and a swing set. But they can be almost like outdoor community centres with lots of different activities happening.”
“We’re looking for ideas, we’re looking for energy, we’re looking for volunteers to make use of the park,” Morrison says. “The linkages with the LGBT community are pretty clear. This is a great opportunity.”
8-80 Cities has successfully transformed other parks located near beer and liquor stores, Munroe notes.
Funding from the province ends March 31. It is now up to CCHC and other local organizations, including the Somerset BIA, to spark the improvements at Dundonald.
8-80 Cities’ Dundonald Park Report by