In the headspace of landscape architecture, urban planning and architecture William Whyte is famous. He began acutely observing the substance of urban public life whilst working with the New York Planning Commission in the late sixties, early seventies. These observations became the 'Street Life Project' - a study of pedestrian behaviour and city dynamics - and, eventually, led to a book (and film), 'The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces'.
Distilling Whyte's work into a list of seven patterns or features does not do it justice but, out of curiousity, I wanted to see how Victoria Park, the City of Hamilton's first park, measured up.
Victoria Park occupies a city block and is bordered by roads on all four sides: Cedar Avenue, Victoria Street, Dundonald Street and Washington Street. For relaxation and recreation the park offers manicured flower beds and lawns, with benches dotted throughout. Also, in the centre of the Park, is a bandstand purchased to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. Prior to that, Victoria Park was a somewhat marshy informal play area known as Dean's Bottom.
Whyte identified seven feautures of successful urban spaces (to be exact, he studied plazas rather than parks): their relationship to the street, 'sittable' areas, position relative to the sun, impact of wind, presence of water features, options for food and 'triangulation' or the external stimulus that prompts strangers to speak with each other.
Street: For Victoria Park, it's relationship to the street is not wonderful. Surrounded by a wrought iron fence on top of a low stone wall on all four sides, there is little opportunity for interation between activity in the park and passers-by. Entrances to the park are located on the northwest and northeast corners, as well as at the mid-point of the east and west sides, and all are quite narrow. While the sidewalks at the corner entrances of the park are generously proportioned, this was done for vehicular safety and not to draw people into the park.
Seating: There are benches throughout the park, usually along the walkways. These are heavy and not built to be moved in a manner that would encourage groups to sit together. People in groups must sit on the grass - the sturdy but slightly uncomfortable Bermuda crab grass.
Sun: Victoria Park has both great sunny spots for everyone to enjoy, as well as welcome shady areas. The bandstand provides another opportunity for shade whilst using the park.
Wind: The prevailing winds in Bermuda are from the southwest and, as the Park is substantially below the grade level of Victoria Street on its south boundary, it is quite sheltered.
Water: There is no water feature in the Park.
Food: There are no food vendors in the Park.
Triangulation: There are no permanent features in or around the Park that might stimulate conversation between strangers. During the summer months the City of Hamilton regularly stages musical events in the Park that can work as a catalyst of the type Whyte observed was desirable.
Taken at face value, it may seem as though Victoria Park 'fails' the Whyte 'test' but that would be a facile conclusion. It is a park used often by nursery school groups and others seeking a quiet oasis to read and these groups do not necessarily require all the features Whyte identified. Having said that, it would seem there is scope for improvement if the objective of the park planners is to create a lively, vibrant space of human connectivity.