In a past blog post I posed this question: do our parks pass the test? The focus was on Victoria Park and, using William Whyte's famous components of successful urban spaces, Victoria Park more or less passed the test.
For some time, though, I have found Jubilee Park to be intriguing. It is located at the north edge of the City of Hamilton between King Street/Union Street to the south and Parsons Road to the north. If Whyte's seven benchmarks are: public spaces' 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 - how does Jubilee Park measure up?
Jubilee Park was opened in 2002, marking Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee, as a one acre landscaped area. Unfortunately, by 2007 it was somewhat overgrown and something of a dumping ground. The City of Hamilton stepped in and nothing less than a transformation has taken place. Expanded to a two acre lush landscaped area with a winding path taking visitors from King Street down to Parsons Road, passing a duck pond and a grove of recently planted native and endemic trees, Jubilee Park is an unexpected quiet oasis.
Against the Whyte benchmarks, however, it does not seem to fare so well. You can reach the park from the street but it is not immediately welcoming. There are seating areas, perforce, of the heavy, immovable variety. The result is a sense of formality in the seating that, despite all efforts, has not escaped the scourge of vandalism. The park's position relative to the morning and afternoon sun is great, and there is (or will be, once all the trees are grown) sufficient shading too. It is quite sheltered from the wind and the duck pond is a water feature, if not of the type Whyte intended. It is not a play feature for children nor does it incorporate the element of sound that can be soothing in an urban environment. The options for food are off-site but there are enough within walking distance that a brown bag lunch could be planned. As for 'triangulation', I have not observed circumstances where that could arise; strangers initiating a conversation in the park based on a shared experience of the space such as a busker or a piece of public art or even kids at play.
So why does it seem to be a 'not quite successful' urban space? I suspect for the three reasons that Whyte does not mention but which Kevin Klinkenberg outlines in his 2012 article for New Urbanism Blog "What makes a good park?". One: location, location, location. Too many parks are designated on 'leftover' land and are not necessarily sited and designed for a park purpose. Two: location along key pathways. Is the park in a key location in the city where people would walk without thinking? Three: integration with surrounding streets and buildings. Is the park immediately surrounding by residences, restaurants, guest houses and businesses such that it feels a part of the neighbourhood? Klinkenberg suggests we look "harder at how design and behaviour intersect".
To a greater or lesser extent these three elements proffered by Klinkenberg may provide some insight with respect to Jubilee Park. It is a worthwhile effort to find out.