Monday, August 30, 2010

Joseph Burr Tyrrell Park

(click any photo for a larger image)


Joseph Burr Tyrrell Park in Toronto is perhaps one of the worst designed and worst maintained parks in Toronto. Really a 'parkette,' it is located just north of Bloor Street in the Annex neighbourhood and its official address is 10 Dalton Street, Toronto Ontario.This link to Google's Street View shows the official City of Toronto sign, but as we can see it is now gone and only one of the sign's poles stands:
There remains the historical plaque (dated 1995) that explains who Mr. Tyrrell was:
Tyrrell's Wikipedia page as well as the Royal Tyrrell Museum website explain that he is remembered for digging up dinosaur bones in Alberta. However, neither of these sites care to mention this little parkette.Even the City of Toronto's list of parks doesn't list this parkette!



It is somewhat fitting that this parkette is named after a man who unearthed dinosaur bones. The parkette is above the Bloor Danforth Subway Line, which here runs parallel to (and just north of) Bloor Street. This subway line was put in using the 'cut and cover' method: dig a long trench, install the subway tracks and stations, then cover it over. In some places, buildings have been erected over the subway line, but because the Annex was not originally designed with any park spaces, the city at the time decided to continue to own some of this land they had expropriated and turn it into small green-spaces.


Design and Layout
In the photo above we see the Dalton Street entrance, which is the east side looking west. The south east corner looks like this:


The north east corner looks like this:
And the reverse angle:
I would like to point out how the wide entrance and fencing create these 'tucked-away' corners. Here is the south east corner of the parkette again:
One gets the sense that the designers of this park thought these corners would provide a quiet place to, well, I don't know what - have a picnic? In the photo immediately above we see this bizarre yellow and blue pole. I assume it once had a ball tied to the top for the game 'tetherball' but the ball and string are long gone. So perhaps the intention of these tucked-away corners was to separate the intended uses, but it is only this south east corner of the parkette that has anything suggesting an intended use.


Returning to the north east corner - the ground around the tree is covered by rocks and compared to what it looked like when Google Street View took photos, we can conclude these rocks are a fairly recent addition. Based on the forever recurring "problem" of dogs in parks, I assume these rocks were put in to stop dogs from using this area as their toilet. I'll get into this problem of dogs below.


The centre of this parkette is intended for children, as evidenced by the various playground structures. But before we look at this 'centre piece,' let's look at the other side, the west side, of this parkette on Brunswick Ave.
Here is the north west corner looking from Brunswick:
And again:
Here is the south west corner:
And the reverse angle of the south west corner with Brunswick Ave in the distance:
As with the corners on the east side as we saw above, the corners of the west here are similarly designed to have these tucked-away corners. One gets the sense the park designers made these corners as unattractive and uninviting as possible to keep park users away from the neighbouring houses. As with the east entrance to the parkette, this west entrance leads people to the centre of the park and away from its edges.


The west side of park, near Brunswick Ave., has a bench. The only bench and only place to sit in the parkette:
You'll notice the bench as an attachment in the centre, which looks like an armrest - but I can assure you it was put on to make it impossible to lie down or sleep on this bench.
When you sit on this bench, this is the view:
Some might find it tranquil or relaxing to sit on this bench, but it is extremely boring. There is very little happening on Brunswick, except a few cars or people waking by. I did, however, catch a person reading a book on this bench:
Despite it being quiet and nothing really happening, he looked somewhat uncomfortable and distracted reading on this bench and left shortly. So I spent some time sitting on this bench to see what it's like. The bench sags quite a bit in the middle and is covered in 'tags' and I found myself craning my neck to see if anything was going on behind me. Not that I was worried someone was going to sneak up or anything, just that there wasn't much of anything to look at. I quickly realized, though, why this guy reading here didn't stay long: you can feel the subway rumble underneath. Not a 'low' rumbling, but a rather 'high pitched' rumbling that, in your stomach, feels unmistakably like you're about to barf. Very nauseating!


I couldn't help but wonder why this space near the bench was designed the way it is:
What did the parkette designers think people would use this for? Perhaps there were more benches with their backs to the fence in a semi-circle to encourage people to talk with one another? Maybe there was a plan to have tables or chess-tables here? I wonder if this blank open area, along with empty 'tucked-away' corners, were created with the intention of just making some open space in the Annex (which has a very high density) to provide some 'breathing room.'


As promised above, we'll look now at the playground equipment in the centre of the parkette. Of course the intended use of this equipment is for children to play, but I want to focus on the actual use of this equipment:
Notice how the ground below each swing is not indented. When you come across a well-used swing set, the ground below it is indented from feet dragging on the ground. Here there is no such thing and we can rightly assume that rarely do people use this swing set.
We find similar signs around the slides:
A well-used slide would have an indentation in the ground where children land at the end of the slide. Here the sand is hardly disturbed and one wonders how long it's been since a child slid down either of these. On the stairs leading up to one of the slides, there is quite a bit of sand that been tracked up from people walking up the stairs. But based on the lack of evidence of use of the slide, we can assume that people walk up the stairs, stand around, talk with one another and just go back down the stairs. An empty dime-bag at the top of the stairs suggests people congregate here to roll and smoke a joint.


Another piece of 'equipment' in this park, ostensibly for children is a drinking fountain:
Obviously this drinking fountain is 'out of service' - the spout is gone and the basin is full of dirty water and dead wasps. A clever bit of graffiti is found on the step for children - it's been made to look like a six-sided die. Purely conjecture, but I suggest that the empty Tim Hortons cup was left by an adult (perhaps a parent or nanny) keeping an eye on a child playing. (Though I've been arguing that children aren't using this park, you can be sure that a few kids tried!) The fountain is really the only thing a person could stand beside, lean on, set a cup down, etc. while keeping an eye on a child playing. It is very strange that there are no benches that face the playground equipment for people to watch their children.


Another sign of the poor maintenance of the parkette is this light pole:
It's standing but notice that at the top the side of it is bent down. I assume the light pole was somehow knocked over or fell and caused this dent ... and then put back up without fixing this dent! 


Clearly, children hardly use this playground equipment - so what do people do in this park? The only people I've seen in this park use it as a short-cut to walk through. Nobody walks straight through the park as that would have them walk through this sand and it gets in your shoes or sandals. So many walk around it towards the north side of the park. You can see this imposed trail going off to the right, around the (broken) drinking fountain here:
And here is this trail along the northern border of the sanded playground area:
To be clear, this trail is not part of the design of the parkette. The dirt is simply packed down from heavy use, both by people walking and riding bikes. Just about any cyclist knows that riding through sand is difficult and wreaks havoc on a bike's chain and gear system. It seems one person learned this lesson in this parkette!:
Many people are worried about their children playing in an area close to a bicycle path for fear they will be hit by a cyclist (this has come up in a previous post on the playground equipment at Trinity Bellwoods Park). I wonder if park designers are aware that a simple and effective way of discouraging cycling in a particular area is to put this kind of sand on the ground. This parkette could be part of safe bike route, connecting Brunswick Ave and Dalton St. (which leads up to Lowther, Walmer and other quiet side-streets. The curb near the Dalton St. entrance is very low and inviting to a cyclist:
But the curb at the Brunswick entrance is high and uninviting to a cyclist:


As I was hanging around taking pictures of the parkette, I spoke with a man walking by on Dalton. I asked him if he lived close by (he does) and if he liked this parkette or ever used it. He told me that he knows he's not supposed to but brings his dog over here to run around. He wanted to make sure I knew that he knew he wasn't supposed to, that he always brings a poop-bag and he doesn't bring his dog in if there are kids around, but told me that rarely are there kids in the park. I told him he could be forgiven since the sign that says "no dogs allowed" is only located on the Brunswick side:
Many parks and parkettes contend with this problem of multiple uses, but the two that often come into conflict are children playing and dog owners wanting to walk their dogs. In many parks we find the odd and rather backward 'solution' of children areas penned in so they are safe while dogs can run 'off leash' in other areas of the parks. One would think we would fence in our dogs, not our children. In any case, there are no signs of dogs 'running wild' in this parkette. Quite the opposite as evidenced by this undisturbed pile of sticks:
These sticks have fallen from the tree and haven't been picked up by dogs nor have they been spread about from dogs running around. And though the grass isn't growing very well, it is 'natural' from the large tree canopy and not from dogs tearing up the ground and they run and play.


I've spent most of this post criticizing this parkette, but it does have some redeeming qualities. One is the extensive tree canopy and lush greenery. It can be seen in many of the photos above, particularly the first photo above. There are also generous vines and leaf coverage along the north side:
That yellow climbing structure is also quite nice aesthetically:
...and it someone has left an absurd quotation on it for us to ponder:


Conclusions and Suggestions
This parkette dedicates most of its space to a children's playground but it is rarely used. It might be worthwhile to keep some or all of this playground equipment but locate it in better places/arrangements within the parkette.It would be worthwhile to consider if this is right place for a playground. There are other playgrounds close by that are heavily used and look like much more fun. It might be best to remove this equipment and replace the sand with grass and shrubs and allow people to walk their dogs here. But I don't think it's worthwhile trying to make this an 'off-leash' area as the parkette is not that big and it limits nearly all other uses of the park. Since people like to walk and cycle through this park from one entrance to the other, there should be a proper path for them to do so. There also needs to be more benches or places to sit down. There is much shade in this park and many would enjoy a cool place to sit on a hot summer day. As well, there are many take-out restaurants nearby and it would make a great place to eat if there were somewhere to sit. Of course, the common concern about putting in benches is that 'undesirables' (aka 'bums') will sleep on these benches, or that it will attract noisy teenagers. This parkette has many house windows that face it, which is a common way to discourage 'undesired' activity. Besides, if this park had more use by local residents, illegal activity would rarely occur. Another parkette a few blocks to the west, also above the subway line, has small tables with stools. Perhaps something like this would work well here.


As always, suggestions, thoughts and criticisms are welcome in the comments section. Unproductive comments will be deleted.

5 comments:

  1. Interesting post! I live near here, and have taken my young daughter to play here a few times. The swings are good, and the plastic slide is pretty fun, and I imagine the reason the other slide gets little use is because it gets very hot in the sun. Also, the sand is full of cigarette butts, so I can't let her play down on the ground.

    But yes, I've never seen anyone else playing here, and the layout of the park is just bizarre. Would be nice to see some changes such as those that you suggest.

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  2. My dad grew up on Brunswick Avenue, a couple houses north of this parkette.
    He remembers the two houses that once stood where the run-down parkette now resides. They were torn down when the subway was being constructed.
    When I was a child, visiting my grandparents on Brunswick Avenue, I spent hours playing in this park. At the time, in the eighties, there was a large turtle feature that sat in the North West corner. The green and yellow creature was covered in climbing divots, where you would hook your hands and feet and "ride" the slow beast. Thus, we coined our play-place "Turtle Park".
    The tetherball was still attached to the pole, and my sister and I were not the only children running around.
    I belive the hot mirrored-metal slide (on a cold day you have been always been able to fry an egg on it) is the same one from my youth, as is the rickety teeter-totter.
    I remember when they added the separator to the park bench... and yes, it was to deter people from sleeping there, as was the uber-bright lamp post.
    Sadly, now this park is busiest in wee hours of the morning. After a night at the bar, drunken students and ne'er-do-well's litter it's expanse.
    I currently live a couple houses away, and I can't even count how many times I've witnessed police cruisers at it's entrances.
    My hope is that this space will be redesigned, and thus, attract more families, and deter the riff raff.
    My 8-month-old son experienced his first swing at Turtle Park about a month ago. His wailing laughter made the park as alive to me this summer as it was in it's heyday, when I was the one being pushed into the sky.

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  3. Thanks for the comments, Kerry and "anonymous." Interesting to hear about the heat the slide absorbs - these are the 'little detail' things I'm particularly interested in.

    And it's fantastic to hear about your experiences in the park in the eighties and how your son's laughter brought you back to those days.

    'Undesirables' in parks seems to be a perpetual problem. Unfortunately, the means often used to deter undesirables also discourages everyone else (eg. removing benches). As you suggest, making the park more attractive and inviting to other users is the best way to keep the undesirables out.

    Other than the turtle, are there other things that used to be here but are gone now? For some reason I seem to remember there being more than one bench on that cobble stone area where only one bench sits now.

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  4. Good write up Mark. It's always a designers struggle to incorporate elements the will 'keep everyone happy'. The designer of this park, if there was one, has too much going on for the small area.
    Cyclist really shouldn't be cutting thru this type of area unless there are designated bike paths, it's too dangerous for adults, elderly people and children using the area. Remember bikes are really considered vehicles, same rules as cars and are meant to be on the roads. It's always a cyclists job to ride safely for themselves and others.

    The city has really dropped the ball on maintaining parks. It's an expense issue but a good design can help with future costs and maintenance.

    Future write up / blog find a park you like and report on it!

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  5. Thanks for the comment, Terry. It is, indeed, difficult to satisfy all potential park-users. It might not be that hard if it were just a set of competing demands. Instead, it seems people don't know what they want/desire out of a park (or even their city). Some might think it would be good to have more children playing, but then be annoyed at the noise. Others might think it would be better to have a leash-free zone, but then not like the resulting muddy ground or the potential 'danger' to children or other people. It's easy to point out a park's failings (as this blog post does) but hard to clearly say what we'd rather have. And even more difficult to decipher what people say they want (especially since they rarely know themselves!).

    I disagree with your statement that bicycles shouldn't be cutting through this park. A similar complaint to yours came up in an earlier post on Trinity Bellwoods Park and the possibility of bike paths. I think cyclists are pretty good at negotiating themselves in traffic with people and cars. Many people ride their bikes on the paths in Queen's Park and I've yet to hear anything about a serious bike collision. Sure, there are some jerks on bikes, but for the most part I think people would rather avoid a collision and so they do. More practically, Tyrrell park would only see a handful of cyclist (if there were a path) - and it's not likely to happen since my earlier suggestion about a bike route that heads down Brunswick is "illegal" according to the Highway Traffic Act, because it's a one-way street. (The HTA needs to be updated -it talks about horse and buggy!- but that's another topic..)

    In any case, I do sincerely thank you for your comment, Terry. I'm going to take your suggestion and have a look at the recently "revitalized" parkette on Brunswick just north of Harbord. From what I've seen so far, it looks like the Tyrrell parkette could take it for a model. It has a "desire line" through it, like the fixed-up Gwendolyn MacEwen Park at Lowther and Walmer.

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