This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of The Yards.

Despite being one of the highest density neighbourhoods in the city, Oliver residents have a challenge accessing recreation and green spaces in their own backyard. That’s why the Oliver Community League (OCL) has made advocating for recreation space a priority.

As of 2020, there are nine approved and nine proposed rezoning projects for the Oliver neighbourhood, none of which are outdoor recreation spaces. One approved project includes approval for an indoor recreation space.

“Our parks and streets in high-density neighbourhoods are our living rooms.”

Lisa Brown, Chair of OCL’s RecreACTION Committee

“Our parks and streets in high-density neighbourhoods are our living rooms. It’s where we stretch our legs, fill our lungs, exercise, meditate, and improve our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing,” says Lisa Brown, Chair of OCL’s RecreACTION Committee, a committee that was created to advocate for more recreation space in Oliver.

There are some steps being taken in this direction—in January, city council passed a motion directing the administration to work with OCL on a 100th Avenue corridor analysis, and provide a report to the urban planning committee by the end of June with recommendations for meeting Oliver’s recreation needs.

“My office has pushed the city to recognize that Oliver is lacking green space and lacking recreation space. At the same time, the city council, unfortunately, has approved tower after tower after tower,” says Ward 6 Councillor Scott McKeen. He emphasizes that pressure and thorough planning will be needed to ensure the city follows through on the motion.

There are many areas where OCL sees potential for the improvement or creation of recreation space, including the possibility of widening sidewalks and improving the 100th Avenue corridor, adding dog parks to existing parks such as Railtown or Ezio Faraone Park, repairing the basketball court at Kitchener Park and more.

Derek Macdonald, OCL Civics Director, points out that there have been some positive developments already, such as creating bike lanes on 102 Avenue. “You have city furniture, you have new sidewalks, you’ve maintained that existing tree boulevard,” says Macdonald. “You can see that the areas where the city has invested in public infrastructure are being picked up by people and being more actively used compared to the areas that haven’t seen that investment yet.”

Dr. Karen Lee, a professor at the University of Alberta and the author of Fit Cities, explains the importance of adding recreation spaces to neighbourhoods, not only for health but for the overall wellness of the community.

“Places that were pedestrianised […] became safer in terms of injuries. When air pollution was measured, the air quality got better. Often retail sales would actually also spike. Because when people are stuck in their cars in traffic, they’re not necessarily going to businesses.”

One potential solution Lee suggested for Oliver can currently be found in New York City or Taipei, where pocket parks are used. Pocket parks are smaller parks that often include playgrounds and adult exercise equipment, and are a method of creating new open spaces without major redevelopment.