What’s going on with Guelph’s parks?

Guelph has a serious shortfall in usable parks. We are at least 130 hectares short of our city’s target — that’s the size of ten Stone Road Malls (including the parking lot!) This is the first in a series of three posts about the state of Guelph parks. If you’re not clear on the difference between parkland and conservation land, read on; otherwise, skip to the next post, where I talk about my data analysis — which conclusively shows we have a lot less parkland than we thought. In the third and final post, I talk about how we got to where we are today— and how I’m going to fix it.

As I campaign, I’m hearing from a lot of people: parkland is important. It’s possibly the most important thread in the Guelph fabric. The people of Guelph almost unanimously value green spaces of all kinds, for both people and pets — public parks for sports and active recreation, and conservation land to get back to nature.

In 2009, Council passed a new Recreation, Parks, and Culture Strategic Master Plan with the intent of ensuring we build enough of all types of parkland as the city grows, and realized at the time that we needed an effective working definition of parkland to determine how much the city actually has.

The plan (on page 64) separates parkland from conservation land: parkland is for active, programmed recreation, like sports fields and playgrounds, while conservation land is for natural areas. The distinction is further clarified within the City’s Official Plan, section 7.3, which explains that parks are not part of the city’s Natural Heritage System, as defined in the Official Plan Amendment 42, Schedule 10. Parks are then further separated into neighbourhood (small), community (medium) and regional (large) parks; this distinction is also seen in the city’s Zoning Bylaw, which separates conservation land (P.1 zone) from the various types of parkland (P.2, P.3, and P.4 zones).

Conservation land, on the other hand, consists of unprogrammed green spaces that preserve the City’s natural heritage system — particularly, wetlands, significant woodlots, and river valley lands. No development (including park development) is permitted in wetlands, and an Official Plan Amendment is required to build within significant woodlots.

It’s clear from the documentation — the Strategic Master Plan, the Official Plan, and the Zoning Bylaw — that there is a clear and distinct separation between parkland and conservation land. It’s also clear that we need to build and maintain both types of green space if we truly do value the benefits that green spaces bring to our community.

Up next: How much parkland do we really have?

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