By Sammy Schuck
One positive thing that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is an appreciation for and attention to outdoor spaces, particularly parks, according to Windsor senior parks manager James Chacko.
The attention to parks is demonstrated by the city’s recent $1 million (USD $801,705) investment in 14 parks.
What makes it an investment and not just an expense?
According to Ward 8 Councillor Gary Kaschak, “Anytime you spend money on your community, I feel that that’s an investment into the community. I think it’s an investment in improving people’s quality of life and an expense on the city from a standpoint that they’re spending tax dollars wisely to invest in the community.”
The money is dedicated to improving lighting at parks, an important component in ensuring people maximize park use, especially as the days get shorter, Chacko said.
Windsor has 204 parks, 14 of which were selected to receive either updated or new lighting for the first time. “One of the big projects on this list is to add lighting starting at the Ambassador Bridge heading east,” Chacko said.
So, what spurred the large investment in lighting?
Part of it stems from the parks department’s master plan, which helps to determine what should go into each park. Lighting is a big component of that, Chacko said.
According to the 20-year master plan, the top amenities that city residents want are “trails, nice and accessible, and to be able to get around and use our parks, trees” and lighting “for people to feel safe and welcome on those trails,” he said.
Park Style and Number of Lights
|Polonia||18 solar lights|
|Remington||30 solar lights|
|Forest Glade||26 traditional LED lights|
|Langlois/Southdale||6 solar lights and 34 traditional LED lights|
|Bridgeview||9 traditional LED lights|
|Riverfront||27 traditional LED lights|
|Bellewood||7 traditional LED lights|
|Optimist Memorial||5 solar lights|
|Maple Leaf||12 solar lights|
|Esdras||3 solar lights|
|Shawnee||1 solar light|
|Tranby||11 traditional LED light|
|Riverside Baseball Park||7 traditional LED lights|
|Walker Homesite||15 solar lights|
Table depicting the 14 parks that received new lighting. Source: City of Windsor
The master plan drove the new spending on lighting, he said. Additionally, COVID has had an impact over the past 16 to 18 months.”
Kaschak, who sits on the city council’s Environment, Transportation & Public Safety Committee, also noted the effects of the pandemic. With the original COVID scare in March April and May 2020, the city realized “we need to get people outside, away from computers, a mental health-type situation.”
Kaschak said “We’ve seen a little bit more people walking on the streets, that walkability, bicycle riding ability, also using parks and community amenities.”
“That’s a big factor because, at the end of the day, it affected the health care system,” Kaschak says, adding, “If everyone sits too long, they start getting circulation issues or putting on too much weight.”
Chacko said the new lighting will advance the overall goal of helping “make the city a livable, viable, great place to be.”
Tat’s because parks play a “small but important role in that overall viewpoint of how to make Windsor an attractive and great livable city,” Chacko said.
Kaschak said it’s important that municipalities do more than provide just the basics. Rather, it’s important to have societies that are active and walkable. “What we’re trying to encourage is more and more use of our city parks, even in the evening.”
When Windsor created its master plan, it observed what other municipalities were doing, especially comparable cities such as Toronto that get similar requests. Lighting is a big request, and certainly they seem to be undertaking the same kind of projects,” according to Chacko.
By seeing what other parks had and didn’t have, people were inspired to request amenities based on what they saw.
“Certainly during COVID, we’ve seen more requests for additional trails, for additional upgrades to the park spaces,” he said.
Ultimately, the city wants to maximize park use, Chacko said,
And a sense of safety is an important component of park use.
Chacko said users “like availability or that sense of seeing the lighting to provide that extra level of safety.”
Kaschak also noted another important part of the investment: “These types of light are good from an emission standpoint and an energy reduction standpoint” because they are solar and LED-type that use less or no electricity.
Kaschak tied the project to reaching emission reduction goals, saying, “It’s a good situation moving forward in what we’re trying to achieve with less and less emissions and get down to some of those targets that are coming — 2035, 2050, away from heavy-duty power and combustion engines.”
About 50% of Windsor lights are energy-efficient, according to Kaschak.
Parks also strengthen community-building by providing access to open spaces and a connection with the community,” Chacko said.
The department used three criteria to select parks for the project: whether existing lighting needed replacement, whether the park was undergoing redevelopment or if there was a grassroots community effort to obtain new lighting, according to Chacko.
For example, Polonia Park wouldn’t have normally received lighting if it weren’t for a community-driven, grassroots campaign and public feedback to its ward councillor, Chacko said.
Polonia Park is in Kaschak’s ward, and he said some residents appreciated its new playground equipment and walking path but complained about “too many people congregating, whether it’s young people or gangs or potential mischievous makers, in the parks at night. There’s no lighting to show where they’re at.”
In response to the complaints, Kaschak said, “I looked at a few parks in my ward, and basically said they’re right. A lot of the parks have a light at the entrance and exit, but nothing in between, so from a public safety standpoint we decided, let’s move this to a little more safe and efficient way.”
Projects are completed or underway at three-fourths of the parks. The rest are slated to be completed next spring, according to Chacko.
Asked about the possibility of expanding the project if it’s successful, Chacko said, the department is building its 2022 budget, including a request to upgrade lighting in some parks and adding lighting to parks that have trails but no lights.
“At the end of the day, it’s really exciting to see people passionately engage with and want to see improvements in public spaces,” Chacko said.