Frank Oliver Park’s flowerbeds and manicured shrubs are a brief square of colour opening the vista of the Hotel Macdonald. It’s accessible to Edmonton’s many residents and visitors. And it’s for sale.
It may come as a shock, but like the Melcor-owned park on 102 St. and Jasper, or the proposed urban balcony project in the Quarters, Frank Oliver Park is an example of private property posing as a public space.
When ProCura bought it from the Fairmont, in 2009, chief operations officer Randy Ferguson said that it should never be blocked by a tower. Today, judging from the sign for a future development on it, there’s nothing holding ProCura to that earlier promise. Grant Pearsell, director of parks and biodiversity with the City of Edmonton, says if the park space disappeared it would work to find replacement space, but that does nothing to protect the glorious view of the Hotel Mac from Jasper Ave.
As downtown redevelopment takes hold, and land prices increase, Pearsell says the City is looking to relationships with private developers to ensure park space is provided. Most recently, it worked with NorQuest in its redevelopment to include park space. “That’s a way to make our dollars stretch further.”
But finding green space is always more difficult in the heart of Edmonton. Municipal urban planners calculate the amount of necessary park area at 1.4 hectares per thousand people, and they take into account private park spaces. But what happens when those spaces are developed? asks Justin Keats, DECL’s former garden director, who is now with the OCL. “We need more of a guarantee these spaces can be around longer.”
The OCL knows first-hand how difficult it is to navigate private parks and land swaps. The community’s Peace Garden Park has moved three times since 2009. The City owns the land the garden now occupies, and leases the space to the OCL for free.
“Parks are integral to our health and to reconnect with nature within the hustle of the city,” says Keats. “We need to be able to spend more time emphasizing what these spaces do for people. And you can’t always put a dollar value on this type of thing.”