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60 Howard Street

Equipment by Earthscape, Kompan.

Surface: rubber.

There’s a certain type of playground popping up in Toronto’s downtown neighbourhoods that I’m not sure how to feel about. You might call them “compliance playgrounds” or perhaps “Section 42 playgrounds.”

According to the City of Toronto’s website, “Section 42 of the Planning Act allows the City of Toronto to harness growth by requiring all new development to contribute to the expansion and enhancement of the City’s parks and open space system.” Basically, if a developer wants to build a condo (which is all developers want to do in Toronto these days) they have to dedicate a certain percentage of the site to parkland. That percentage varies depending on where exactly the site is located within the city, but to put it simply, the more units a developer wants to build, the more parkland they are required to create.

It’s hard to argue that this is a bad thing. Developers should have an obligation to improve the neighbourhoods in which they build, and parkland is a good way to do that.

But there is a certain feeling of “bare minimum-ism” to these playgrounds that bothers me just a bit. It’s like the feeling you get at a wedding reception that gives you one drink ticket, but then it’s a cash bar after that. I mean, you’re grateful, but slightly bitter at the same time.

June Callwood Park, which we visited recently is one example, and the newly-opened playground at 60 Howard Street is another.

Sitting behind the imposing “Via Bloor” condo, the playground at 60 Howard Street (permanent name to be determined) definitely has its upside. The small but beautiful climbing structure by Earthscape is reason enough to visit; my kids spent most of their time inside it, imagining that it was everything from a castle to a restaurant. There’s a nice swing by Kompan which, when you lie flat in it, gives you the unsettling feeling that the condo is about to fall on you. There also appears to be a small splash pad, although it wasn’t in operation when we visited.

However, evidence of corner-cutting were easy to spot. An example: there are several signs directed at adults outlining stretches and exercises, but no actual equipment to do them on. Instead, users are expected to use the benches or picnic tables for these activities. Which, as you can imagine, could get a bit awkward if anyone was using the benches or picnic tables as, you know, benches or picnic tables.

So again, I’m not here to look down on the City for its attempts to make developers contribute to the community. But it’s disappointing when the parks this system creates feel like window dressing; the park equivalent of condo presentation centres themselves, easy on the eye but upon closer inspection, sadly lacking in practicality.

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