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Shops at Don Mills

Equipment by Kompan, Dynamo.

Surface: rubberized woodchips.

Because most malls surround themselves with parking lots, it’s unusual to find a playground in such close proximity to a shopping centre.

But then again, the Shops at Don Mills was designed to be an unusual shopping centre.

Imagined as a way to make a trip to the mall more palatable – a low bar, but a noble goal – this North York shopping centre does feel more welcoming than most of the malls found in Toronto’s inner suburbs. Instead of being entirely indoors, the shops open onto small streets that feature diagonal parking, reminiscent of a small-town main street. Instead of a food court, some cafes face a central square, a modest patch of artificial turf where small children can often be seen running free.

This is all nice, and definitely preferable to a traditional mall for mall-hating grumps like me.

However, the placement of this playground feels like a real misstep.

Rather than being in the central square, the playground is well away from the action, bordering the Donway; well away from most of the foot traffic generated by the Shops. It’s a nice little spot with some pleasant landscaping, but it feels like the kind of green space that appears when a developer is mandated to set aside a certain square footage for green space. An afterthought. Why not make it part of the central plaza?

I’m sure there’s a rational explanation for this (after all, parts of this area are still under construction) but my impression is that this “re-imagining” of this part of Don Mills – famously Toronto’s first planned neighbourhood – isn’t a master plan so much as a vague lifestyle idea whose planning has been sub-contracted out to developers, with predictably mediocre results.

Uh oh, I’m starting to sound like an old grump again. Better talk about the playground.

There’s some good rope climbing to be had here, all fairly low to the ground, and one of Kompan’s Bloqx climbers that isn’t super high but somehow always makes me nervous. A big saucer swing, two and three-person see-saws, and a highly unimpressive stand-alone slide.

The built-in seating is a nice touch, and like most new condo developments, the place was immaculately clean. On our after-school visit, there was a toddler giggling it up on the swing, my two kids scrambling up the climber, and some high school kids talking about that morning’s essay over on the rope climber. And if a park brings together multiple generations like that, it’s good, right?

Yeah. It’s fine. I’m glad it’s there, and hopefully many families in those condos that are still under construction will get use out of it. But it could have been more. I mean, the park doesn’t even have a name. There was no sign visible, and it shows up on Google as “Toronto Public Park.”

Sorry. I will put my grumpiness away now.

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