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Urban Compass Calgary

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The recreational applications of parking lots

In a growing city, we need to make use of open spaces

From hockey to bike riding, parking lots have a lot of potential for kids starved of space.

Torstar News File

From hockey to bike riding, parking lots have a lot of potential for kids starved of space.

Should children be allowed to play in parking lots—learning to ride bikes with their parents, say, or flicking a wrist shot?

For those who live in condos and other housing with shared parking lots, it’s not an abstract question.

People have wildly different expectations on what and/or who should occupy these common spaces, and this gulf in perspectives can create tension.

On one hand, there is my neighbor who, when I was recently teaching my five-year-old son to play hockey in our (mostly empty) parking lot, ran out to give us a proper net.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic, as Calgarian Brett Bergie discovered last week. She sometimes rides her bike with her seven-year-old son in their condo parking lot, and last week got a letter.

“The Board of Directors has received reports of a child or children associated with your unit playing in the parking areas,” said the letter. “We kindly request and appreciate your attention to ensure this does not continue.”

After some digging, the family learned that the letter was actually intended for parents of an unattended child who’d almost been hit by a car. The driver had complained to the condo board.

Such conflicts are not unusual. Earlier this year, this issue came up, briefly, in our condo complex. On a community Facebook group, a resident posted that parents shouldn’t let their play in the parking lots. She worried that a kid would get hurt or killed.

Others disagreed (I stayed out of it, honest!), arguing that kids have as much right to be there as anyone, and that drivers should slow down and take extra care.
Emotions got heated and the moderator swiftly, and perhaps wisely, snuffed out the discussion before it turned into a conflagration.

Condo politics aside, our society wants it both ways when it comes to kids and play.

On one hand, there’s nostalgia for the days when children roamed free. On social media and elsewhere, there’s endless tut-tutting about helicopter parenting and over-programming of kids—not to mention the hours they spend indoors in front of screens.

At the same time, people express concern when children play on or near streets, whether in a bike lane or a parking area. There’s an expectation that kids should be controlled and corralled, kept somewhere safer.

We want the good old days of street hockey back, but without any actual kids playing on actual asphalt.

This dilemma will keep coming up in Calgary and elsewhere.

As the city evolves, we’ll have to reimagine not just streets, but also common spaces such as residential parking areas. Using huge expanses of pavement exclusively for storing cars is inefficient. With better design and forethought, such areas can be better used—and safer, too.

It should tell us something when children are bent on animating the lifeless spaces adults have created.

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