Improving the McDonald Park Neighbourhood

Recently, the City of Kamloops has announced that it will be working with partners to construct affordable housing on Tranquille Road and Victoria Street West.  These homes will provide housing to people with various needs from those simply needing an affordable place to live to those that have a number of concurrent health issues that require more support.  Predictably there has been a backlash to this proposed development along with concern over the mobile safe injection site.

As I have said before, I am quite supportive of the affordable housing project on Tranquille and the safe injection site.  I believe everyone has a right to housing and that location matters if we want transformative change to our housing, addictions, and poverty issues in Kamloops.  I think it also offers an opportunity to keep some of the issues we’ve faced in our neighbourhood more contained and controlled in a way that benefits all residents and businesses.  The Tranquille corridor is ideally situated for affordable housing.  I think there is also an opportunity to improve the urban design of the corridor and create value for the rest of Tranquille.

However, the recent event have spurred me to think about how we could improve the McDonald Park neighbourhood.  According to this article (https://www.kamloopsthisweek.com/affordable-housing-project-brings-north-shore-residents-together-opposition/) it appears that the McDonald Park Neighbourhood Association, which has not done anything for the last couple of years, will restart with the aim of ensuring better communication with the City on matters related to the affordable housing and safe injection.  This is likely a good step but the last time I went to a meeting of the Neighbourhood Association, they verbally beat up a City of Kamloops representative for having the audacity of showing drawings for a proposed community garden.

There are a lot of positive things going on in our neighbourhood despite the challenges we have faced an I think there are opportunities to build off of these.  In this regard, I wanted to share a few ideas that the McDonald Park Neighbourhood Association and/or the City could consider focusing on to maybe create a more livable neighbourhood

Add more sidewalks – we have a lack of sidewalks in our neighbourhood. While this is a historical legacy of not having installed a stormwater system and curb and gutter when the neighbourhood was built, this does make the pedestrian environment more dangerous which is too bad because it is an easily walkable neighbourhood due to the flat land and grid streets.  While it would likely be cost prohibitive to put sidewalks on all of the streets, there are two areas where they are absolutely necessary, albeit for potentially self-serving reasons.

The first is on the south side of Mackenzie Avenue.  Mackenzie Avenue is a transit corridor, collector road, and connects to Norkam Secondary School and McArthur Island and in general is a fairly busy road.  Traffic speeds and volumes are high and motorists don’t stop for pedestrians.  You may say that it’s being lazy not to cross the road, but how many people are going to cross a busy road twice to get to their bus stop or to complete a walk that is only a couple of blocks?  I know this is not a cheap fix but it’s a necessary one.

The second area for a new sidewalk is a simple little extension to the sidewalk on Royal Avenue to cover the bend to Thrupp.  This is a blind corner that motorists often cut through despite the paint markings and they often take this corner at high speeds.  This is an area where there are lots of families that walk to McDonald Park.  In this instance, we are only talking about 20 – 50 metres of sidewalk but it would make a big difference to safety in that area.

thrupp

Adopt lower maximum speed limits – many communities are adopting 25 – 30 km/h maximum speeds on local roads to make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. While the move would be somewhat symbolic as you won’t necessarily have police setting up speed traps on local roads looking for offenders, it does send a message that streets are for all people, not just people driving vehicles.  This is particularly important in our neighbourhood where there are a lot of pedestrians and few sidewalks.  Combined with this, the City should start making the paved widths of local roads in the neighbourhood much narrower as they upgrade infrastructure.  There are a lot of studies that suggest if you make roads narrower, then speeds will slow.  It would offer more space for pedestrians on the shoulder of the road and would also make it cheaper for operations and maintenance in the future.

Provide school bus service – the McDonald Park neighbourhood is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Kamloops but also is one of the most livable for lower income families with kids, with one key exception – there are no public elementary schools that can be safely walked to since the School District unfortunately closed John Todd Elementary. Regardless of what school kids attend, they must cross Fortune Drive which is one of the busiest streets in Kamloops.  While we are fortunate to have the Boys and Girls Club PowerStart program providing some bus service for kids, we need something where the financing is more secure and the service can be offered to all kids so that access to school is assured.

Do something with the old Thrupp Manor site – my understanding is that the City bought Thrupp Manor a number of years ago and tore it down. It actually made sense because the building was a health hazard due to flooding issues.  The lot has not sat vacant for the better part of ten years now and is fenced off.  It now looks fairly neglected with the City going in occasionally to take down the weeds.  I don’t know if there is an opportunity to create a park to integrate with the Rivers Trail or sell the land off for new housing, or something that takes advantage of riverfront access, but ideas should be explored for this site.

Manor

Vitalize McDonald Park – I always contend that McDonald Park itself is a jewel in Kamloops. With a meandering pathway and numerous older trees, it is a beautiful spot.  Over the last 15 years or so the City has done some great work to bring more activity into the park.  The development of a new spray park has brought a lot more people into the park than the pool ever did (though the communication around that process was a bit clunky and the SNAFU with the wading pool is still a sore point as there should have been clarity sought on whether a new wading pool could even be built before the pool was removed).  The pickleball courts, community garden and gazebo with the occasional Music in the Park act have also brought people into the park and more activity.  My cousin’s kids came up to visit and they loved the park.    McDonald Park

However, we must recognize that the park is too large to be just for the neighbourhood which creates the vacuum for a lot of less desirable activity.  We need to think of it as a community-wide asset that draws people from across the city.  From an infrastructure perspective, I’d like to see the City replace and relocate the old changerooms as the current location and design creates a lot of dead space in the park.  I’d also like to see the basketball courts resurfaced and consideration for McDonald Park being the home of an outdoor refrigerated rink if that proposal ever gets off the ground.

To generate more activity in the park, I’d like to see encouragement given to hosts of smaller events such as charity walks to consider using McDonald Park to take advantage of a great setting and access to the Rivers Trail.  Perhaps someone could start a 3-on-3 outdoor basketball league in the summer or the grass volleyball league could be moved there.  We could get better acts for Music in the Park and perhaps have more events such as the outdoor movies.

Finally, we should also consider having social workers posted in the park in the summer to provide outreach to people that hang out in the park.

Vitalize Spirit Square – Spirit Square was built at a time when the provincial government had funding available for community squares where people could gather. Many communities jumped on this program and that is why there are Spirit Squares throughout BC.  Unfortunately, our version of the Spirit Square, while a well-designed spot with some interesting things in it has never really taken off.  It’s kind of in an island of its own and is awkwardly located behind buildings.  When it first opened, there was a farmers market there but it never got busy enough to attract people to set up there.  It really needs an adjacent commercial use that can take advantage of the public space so that people can have coffee or eat a meal there as well as some activities such as music, plays, or barbeques.  The purchase and tear down of the house next to the Square hopefully provides an opportunity to put a complementary use there.

Spirit SquareExtend the Rivers Trail to be along the river – this is my pipe dream but I would like the City to purchase all of the houses along the river on Royal Avenue to extend the Rivers Trail to actually be along the river. It would be pretty awesome to take this all the way to Overlanders Park.  The City could purchase the land, take what they need for the trail and resell the remaining land for mid-density housing.  However, with the recent spate of construction of monster homes on Royal Avenue, this may be impossible in the near to mid-future but would have been a neat opportunity.

These aren’t revolutionary ideas but they would require a significant investment.  In addition to what’s listed above, we need more reasons for residents of our neighbourhood to gather and get to know each other in fun ways, and not always as part of a ‘fight’.

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