The New Oppenheimer Park

September 1, 2010

Locals lost a year of access to notorious, drug-plagued Oppenheimer Park while designers worked (with $1.8 million from the city) to build something brighter. The landscape architects at Space 2 Place, teamed with architectural firm MGB, ripped out all the elements they felt contributed to the park’s dangers, including the abandoned playground and ramshackle activity centre. After much consultation—including talks with the Japanese community, the abutting seniors’ centre, the nearby Buddhist temple, First Nations groups, and police—the reclamation plan was set in motion. Throughout, there remained one paramount question: is it possible to design away misery?



➊ The old field house was originally a domestic space for the park’s caretaker. Ad hoc additions had resulted in a fortified mass of masonry, full of corners where people injected drugs. Three satellite workers from the Carnegie Centre worked there in cramped quarters.


➋ A fence lined much of the perimeter, creating sheltered zones that facilitated drug trade, especially in the park’s southwest corner. Now the border is permeable and open to scrutiny by residents and passersby.


➌ The park had evolved from a sports field to a social space. The famed Japanese team Asahi once played here, but contemporary games would send baseballs into the street, a hazard for locals. Public art commemorating the Asahi team is forthcoming.


➍ The playground was once set in sand that mothers wouldn’t let children play in—needles were buried in it. Solution? The new playground has a soft rubber surface that shows everything.


➎ Standing water, it was thought, would lead to unwanted public bathing. A hand pump in the playground, with water running through a short river and dam system, solves the problem while adding to play activities.


➏ A cherry-lined boulevard was installed, highlighting a new diagonal path that increases access. Low shrubbery and vegetable gardens were done away with, since they’re perfect for hiding drug stashes.


➐ The new 2,000-square-foot activity centre is transparent and ovoid, which means no people lurking in dark corners. Carnegie Centre staff now have an office with broad windows overlooking the park.


➑ Architect Steve McFarlane says the toilets were a massive exercise in consultation. A hundred details were considered: men’s and women’s toilets are as far apart as possible; toilet partitions are 18 inches off the ground, so unconscious patrons can be spotted; and the door to the men’s room (adjacent to the windowed staff area) is designed to stay open without sacrificing privacy.

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