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Prince's Island Park draws thousands of visitors throughout the year. They come to the downtown regional park to use the pathways, watch the birds, spend a quiet afternoon by the river and attend special events.
In fact, Greater Prince's Island - from Memorial Drive in the north to 2nd Avenue in the south and from the west side of Louise Bridge to the east side of Centre Street - is among the busiest spots in the city. The average daily volumes of pathway use in 1994 ranged from 2,500 to more than 3,500, compared to an average of less than 1,500 citywide.
The six major annual festivals at the site also contribute to its popularity. Carifest, Canada Day, Calgary Folk Music Festival, Heritage Day, Afrikadey, and Barbeque on the Bow attracted about 150,000 visitors in 1996.
The number of park visits has soared over the years and is expected to increase. For example, about 60,000 people attended Canada Day, Heritage Day and Barbeque on the Bow in 1993, compared to 101,000 attending the same three events in 1996. The projected population growth for Calgary predicts the number of residents will increase from 767,059 in 1996 to about 1.25 million by 2024, including substantial growth in the inner city.
"As the city grows and develops, obviously there are different pressures put on different parts of the city," says Richard White of the Calgary Downtown Association, a member of the Public Steering Committee (PSC) looking into the future of the park. "Prince's Island, that area around there, is changing," he adds, pointing out development that has already occurred such as new condominiums.
City Council has directed Calgary Parks and Recreation to facilitate a master plan for Greater Prince's Island Park and the PSC is in the process of gathering information and developing a vision for the future. The committee includes representation from surrounding communities, arts and festival groups, and other stakeholders as well as three citizens at large.
White says the goal is to develop a vision based on input from stakeholders, then come up with a plan for the park's future.
According to business analyst Joe Pavelka of the Calgary Parks and Recreation planning section, Phase I of the process, which is currently under way, will look at all aspects of the park and its users, then decide what the park is going to be in the future. Phase I includes: background analysis - policies, site plans, festival activity, maintenance, etc.; issues identification - site programming, infrastructure, wildlife integration, user profile, life cycle / safety, etc.; market analysis - festival use, pedestrian use, booked events and casual use; and bio-physical analysis - existing conditions, environmental significance, etc.
The next step is a demand analysis, which will determine the impact of city growth at increments of five, 15 and 25 years, including casual and pedestrian use, festival events and attendance, residential growth, and other factors. Based on the demand analysis, the PSC will develop a vision statement, solicit feedback at a public open house this fall, then take it to council.
Public input is being gathered through several methods - three public open houses have already been held, intercept interviews of users are being conducted on site, and surrounding communities are being surveyed. "We're going through a very formal process," says White. "We want it to be as inclusive as possible."
Although several issues are being explored, festivals are an obvious concern. A survey designed for community groups asks whether residents support: a) More festivals; b) Capping festivals at the existing size and number; c) Restricting festivals to smaller events (ie. Shakespeare in the Park); d) Sharing festivals with other parks in the city; e) Eliminating festivals from Prince's Island; or f) Other. Additional questions inquire about festival noise and parking. The survey also asks residents about their vision of the kind of park it should be in the future, whether or not there should be more amenities such as skating or pleasure boat activities, what type of pathways are preferred, and how often they visit the island.
Kevin McKendrick, a PSC member representing the Calgary Professional Arts Alliance (CPAA), which includes arts and festival groups, says the open houses indicated there is strong support for festivals.
From the CPAA's viewpoint, McKendrick says people who choose to live in the inner city next to a busy central park area should expect it to generate periodic noise and traffic. "It would be like moving to the airport and complaining about the airplanes." He also points out that there are only six events per year which generate high attendance levels.
At the same time, he acknowledges that the park was not initially designed for such activities and sympathizes with the concerns of surrounding communities about noise and traffic.
McKendrick hopes the committee can find a way for festivals and residents to coexist. "Prince's Island Park and the activities that go on there are the reason we have such a vibrant downtown."
Druh Farrell, who sits on the PSC as representative of the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association, says there are several issues involved and they all impact the community as many residents use the park. She confirms that festivals are among them and agrees that inner city residents should expect a certain level of intense activity, but adds that parking problems and noise are a serious problem.
However, Farrell stresses that festivals are not Hillhurst-Sunnyside's main interest. "I think our number one concern as a community is that the park remain as natural, or as passive, as possible."
The association welcomes the current initiative and had requested such action take place due to concerns about lack of input and proper planning in development issues. "We don't really have an opinion of what we want out of this thing yet.... We want to just listen and try to work together to find a really good plan for the island that we can all live with. And I'm sure that we'll all have to compromise, and we're willing to do that."
Arnold Van Gastel of the Eau Claire community declined to comment.
All parties interviewed have one thing in common - they are optimistic about the process and about the park's future.
"I've been happy as a representative of the arts community by the degree of consensus at the table," says McKendrick.
"We want to give this a chance," comments Farrell, who adds that she feels very positive about the initiative.
White says the PSC is open-minded and will examine all input and options in its effort to come up with creative solutions, including looking at how other cities have met similar challenges.
"Everybody has their idea of what the park should be," White says. "Our job is not to create the park for any one group or individual, but to try and understand what the community's interest is in using this park."
Phase II of the process, which is expected to occur early in 1998, will include the development of alternate design plans for the park based on the vision, followed by public review and a recommendation to council.
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