GUEST COLUMN: Think big on Centennial Park design

David Lavender

Because quality of life is elevated by intelligent design, Sarnia should offer an open competition for the redesign of Centennial Park.

The major expenditure required for the park’s reconstruction offers the city an unprecedented opportunity to consider Centennial Park as THE Centennial Project, and to execute a thoughtful, creative, and comprehensive legacy design for the next 100 years.

Parks are for people. Parks are the counter-balance to the urban environment and offer a wide variety of natural opportunities for individual renewal and community celebrations.

This fundamental component is sadly under developed in the current “first pass” proposal, which calls for berms, plantings, adding more(?!) parking, a fairly light revision to public amenities, and recognition of the current Centennial Project.  In this Centennial Year, Centennial Park, and the community it serves, deserve better.

Community and financial support for the Centennial Legacy Project has been weak since its approval by City Council in November 2012.  Continued downsizing may reflect the limited and seasonal use of a splash pad and fireplace, and the pay-as-you go nature of a pavilion that duplicates the Dow People Place.  All run counter to the 24/7/365 open accessibility of parks.

Over the past several decades, the value of municipal waterfronts has been proven across the world by substantial municipal investments. The creation of Centennial and Canatara Park, along with the continuing growth of bicycle trails in Sarnia and St. Clair Township represent the best effort to date.

Parks play a significant role in the Official Plan (notably Item 2: Principles for a Vibrant City), and Lambton County’s development objectives for attracting residents, business, tourism and rebranding the community.

Expanding the planning context to take in all of Centennial Park, the Point Lands and Harbour, and reinforcing connections to Canatara Park, the Blue Water Bridge (so what if it’s in Point Edward, think “County”!), and relationships to residential and commercial facilities would create a more substantial park “system.”

The Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) offers guidelines for conducting design charrettes that engage the community by soliciting ideas and transforming them into a design program suitable for engaging professional services.

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) (and soon the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects) offer guidelines for conducting architectural competitions through an open Endorsed Competition to attract the creativity of the best professional design talent with the structure, fairness, and compensation necessary to obtain a design that maximizes the park’s full potential.

David Lavender is a local architect with an international practice. Contact him at info@davidlavenderarchitect.com or follow him at @LavenderArch and on Facebook at David Lavender Architect.