The Urban Park at Louis Street

A sneak peek of the plan that will create a new focal point in downtown Peterborough

Picture this: a central location for New Year’s Eve and Canada Day celebrations, skating in winter, an interactive water feature in the dog days of August, a weekly farmers’ market, art shows, a performance stage for concerts, cultural events, space for antique shows and flea markets, a playground, an interactive chess/checker board, plenty of greenspace, a community oven, and more— all with parking nearby and within one block of a public transit hub.

While this picture might bring the urban square at Yonge and Dundas to mind, this is actually much closer to home. The “Urban Park”, as envisioned by City of Peterborough’s Urban Design Planner Brian Buchardt, will be located on Charlotte Street at Louis Street, the current home to — well, it’s just a parking lot right now.

The City is calling for public input at a meeting on May 9th at the Peterborough Public Library to review the plans and potential uses, and to provide input for, the Urban Park.

The Louis Street parking lot at the corner of Charlotte and Alymer Streets is the proposed site for the Urban Park  (photo: City of Peterborough)
The Louis Street parking lot at the corner of Charlotte and Alymer Streets is the proposed site for the Urban Park (photo: City of Peterborough)
Despite being merely a parking lot, the Louis Street site gets a lot of seasonal use by the weekly Downtown Farmers' Market (photo: City of Peterborough)
Despite being merely a parking lot, the Louis Street site gets a lot of seasonal use by the weekly Downtown Farmers' Market (photo: City of Peterborough)

KawarthaNOW writers first saw the plan at the DBIA Breakfast Meeting in March, where Brian presented his slideshow to a group of downtown businesses. My interest was piqued, as I had the pleasure of working with Brian well over a decade ago on the Otonabee River Trail Project (now commonly known as Millennium Park).

I was chair of the fundraising committee that sought sponsorships for some elements of the project. I’m proud to say the Otonabee River Trail Project saw the creation of The Boathouse building (that houses the Silver Bean), extensive shoreline restoration from Simcoe Street south to King, interpretive panels that tell the story of our waterfront, and the development of trails tying into the long-term master plan for Little Lake. It was a project for which many future generations will be thankful.

So I’ve already seen Brian’s brilliance at work. His quiet approach to a long-term vision for the city’s core is inspiring, particularly given the challenges of these projects that require mega-budgets and Council and staff endorsements.

This truly is visionary planning: identifying and carving out niche areas with potential for a specific urban use, building it, and having the confidence to believe that “if we build it, they will come”. It’s like bringing together a symphony of political agreement and vision over a period of many years — and then finding the funding and resources to make it happen.

Brian’s vision has affected our day-to-day lives more than we are aware, whenever we head out to lunch or for an after-work aperitif. When he conceived of the “Cafe District” on Hunter Street, I’m sure that were some quiet doubters. But build it they did and yes, we do come. More businesses flock to the area all the time as it grows to the east and west and into the backlot, where patios and decks create an oasis for a quiet lunch or drink.

The City of Peterborough's model plan for the Urban Park at the Louis Street site (graphic: City of Peterborough)
The City of Peterborough's model plan for the Urban Park at the Louis Street site (graphic: City of Peterborough)
Aerial view of the proposed Urban Park design, looking south in the winter (graphic: City of Peterborough)
Aerial view of the proposed Urban Park design, looking south in the winter (graphic: City of Peterborough)

The vision for the Urban Park is more impressive than either of these previous projects. The City is envisioning the park as a public square with multiple intended uses, over all four seasons and with literally the entire community in mind. Imagine that symphony again — playing not just to the present but to future generations.

The City has identified several key strengths in this location. They include:

  • Strategic development opportunities
  • Municipal ownership of the existing lot
  • Short-term development horizon
  • Existing programming — market, other events
  • Future redevelopment of surrounding area (catalytic effect)
  • Transit and pedestrian access
  • Available parking in King Street Parking Garage
  • Frontage and access on Charlotte, King, and Aylmer Streets

I have no doubt that the Urban Park will proceed largely as planned. They will build it, and we will come — for many decades. Businesses will thrive in this neighbourhood and our focal point for events and community will undoubtedly shift to this new gathering place. And Brian Buchardt will move on to his next urban planning vision and quietly begin the process again.

Programs and activities that could take place at the proposed Urban Park, including small to large special events, recreational activities, commercial events, green space, and other amenities (graphic: City of Peterborough)
Programs and activities that could take place at the proposed Urban Park, including small to large special events, recreational activities, commercial events, green space, and other amenities (graphic: City of Peterborough)