Brownfield-to-greenfield conversions offer many challenges for planners and architects – but how these become embedded in the social fabric of a community is a completely different story.
The story of this Toronto Halloween tradition is also the story of how a seemingly trivial decision on City vehicles’ parking allocation spurred the creation of a popular local park, and how events grow organically from the strong sense of community the park evokes.
In the early 1990’ies, the residents of Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood objected strongly to the City’s decision of allocating overnight parking for its garbage trucks to a local site previously used as a garage for city busses. The area was in dire need of green space and the community therefore proposed building a park ‘on top’ of the concrete pad of the parking lot. Created from a very limited budget but on extensive community volunteering and support, Sorauren Park was inaugurated in 1995 for the enjoyment of the many residents of this West Toronto neighbourhood.
Despite its small size, Sorauren Park sports two five-a-sides soccer fields, two tennis courts, a dog off-leash area, and a baseball diamond. The baseball diamond is surrounded by a swale which also functions to manage surface water run-off and doubles as an ice skating rink in the winter. The park is wonderfully landscaped, a gravelled footpath runs along the edges of the park has benches donated by individuals and local businesses alike, and there’s water posts for people as well their four-legged companions.
A small fieldhouse is a great setting for community events which spans from a weekly farmer’s market and yoga classes to private birthday parties and the monthly meetings for the park’s ‘friends of’ community group, called the Wabash Building Society.
The park is extremely popular with residents of all ages and draws scores of visitors from neighbouring areas too. People meet and chat and socialise while their dogs run loose in the off-leash area or their kids play Little League baseball. Friendships are formed, information is shared. Others play tennis, while others still sit on one of the benches reading or watching the spectacle going on in the park. And there’s always something going on! Not only did the residents of Roncesvalles initiate and realize the creation of this park, they continuously support and invigorate its ‘life’ by using and reinventing uses in the park. One of such ‘new’ uses of the park is the annual Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade.
In 2007, Colleen Kennedy, a local resident, took the initiative to suggest doing a display in the park of the neighbourhood’s jack-o-lanterns on the evening after Halloween. The event was an instant success and the park was adorned by some 120 pumpkin lanterns on the first year of the parade.
Since then, the Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade has become a much-loved annual tradition and the number of pumpkins has increased many fold – this year almost 2000 pumpkins are expected to be displayed in the park. The parade attracts thousands of visitors from all over Toronto and has inspired other communities to initiate their own pumpkin parade in their local park or street.
The parade is so popular and attracts so much attention that it has almost become “a pumpkin carvers convention” as one local observer puts it. ‘Old fashioned’ jack-o-lanterns sit next to ones almost overly artistic as well as pumpkins carved with political statements.
Despite its popularity, the Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade has remained true to its original idea of being about neighbourhood kinship and artistic and personal expression – there are no hotdog vendors or concession stands, and there are no competitions or prizes to be won. The only commercial enterprise being the pre-Halloween pumpkin sale at the Fieldhouse which helps raise funds for the Wabash Building Society’s (the park’s ‘friends of’ group) efforts to acquire the adjacent derelict factory building and convert it to a community centre.
Another appealing feature of the citywide pumpkin parades are that – in recognition of their popularity – the City of Toronto collect the pumpkins, which amass to many tonnes, and make sure these are composted correctly. So the pumpkin parades of Toronto are organic events in more sense than one; people coalescing unprompted to create a community event displaying their Halloween pumpkins, and at the same time strengthening the social fabric of the neighbourhood, while the City has responded reasonably sympathetically to ensure that the ‘organic matter’ of the event stays part of the natural cycle. It’s almost frighteningly perfect…!
Happy Halloween to all!
All pumpkin parade photos courtesy of Hamish Grant.