Vancouver suffers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to green spaces. There are, of course, the heavy hitters: 1,000-acre Stanley Park, the magnificently landscaped Queen Elizabeth Park and VanDusen Botanical Garden, among others. But the Vancouver Park Board maintains more than 200 separate properties across the city, including many, many gems that get relatively little attention but are dearly loved by in-the-know Vancouverites. Among my favorite is a half-block oasis of green amidst the new high-rises of Yaletown: Emery Barnes Park, at the intersection of Davie and Richards Streets.
Now, there is no shortage of parks in Yaletown: In fact, False Creek and the seawall is lined with beautiful waterfront spaces. Emery Barnes Park, however, stands out precisely because it’s not on the water. Instead, it’s surrounded on all four sides by the new high-rise apartment buildings that have shot up like mushrooms in Yaletown over the last decade: a small square of brilliant green grass and gardens lodged in the heart of a concrete jungle.
Several features combine to make the park feel like an especially privileged sanctuary amid the bustle of downtown life. First, in place of the usual sputtering park fountain, designers installed a long, flowing stream along one side of the property. From the “headwaters,” a bubbling current tumbles over a waterfall and then down a gentle slope, erupting into jets and geysers along the way and culminating in a gusher of water at Davie Street (Although it’s not intended for this use, I’ve seen plenty of toddlers and a fair share of pets cooling off in the stream on hot days). Along the banks of the channel are intricate mosaic tiles and also benches nestled beneath the trees: perfect spots for reading a book, relaxing, romance – whatever your disposition.
Another virtue: A newly opened section of the park includes a flat, expansive playing field. It’s big enough for a game of ultimate frisbee or for throwing a baseball around – which is a pretty generous swathe of real estate considering that people are crammed into 540-square-foot apartments all around you. Plus, right now the new sod is still so green and soft that it makes a perfect spot for a quick nap on your lunch break.
For the kids – and the young at heart – there’s also an elaborate playground full of whimsical jungle gyms and curving slides that make the merry-go-rounds and seesaws of my youth look archaic. The other cool thing is that the play area is all padded with an ultra-soft foam. The idea is to protect the kids from cuts and scrapes but it also makes a nice moon walk simulation, as you bob along the bouncy surface.
Finally, a boon to pet owners and non-pet owners alike, there’s the fenced-in off-leash dog zone. Maybe it’s just me, but is there anything more entertaining than watching unfamiliar dogs of all shapes and sizes interact on neutral turf? Five-pound chihauhaus chase around full-grown labs and German shepherds; tiny pugs with a bad case of spring fever lust after anything on four legs; big dogs recline majestically while throngs of poms and poodles circle and yap.
And, perhaps even more interesting for those familiar with Vancouver’s history is the fact that until quite recently this whole area was pretty much in the heart of the city’s red light district. It’s all safe now and thoroughly gentrified, but there’s just enough of a gritty fringe left in the neighborhood to ensure an occasional eyebrow-raising sight- like the guy stripped to his skivvies and bathing in the fountain this afternoon.
I know there are Emery Barnes Park fans out there? What makes the park special for you?