Department of Unusual Certainties is a research group in Toronto which is holding a magazine launch for On Site 23: small things this Thursday evening at the Toronto Free Gallery.
Their connection to On Site came with this issue where they sent us part of their massive Parkette study. Parkettes are very very tiny parks, left over pieces of ground really, strips of grass on a median, front yard setbacks to city buildings, scraps of ground between two roads too small to develop, which nonetheless have been named and are officially part of Toronto's park system.
They speak to the ad hoc use of public space in an urban environment: the question for most cities is whether the City itself looks after it – one can think of all the petanque or boules boulevards throughout Europe – or whether such public space appears to be un-owned and therefore rubbish.
The distinction is going to be in the degree of civic responsibility felt by each citizen. Are these corners of park 'owned' by the citizens and respected as such, or, again, are they rubbish? Will they be the site of a guerilla garden and left to flourish, or will the city parks department keep them as shaved grass, denoting the parkette's listing on the parks register?
We are a nation of front and back yards where our gardening attention is private and personal, where city parks are visual 'green space' with little use unless they contain a bunch of playground equipment. The centrality of public parks in our civic daily lives rarely attains the centrality of Central Park, for example. When almost everyone lives in apartments, people value parks, deeply. The city is made beautiful when all its corners, its trees, its thin strips of grass, are loved.