EVERY PARK IN THE CITY OF VANCOUVER, RANKED
In May of 2020, in the middle of a global health pandemic, British Columbia’s chief health officer said it was okay for people in different households to see one another, but “our mantra for the next little while is going to be few faces and big spaces.”
So, that’s what we did.
Over the course of five months, a group of friends* visited all 242 parks** in The City of Vancouver. We went to a new neighbourhood each week, making a summer without travel or indoor socializing into one where we explored this amazing and maddening city in a unique way.
Below is our short guide to every park in the city, ranked from worst to best. Each park, from the biggest to the smallest, has been scored out of 40 — 10 points each for kids, adults, design and atmosphere. In every writeup, we’ve tried to note the amenities available, where it ranks within the neighbourhood, and also included a quote from a Google review, just for kicks.
We hope it provides a decent overview of which parks you should seek out depending on your neighbourhood or need, and we hope to expand on this long (but basic) guide in the future, with separate guides for different neighbourhoods and different types of parks.
Your list of best green spaces in the city will undoubtedly be different than ours. But the fun of this project for us was not the end destination, but the journey — and we hope it will be for you as well.
Now let’s rank some parks.
*Those friends were Justin McElroy, Steve Masuch, Ricardo Bortolon, Isabel Ferreras, Gerald Deo, Andrew Forshner, Geoff Lister, Sam Bruin, Layne Bruin, Nick Rogers, Kat Green, Laura Rodgers and Mary Leong.
**Oppenheimer Park is not included, because it was boarded up for renovations the entire time of our research after being a homeless camp. Otherwise, all parcels of land operated by the Vancouver Park Board are included.
#241: Park Site on Quesnel Drive
“This diminutive pocket of land offers a small lawn dotted with trees.”
#10 in Arbutus
4301 Quesnel Drive
Very few parks in Vancouver are terrible.
Most parks aren’t *amazing*, mind you — probably 80% serve the basic purpose of green space in a large city without being too much to write home about — but there are few places that are actually frustrating, where it’s obvious that something, ANYTHING, could be better than what’s currently there.
And the worst of those is the Park Site on Quesnel Drive. The Park Board uses the term “Park Site” for pieces of small pieces of land they oversee, but aren’t fully-formed parks, and this is the worst — an overgrown, weedy, traffic median with a couple trees and flowers comprising the smallest attempt possible to make it hospitable to humans.
To write more would give more time attention to this park than any member of the public has since it was created. And so we won’t.
#240: Park Site on Puget Drive
“This steep piece of land, once a residential property, will be redesigned as a neighbourhood park in the future.”
#9 in Arbutus
4309 Puget Drive
One of the most curious pieces of land in the Park Board’s portfolio is a thin, steep path connecting the well-off Mackenzie Heights neighbourhood with the slightly-less-well-off but still very comfortable Arbutus neighbourhood down below.
But “curious” doesn’t make “good”, as really this is just a tiny trail awkwardly crammed between two private properties, giving one the feel of sneaking through someone’s backyard to get to a different destination.
There’s a modicum of potential here, if the park board gets around to designing it as promised.
#239: Eburne Park
“Only stopped because I was rear ended on Oak St bridge.”
#11 in Marpole
950 West 71st Avenue
Vancouver is a city preoccupied with how you feel the moment you arrive in it.
There are signs telling you it hosted the Olympics, grand bridges giving panoramic views of the downtown core and the waters surrounding it, developers and councillors always fretting about “iconic” buildings that can grace some of the entry points to the city.
Which makes it all the more ironic that one of the first ways millions of people are introduced to Vancouver each year is by crossing the Oak Street Bridge, and seeing Eburne Park on its east side.
Named for one of the first European settlers in what’s now known as Marpole, Eburne Park is most mediocre fully-formed park in the City of Vancouver. It consists of four tennis courts, surrounded by spiky, sloped aggressive grass, and a few trees not nearly powerful enough to block out the avalanche of cars coming over the bridge at all times, nor tall enough to provide adequate shade on a hot day.
There’s no playground, no benches, no washroom, no picnic area, no flat grass, no interesting gardening, no easy way to arrive if you don’t have a car. Just four tennis courts. And they’re fine as tennis courts go, but there are 43 other parks in the city where you swing a racket, and virtually all of them will be in a more pleasing and quiet environment.
The last time a local newspaper mentioned anything happening in the park was 1968, when a basketball practice evidently happened (the basketball courts are gone). The only time the park board has discussed Eburne in the last decade was part of improvements to a number of tennis courts across the city.
In short, Eburne is forgotten. Unloved. Under designed. The worst full park in the city because it’s virtually impossible to do even the bare minimum one might expect in a green space — and the one thing it does provide can be found at 43 other sites.
And ultimately, in a city full of iconic landmarks, an incredibly underwhelming way for people to enter the city through.
#238: Park Site on Blenheim
“I wouldn’t categorize this as a park, but I guess it’s neat to have that designation.”
#8 in Arbutus
3500 Quadra Street
Another weird connector stairwell park, this one at 19th and Blenheim, this is a single-residential lot was no doubt donated or purchased by the Park Board at some point, but has sat vacant and unmaintained for decades. There’s a nice big tree in the centre, but the surrounding area is entirely overgrown. Any sense of mysterious wonder that the park could attain, as perhaps a mysterious forested area in the middle of the city, is mitigated by being surrounded by two very large homes.
In 1998, 90% of Dunbar residents said the Blenheim Park Site “should be improved to make [it] more attractive and useable.” It hasn’t.
#237: Minipark @ Gilford & Haro
#16 in West End
In 1974, construction began on a number of mini parks in the west end, small areas where a road stops and is replaced by a small walkway for 100 metres or so. At the time, city planner John Coates told The Vancouver Sun they were “primarily meant to deal with the traffic problem.”
Today, they retain the same basic purposes of controlling traffic first, and providing an interesting park experience second: most have some nice plants and benches, but there’s rarely any green space, things for kids to do, or space for any activities. We believe Gilford and Haro is the worst of them because it’s the most cramped, and half is currently under renovation, but your mileage may vary.
But even the most average parks provide some benefits. Back to that Vancouver Sun story on their creation: a reporter went out and spoke to people enjoying them. One of them was K.J. Marshall, a 94-year-old who had lived in the city for at that time nearly all of its existence.
His verdict? “It’s a nice break to be able to sit here for a minute or two.”
Sometimes, that’s all a park has to be.
#236: Jones Park (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
“It’s under renovation right now so there’s nothing but a washroom and a soccer field with no shade.”
#11 in Kensington-Cedar Cottage
5350 Commercial Drive
An unassuming mid-sized park with a long field and a playground and washroom at one end, Jones Park is undergoing a million-dollar renovation at the moment, making it nothing more than a patchy field with a lot of construction surrounding it. A magnet for both sun and goose poop, it’s not particularly pleasant at the moment, but the new playground promises picnic tables and lounge chairs for adults, and a climbing tower and play boat for children, so there’s potential. And the stretch of good food options along Victoria Drive makes it a potentially inviting area — just as soon as construction is finished.
#235: Brewers Park (UNDER CONSTRUCTION)
“Dont dive in the pool.”
#10 in Kensington-Cedar Cottage
4175 Victoria Drive
Is it objectively strange that the two parks in the city undergoing a complete renovation at the same time are both on the same street servicing much the same need? Perhaps, but for now it means that Brewers Park, like Jones Park 12 blocks to the south, is virtually unusable at the moment, save for a basic field on its far west side.
Before, the park had a playground, basketball court and tennis court After its $1.8 million renovation, it will have…a playground, basketball court, and tennis court. But they will be new, which is always helpful, particularly for a playground. And there’s a promise of new trees, picnic tables and community gardens, which should improve its vibrancy.
But for now, it’s a little soccer field. May better times be ahead.
#234: Park Site on Trafalgar
“The simplicity of the park can be enjoyed from a distance.”
#7 in Arbutus
4600 Trafalgar Street
It is a weird phenomenon that the Park Board owns four pieces of land in a single neighbourhood that are undeveloped, have been undeveloped for years and years, and where there are no plans to develop them into anything that the general public might enjoy more.
The best of these four is at Trafalgar and 31st, a small triangle surrounded by multi-million dollar single-family homes on all sides. It is the best of the four because there are two benches, and the area in the middle is suitable enough for a family picnic. It has existed there since at least 1973, and is no doubt enjoyed by people living immediately next to it, but serves
One could explore why the Arbutus Ridge neighbourhood has so many of these pieces of land, but that task probably lies to a municipal affairs reporter, and not whomever is writing this.
#233: Pocket Park
“Not a good park in any way at all.”
#16 in Mt. Pleasant
149 West 1st Avenue
Much of the the city’s Olympic Village is well designed and eagerly celebrated, but there are two pieces of land overseen by the Park Board that are barely parks and hard to spot unless you live in the area.
One is a small patch of grass surrounded by three apartments and a street in the west side of the village. It has no name, but appears as “pocket park” on some city literature. At one point there were concepts for a faux industrial theme, allowing “for imaginative play without formal playground equipment”.
That didn’t happen, and instead it’s a small unofficial dog park with chewed up grass and some cement to sit on.
Still, it’s a place for small dogs to run around, and adults to sit down and relax, and that on many days is all one needs.
#232: Foster Park
“This small park is a pleasant place to pause.”
#15 in Renfrew-Collingwood
5501 Aberdeen Street
Once upon a time, this small park had an old wooden playground to entice families, but now it’s just a small lawn with no amenities, functioning more as a bike path along Foster Avenue than anything else.
But a park doesn’t need much to be remembered — as CBC’s Jason D’Souza said, “you couldn’t count the number of hours we played our own version of cricket here as kids. We used the central telephone pole as our wickets and the one on the far side as our boundary.”
There’s not much there. But give a kid with a little bit of imagination a little bit of grass, and a lot can happen.
#231: Yaletown Park
“It’s dark cemented waste of space.”
#24 in Downtown
901 Mainland Street
One has so many questions when visiting Yaletown Park. Most of them begin with “why?”
Why, for example, is a park so new lacking in so many basic amenities, with not a washroom, playground, proper table or covered area in sight?
Why is the entire surface covered with brittle cement, making it incredibly inaccessible while visually unappealing at the same time?
Why are the only things in the middle of the park tiny rock chairs that are too small to sit on?
Why, in a city starved for land and a Downtown growing incredibly quickly, was this considered an efficient use of space?
When we put our initial review of Yaletown Park on Twitter, the responses included “it’s like the gulag of parks”, “always been a head scratcher”, and “actually the worst.”
One person said it’s “a park that makes you ask why. That’s a good thing. A mystery.” And mysteries aren’t the worst thing in the world, but a 2008 study of the park commissioned by the city found “it shows very little activity despite being situated in a densely populated area” and observed “there is little to do .. besides sitting along the edge.” Which, for being a park barely a decade old, is not exactly a ringing assessment.
When the city approved the park, at a cost of around a half million dollars (with a developer paying the rest), it said “it will be a precious little space that is attractive for a sunnylunch break, for a cup of coffee, or for meeting up with a group of friends. Yaletown activities will reach into this park with programmed events like farmers’ markets, sidewalk sales, outdoor art exhibits and installations, or intimate musical and theatrical performances.” None of this turned out to be true.
In short, the second best thing about Yaletown Park is it stands as a cautionary tale of how a newly-designed urban park can go awry.
The best thing about Yaletown Park is the heritage train you can look at.
It’s not in the park.