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What makes a good urban park?

‘It’s a lot of things’ responded Patsy when I asked her what made her local park, Garden City Reserve, such a good one.

Patsy was in the company of her two dogs, so it went without saying that it is dog friendly. She said ‘it’s the friendly people. It’s the vegetation and the birds. It’s well looked after’. There’s more. The gathering places, the wide and generous walking paths. You can walk through it or around it. There are many open and easy ways in to the Reserve. It has an excellent playground, and a toilet. The benches are well placed. And lots of trees – avenues as well as large specimen trees.

Pencil pines define the pathway through Garden City Reserve

When Beacon Cove was just a plan, some people in Port Melbourne worried about whether the new residents would fit in with the existing community. Garden City Reserve at that time, while deeply loved, was rather plain and featureless. Instead, the Reserve became the place where people from Garden City, Beacon Cove and Port Melbourne connected and formed new relationships.

Garden City Reserve c1990 Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society

Over time, there has been layer upon layer of investment in the Reserve. More trees, new pathways, the excellent playground, the public toilet – local advocacy leading to budget allocations almost annually from the City of Port Phillip.

Lagoon Reserve

I turned to google reviews to find out how others see the park closest to me, Lagoon Reserve. It was interesting how many times the words ‘well maintained’ came up, another important feature of a successful park. Like Garden City Reserve, Lagoon Reserve also has many elements. The dog park is without doubt the focal point. Benches are well placed to catch the late afternoon winter sun. The nature fringing the oval offers a brief bush like experience. There are many entry points. Local sport, exercisers, Albert Park College students – all find a space and a time at this hard working Park.

An invitation to enter – Lagoon Reserve

Westgate Park

Contrast the favourable google reviews of Garden City Reserve and Lagoon Reserve with an explicitly negative review of Westgate Park. “Not recommended. You would feel it is in the middle of nowhere. More stuff needs to be considered to bring some attractions to this place.” “Feels Faraway from the city even though it is in the middle of freeways”. To be fair, there were other reviews full of appreciation of nature in Westgate Park.

Westgate Park isn’t a park that is generally embraced. It has no immediate surrounding community. It’s not at the end of anyone’s street. Most people drive, rather than walk there. The entrances are obscure. The noise of traffic from the Bridge is ever present. Many people report feeling uncomfortable in the Park. Bike riders go through it but don’t stop. This situation is unlikely to change in the future Fishermans Bend as no residential development is planned adjacent to the Park.

Daily visits to a park create attachment and ownership which translates into care and investment.

This brief exploration has led me to conclude that of all elements, the most essential for a locally successful park is to be surrounded by a residential catchment. And although I am not a dog owner, perhaps a gathering place where any new comer can turn up with a dog and join the community.


  • Pat Grainger

    It should always feel safe and friendly, but it's good when each open space has its special identity, whether it's for seaside views or doggy happy hours, picnics and play or secluded rest, a nature reserve or a formal garden.

    • You sum it up so well Pat. An important point you make that I didn't include was that each park should have its own special identity.

  • Alice Turnbull

    Just walked a Lockdown Lap of Lagoon Reserve and experienced the park. Being outside on a 'commons', offers such a salutary enlarged context of open space, wide lawn, sky, skyline, depth, form, perspective views, glimpses of people of other ages and activities. It is a shame our traditional Neighbourhood Planting fell victim to the Circuit-Breaker - perhaps it need only be postponed. Although created and carefully maintained, park planting can become iconic, even beloved background, standing-in for 'Nature', a platform for restorative, healthy endeavour, contributing memories and identity, appreciated and valued.

  • Tim Nethercote

    Gratified to see the very positive recent Gardening Australia segment on Westgate Park. Recent rides to, and slow rides through, the Park have reminded me how fortunate we are to have this space and gratitude to those with the foresight and commitment to bring it about. Like Janet and Alice, we live near Lagoon Reserve and love the presence and the community pull of the Reserve.

  • Reg Macey

    Yet another great article Janet. Port Melbourne is so fortunate as to have someone with your enthusiasmn, knowledge and eye for detaill as a resident. My contribution: You wrote: "This brief exploration has led me to conclude that of all elements, the most essential for a locally successful park is to be surrounded by a residential catchment. " My lifechanging inspirer, Jane Jacobs had a little to say about this.. A Tale of Two Parks: Jane Jacobs’ Theories In Action – Regina Urban Ecology (

    • Thanks Reg - I tried unsuccessfully to make contact with the author of that blog. And it sent me scurrying back to my Death and Life.

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