What is Toronto’s Parkland Strategy and why does it matter?

December 13, 2017

Jake Tobin Garrett

This month, the City released an update on the progress of the Parkland Strategy, which has some fun info about park planning in the city. Here we break it down for you.

The Parkland Strategy is a new in-progress citywide plan that will direct where the City creates and enhances parks, and improves connections to parks, across the whole city. The last time the City really did a parkland provision strategy was back in 2001. Just a few things have changed since then, so we were definitely due for an update.

Park People called for such a plan waaaaaaay back in our Parks Platform for the 2014 election, so we’re very excited to see it happening. And you should be too, so let’s dive in.


How much parkland do we have in Toronto?


Toronto has over 1,500 parks in approximately 7,700 hectares of land (or about 22.5 of New York’s Central Park scattered about the city). It’s a huge, huge park system, and as much as we like to complain about things in Toronto, it’s an enviable amount of green space for any big city. We can thank our ravine system for that!

In terms of how we compare to other cities, we do pretty well on amount parkland per person. Overall Toronto has 28sq metres of parkland per person, which is higher than Vancouver, New York, and Chicago. In our downtown, we fair differently, with both Chicago and New York ahead of our 23sq metres per person (though we’re ahead of Los Angeles’ pitiful 1sq metres per person–ouch!).

Since 1998, 246 hectares of new parkland has been acquired by the City. If we’re going to use Central Park as the example again, this works out to the City acquiring land that is about 3/4 the size of Central Park.

Most of that land (119.5 hectares) has been acquired in Scarborough, with North York coming in second at (54.6 hectares), Toronto and East York in third (44.1 hectares), and finally Etobicoke (27.7 hectares).

This doesn’t mean that Etobicoke is not well-served by parks, though. It has the second highest amount of parkland in the city (2,122 hectares) after Scarborough (2,710 hectares). Toronto and East York, which includes the downtown, sits the lowest at 1,193 hectares.

These are all interesting numbers, but they don’t really tell us much about whether that’s a good amount of parks or not. Which brings us to…


How does the City measure parkland?


Buckle up, because this is gonna get nerdy. It’s important to understand how parkland is measured because that measurement determines where the City will invest the time and money to create new parks and improve existing ones.

Since 2001, the City has measured parkland through something called Local Parkland Assessment Cells (or LPACs, if you want to be short and cute). These carved up the city into a bunch of blocks within which amount of park per person was measured. The blocks were based on perceived barriers like big roads and grade changes that might stop someone from accessing a park. Here is the LPAC map in all its glory (red for less parks per person, green for more):

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The Parkland Strategy proposes to change this to use Statistics Canada’s Census Dissemination Blocks, which are, as City staff point out, smaller geographic areas that provide “a more accurate and detailed indication of provision and need.” This will be combined with a new classification system for parks that creates catchment areas based on distance to parks of various sizes. The larger the park, the longer people may be willing to travel to get to it, the logic goes. At 20 acres, Christie Pits Park would have a wider catchment area, for example, than your small neighbourhood parkette of 0.25 acres.

Another cool thing is that this new tool will also use actual walking distance to a park through the street and pathway network, as opposed to pretending you were a bird that could easily fly over everything in a straight line to your nearest park. This is a big step up because street networks can really impact how long it takes you to get somewhere (as anyone who grew up in a neighbourhood filled with looping streets and cul-de-sacs will tell you).

And rather than measuring a blanket amount of park per person within a defined but ultimately arbitrary area (like those LPACs above), this new system will be able to capture how many people are served by each park based on its catchment area. It should also, I imagine, be able to tell us the reverse: the gaps where people don’t have access to larger parks or smaller neighbourhood parks within a reasonable distance.

Okay, cool, so:


Where does the City need more parkland?


It’s still in progress, but the Parkland Strategy is using these new measurement tools and looking at population and employment growth to determine where new parks need to be created. Looking at employment growth is important because workers obviously use parks as well—not just local residents.

The analysis done shows that the Toronto and East York district will be the site of the most downward pressure on the amount of park space per person based on residential and employment growth. Currently there are 21sq metres of park space per resident, but that number will shrink to 17sq metres per resident by 2032 if no new additional parkland is created, or 9sq metres if you add in the employment growth, too. Yikes.

The area within the downtown, where the City is currently studying the feasibility of creating a new 21-acre park over the rail corridor, is identified as the area with the lowest level of park provision in the city. This isn’t surprising given the explosive growth of this area in the last 10 to 15 years, and the lack of new park space to keep up with the demand.

You can see the full numbers in the table below from the City staff report. Keep in mind this is what would happen if the City did not acquire any new parkland. It’s helpful in showing where the most pressure will be coming from growth to help prioritize investment now.

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With a city growing as fast and as dense as Toronto, we need to keep up with the growth of our park system, and the Parkland Strategy is important in providing us a tool to ensure we have enough green space for generations to come.

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