Park People: 2017, Oh What a Year

December 22, 2017

Jodi Lastman

When we’re all busy in our day-to-day, week-to-week lives, its hard to take stock of what’s been achieved. However, looking back on 2017 has made Park People very proud of the communities we work with and the awesome change we have an opportunity to make in the world. Here’s a brief look back at some of the many highlights of 2017. Thank you to all of those who were part of the year that was. We’re already looking forward to sharing 2018 with you. 

We hosted our first-ever national conference


Let’s just say, this is no small thing. In March, hosted the Heart of the City Conference in Calgary, bringing together park leaders and champions from across Canada. We were lucky enough to meet an incredible group of 100 delegates who are doing outstanding work in their city parks. The keynote speakers, panels and workshops showcased leading-edge thinking to shape how we collectively do our work in parks. The 100 delegates mingled and built relationships that are already making an impact across Canada. An enormous thank you to presenting sponsor TD Bank, and all of the conference supporters without whom this milestone moment would not have been possible.


Pumpkin Parades glowed brighter than ever


Pumpkin Parades happened in 47 parks across Toronto this November 1st. That’s a lot of creatively carved jack-o-lanterns on display. All in a single night! This year, the City of Toronto, Parks, Forestry and Recreation created handy templates for groups to use to promote and spread Pumpkin Parades. Together, with the city, we co-hosted a call to help groups understand what’s involved in running a Pumpkin Parade. It’s never too early to start planning yours. Check out the tips and tools and stay tuned for more news about Pumpkin Parades in 2018.


Park Summit: You Belong Here took centre stage


The 2017 Park Summit, focused on the theme of inclusion included 3 awesome keynote speakers. The Community Showcase highlighted everything from skateboarding to making parks accessible for individuals with developmental disabilities. It was, once again, the highlight of the Toronto city building calendar. By the way, mark Saturday, February 24, 2018, on your calendar for the 2018 Park Summit. Registration will launch early in the new year.


Sparking Change report changes the conversation


In early 2017, after speaking with more than two dozen community volunteers, non-profit organizations, and city staff in seven different North American cities, we published our Sparking Change report. The report is the first of its kind, exploring the social impacts of parks in underserved neighbourhoods and the strategies to achieve these impacts. This report will go on to inform important work that Park People continues to do in many of Toronto’s underserved neighbourhoods, working to activate the power of parks to increase civic engagement and social cohesion, build leadership skills, provide local economic development opportunities, and bring people together across difference.


Heart of the City leadership papers start a national dialogue

To help start a national dialogue about parks and public spaces across Canada, we put out three important papers this year. Green City, written by the University of Calgary’s Beverly Sandalack explored how parks can better reflect local landscapes and ecosystems. City Park Funding in Canada, written by renowned Canadian municipal finance expert Harry Kitchen, examined different funding models that could be used to pay for park operations and development. And finally, we published a condensed version of our own Sparking Change report that looked at how to catalyze the social impacts of parks in underserved neighbourhoods. 


The Green Line takes a huge leap forward


This past year was an exciting one for the Green Line. The Green Line Implementation Plan, a City-funded master plan for the Green Line that Park People is a partner on, kicked off with a team led by DTAH and Workshop Architecture. This plan will create a vision for how the linear park and trail can be built out over time and we look forward to the second phase of the project in 2018. We were also excited to launch the Bee Line on the Green Line this past year. This project saw new pollinator gardens planted along the Green Line with local residents and a fun pollinator parade and pageant hosted by Clay and Paper Theatre to kick off pollinator week in June.


We walked signature parks


Over the spring and summer this year, we were excited to work with the City of Toronto’s City Planning and Parks, Forestry and Recreation divisions on a series of walks exploring signature parks throughout the city. The walks were spurred by Rail Deck Park—a proposal to create a new 21-acre signature downtown park. The first walk took over 125 people around the rail corridor site to imagine the future of Rail Deck Park, while the three other walks took people to North York’s Earl Bales Park, Etobicoke’s Centennial Park, and Scarborough’s Guild Park to talk about what makes these parks special.


We helped bring arts to the parks

We worked with the Toronto Arts Council and Toronto Arts Foundation for a second year to host Arts in the Parks, an incredible program that brings arts programming to parks outside the downtown core. The awesome performances included music, dance, film and theatre, community-engaged arts, visual and media arts all performed by top-notch artists in our city. 


TD Park Builders grants deliver big impact


2017 was the last year of the four year TD Park Builders grant program that we ‘ve been so proud to be part of.  This year, with TD’s incredible support, we contributed to 13 community groups in underserved communities by supporting vital park programming. These programs include programming in green spaces adjacent to a seniors centre and a women’s shelter. We also helped communities plant 11 native gardens. This funding has been incredibly important in helping us learn about groups in underserved communities and their needs. The TD Park Builders program was at the heart of our Sparking Change report and continues to be integral to our work. 


We helped grow a piece of park in backyards

We worked with four communities and park groups to improve habitat connectivity between parks and private green spaces by encouraging residents to grow native plants in their backyards. With funding from WWF, support from Carolinian Canada and our four partner park groups, we gave away 200 native plants, hosted nature walks and a native plant workshop.


We connected youth to environmental stewardship opportunities


We partnered with Toronto Community Housing on a youth stewardship project that inspired young people to get out and plant trees, clean up their parks, go on hikes, learn about climate change, plant a native plant garden, discover their neighbourhood ravine and take part in a citizen science initiative. It’s been a wonderful way to connect with youth and look forward to continuing this work in 2018.


Weston Family Parks Challenge makes huge difference


2017 saw five of the 26 Weston Family Parks Challenge projects completed: Chester Le Diverse Community Garden, which connects newcomers to nature through innovative environmental programs in four languages; Alex Wilson Community Garden 20th Anniversary Restoration, set in one of Toronto’s intensifying downtown neighbourhoods; Pathways to Park 8, a community-led environmental rehabilitation of under-utilized parks and ravines; Gardens for Nature, which restored urban bird and wildlife habitat at Humber Arboretum and lastly, San Romanoway Revival which transformed lawns surrounding three apartment towers into vibrant community green space. As these projects illustrate, the WFPC was a significant catalyst that contributed to the ongoing enhancement of Toronto’s greens spaces.


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