COVID-19 and Parks: Highlights from our national surveys
July 16, 2020
In June 2020, Park People conducted bilingual surveys to learn about the experiences of Canadians and municipalities during COVID-19. The findings from this unique Canadian dataset offer valuable insights into the role of parks during the pandemic, and their role in recovery.
In the public survey, we heard from over 1600 residents of Canadian cities about how their use and perspectives on parks have been impacted by COVID-19.
In the survey of municipalities, parks department representatives in 51 Canadian cities shared their experiences responding to COVID-19 and the challenges they see looking ahead.
Here are key highlights from our early analysis of the surveys. We look forward to diving deeper into the results and sharing more insights in the coming months.
Both municipal leaders and the public have developed a greater appreciation for parks during the pandemic.
- Almost three-quarters (70%) of Canadians said their appreciation for parks and green spaces has increased during COVID-19.
- 94% of cities indicated they’ve seen increased awareness among municipal leadership of the value of parks to public health and crisis resiliency during COVID-19.
Parks have become even more critical to Canadians’ health and wellbeing during COVID-19
- 82% of Canadians said that parks have become more important to their mental health during COVID-19.
- Parks are having a significant impact on Canadians’ social well-being—especially for those who live alone. While 38% of people who live with others said parks have become more important to their sense of social connection, this jumps to 47% for those who live alone. As one respondent wrote:
“Living alone has meant that walks and outside visits are the only social contact I have had for 4 months. I would have been a mess without access to parks, ravines, trails, the waterfront, etc.”
Most Canadian cities have experienced increased park use during COVID-19
- Over half (55%) of cities said park use has increased during COVID-19.
- Almost two-thirds of Canadians report they have been visiting parks at least several times a week.
While 87% of Canadians support increased spending on parks, park budgets are facing insecurity
- 57% of cities reported COVID-19 is likely to have a negative impact on park budgets within the next year.
- 50% of cities indicated they are already experiencing reductions in staffing levels for park maintenance/operations as a key challenge during COVID-19. About these budget cuts, one city staff wrote:
“It is interesting that park use has been so well received by the public, yet to manage our economic realities, parks operations have been the first and largest target areas.”
In response to COVID-19, all cities surveyed closed parks either partially or completely
- 22% of cities closed parks entirely, while 78% closed park amenities but kept green spaces open.
- The top five most common responses cities implemented include:
- Posting signage in parks with guidelines for safe park use (96%)
- Social media campaigns to promote messaging about safe park use (92%)
- Increasing by-law officers and enforcement in parks (41%)
- Placing city staff in parks as ambassadors to provide information on safe park use (39% )
- Street closures/conversions to expand public space (31%).
Canadians are using green spaces closer to home during COVID-19
During COVID-19, Canadians said they are more likely to…
- Visit a favourite local park in their neighbourhood (66%)
- Seek out new parks in their neighbourhood (39%)
- Visit green spaces that aren’t formal city parks (e.g. schoolyards, hydro corridors, etc.) (33%).
Canadians’ top concerns about using parks are health-related. But, concerns around experiencing judgment, ticketing and policing are also top of mind
- Almost two-thirds (64%) of Canadians have experienced fear or anxiety about leaving their home to go outdoors during COVID-19.
- Canadians are adapting their park use to avoid risks, with over half noting that they’ve become more likely to visit parks during off-peak hours to avoid crowding (54%) and leave parks that are too crowded (55%).
- Canadians’ concerns about visiting parks include:
- Overcrowded/unable to practice physical distancing (62%)
- Lack of washrooms (48%)
- Possible exposure to COVID-19 infection (41%)
- Unsure of park rules (31%)
- Social judgment from other park users based on whether perceived as following the rules (26%)
- Ticketing/policing (20%).
Canadians would like more access to public space, nature, and outdoor programming as part of COVID-19 recovery
The top-ranked changes Canadians would like to see as we move forward with COVID-19 recovery are:
- Closure of roads/streets to open up public spaces for pedestrians (53%)
- More opportunities to experience wild/natural spaces in parks (53%)
- Moving indoor events and activities outdoors into parks to better allow for physical distancing (e.g. recreation/fitness classes, arts/culture events, social gatherings) (51%)
- More washrooms in parks (50%).
Generously supported by TD
COVID-19 & The Canadian City Parks Report
Today we’ve also launched the 2020 edition of the Canadian City Parks Report, which includes deep-dive research into biodiversity, creative park development, community engagement, and inclusive responses to homelessness in parks.
Here’s what our COVID-19 survey told us about these key topics.
Canadians are using parks to connect with nature during COVID-19
- 64% said parks have become more important to their sense of connection to nature during COVID-19.
- 53% said that during COVID-19 they’ve been more likely to visit parks that offer a more natural experience
- 53% said they would like more opportunities to experience wild/natural spaces in parks as we move forward with COVID-19 recovery.
To learn more about how cities and communities across Canada are working to enhance biodiversity in parks, check out the Nature section of the Canadian City Parks Report.
Canadians would like more access to parks and public spaces, but we need to have conversations about how to address park needs equitably
- Conversions of streets to public spaces was the most cited change Canadians would like to see moving forward from COVID-19.
- 31% of cities reported that they have implemented temporary street closures to expand public space.
- 16% of Canadians without access to a park within a 10-minute walk said that they have not used parks at all during COVID-19, compared to only 3% of those with access to a park within walking distance—a gap that highlights the need to prioritize equity in public space expansions.
To learn more about practices for centring equity in conversations about park development during COVID-19, check out the Growth section of the Canadian City Parks Report.
Community engagement is key to support safe park use and inform recovery efforts, but cities will need to adapt their usual partnerships and strategies.
- 27% of cities have partnered with local community organizations to promote safe park use during COVID-19.
- 39% of cities said they need resources/support to adapt community engagement strategies in light of physical distancing.
To learn more about creative community engagement strategies Canadian cities are using, check out the Collaboration section of the Canadian City Parks Report.
Canadian city parks departments must do more to ensure the wellbeing of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in parks during COVID-19.
- Only 16% of cities reported that they have stopped clearing encampments during COVID-19, despite recommendations from authorities including the CDC, UN, and BC Ministry of Health that people living unsheltered should be allowed to remain in place in the absence of housing alternatives.
- Only 25% of cities installed temporary amenities, such as washrooms and hand-washing stations, despite almost half (48%) of Canadians indicating a lack of washrooms as a key concern they have about using parks during COVID-19.
- 41% of Canadians said that they would like to see better integration of services for people experiencing homelessness in parks as we move forward with COVID-19 recovery.
To learn more about inclusive practices that ensure the safety and rights of people living unsheltered in parks, see the Inclusion section of the Canadian City Parks Report.
We would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to The W. Garfield Weston Foundation for its foundational support in the creation and launch of the Canadian City Parks Report.