Reflections from the first Montreal Park Forum
June 17, 2021
The first Montreal Park Forum, a collaboration between Park People and Les amis de la montagne, brought together 150 participants – a combination of passionate residents, representatives from community organizations, municipal employees, and planning professionals. Although virtual, this first gathering proved that Montrealers are truly passionate about their parks.
The collective passion for parks is not surprising when you consider that more than 60% of Montrealers do not have access to a backyard and that Montreal already has more than 70 park initiatives across its 19 boroughs.
The Forum was the official launch of the new Montreal Park People Network, a partnership between 4 organizations that share a commitment to activating the power of urban parks across Montreal. We’re pleased to share key learnings from the Forum and videos from the sessions to help you dive deeper into the Montreal Park Forum experience.
Meeting Montreal’s Park Enthusiasts
This first event of the Forum, the Early Bird Breakfast, brought together park enthusiasts from across Montreal who shared the opportunities and challenges they face in their local parks.
Based on input during this session, it’s clear that urban parks provide happiness, peace, connection with nature, and a much-needed sense of balance to Montrealers’ daily lives. These benefits were even more deeply felt during the pandemic.
The group discussions not only provided essential networking opportunities, but also helped highlight key issues that the Montreal Park People Network will need to address in its work: the importance of protecting biodiversity and natural environments, the need to balance park use with protection, the importance of parks that address community needs, the critical need to build connections between parks, and the value of underpinning park work with solid management and financing.
The Launch of the Montreal Park People Network
The Forum’s keynote presentation marked the official launch of the Montreal Park People Network. After welcome comments from all the Network’s partners and a warm word of support from the Mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, Adrian Benepe, and Nathalie Boucher took participants from Montreal on a guided trip to New York, Madrid, Sydney, and Shanghai with a thought-provoking presentation on the power of urban parks.
Adrian Benepe, President, and CEO of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden provided a master class on the current “golden age” of urban parks worldwide, focusing on what’s happening in parks in the United States. Drawing on his extensive experience, including his role as the 14th NYC Parks Commissioner from 2002-2012, Benepe shared best practices in urban park management and funding, innovative solutions for growing and empowering urban parks around the world, and collaborative models from conservation organizations.
‘‘Partnerships are absolutely essential not only to create parks but also to maintain their sustainability and ensure that we don’t go into decline. There are a variety of public-private collaborative systems, and they all have their values. Partnerships can provide some resources that the city could not provide on its own. During the pandemic, when we needed the parks the most, the budgets also went down and that had a big impact.’’ – Adrian Benepe
Nathalie Boucher, Anthropologist, and Director of Respire, brought Forum participants back to Montreal and provided an Anthropologist’s lens on Montreal’s urban park culture. “Parks are wonderful windows onto culture,” she said.
Boucher broke the concept of culture down into four key dimensions – sociability, representation, appropriation and disruption.
Based on her 20 years of Anthropological research, Boucher made a powerful plea for people to recognize and value park’s critical role in building culture.
Going to a park, she emphasized, allows us to learn to see others who may be different from ourselves, and debunk the myths and beliefs that can create polarization and “othering” in our society.
“We need to develop parks everywhere, in all possible varieties. We need to diversify (in kind and number) the facilities, the furnishings, the access to accommodate all kinds of people and needs”. – Nathalie Boucher
Inspiring Conversations on Environmental Justice in Montreal Parks
The panel discussion on environmental justice in Montreal’s parks, moderated by Karel Mayrand, President and CEO of the Foundation of Greater Montreal and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Société du Parc Jean-Drapeau, highlighted environmental justice work in Montreal’s parks.
Robert Beaudry, who is responsible for real estate management and planning, housing, large parks and Parc Jean-Drapeau, highlighted the City of Montreal’s new Nature and Sports Plan, which will provide $1.8 billion in support to Montreal’s parks in the next ten years. Beaudry highlighted the importance of parks’ role in environmental and health resillience, and the importance of continuing to invest in our park systems.
“The global impacts of climate change are reflected at the local level, right down to the parks, and it will be necessary to develop the parks accordingly. “Jérôme Dupras, professor in the Department of Natural Sciences at the Université du Québec en Outaouais and Canada Research Chair in Ecological Economics
“Parks are not simply expenses that are amortized in municipal budgets. They are investments that yield many quantifiable health benefits, including physical and mental health. “Anne Pelletier, Planning and Research Programming Officer, Urban Environment and Healthy Living Department, Direction régionale de santé publique du CIUSSS du Centre Sud de Montréal
“The design of parks should be approached as an opportunity for repair, allowing marginalized communities to regain their autonomy. “Lourdenie Jean, Founder of L’environnement, c’est intersectionnel
“Parks are friendly and welcoming spaces that are widely used where people of all generations and backgrounds gather. They are true tools for integration.” Michel Lafleur, President of the Coalition des amis du parc Jarry
It’s Your turn to Activate the Power of Parks!
We closed out the first Montreal Park Forum with a relaxed, cocktail party atmosphere. Chantal Rouleau, the Minister responsible for Transportation and the Metropolis and the Montreal region, highlighted the $223,100 investment that allowed for the creation of the Montreal Park People Network.
Participants joined break-out rooms with a drink in hand to discuss key issues we could implement in Montreal’s parks. Accessibility, inclusivity, park design that supports nature and neighbourhoods, and the need for education were among the important issues addressed in the breakout rooms. All of the participants believed that support for community park groups, environmental stewardship programs, and the creation of new green spaces and ecological corridors were among the priority actions identified by participants. There was also broad support for the development of a master plan for Montreal’s parks.
Participants emphasized the importance of collaboration and putting community members at the heart of the process.
Priority actions identified in the 3 discussion groups:
- Green Parks: “Knowing and recognizing the value of natural environments in our parks is essential to the protection of Montreal’s biodiversity. “
- Social Parks: “Community involvement is the key to creating places that bring people together.
- Park of the Future: “To respond to climate issues, in addition to conserving environments of high ecological value, the parks of the future will have to protect the natural world urban dwellers interact within their daily lives.”
Growing the Movement
The Montreal Park Forum, most of all, underscored Montrealers’ passion for their parks. We’re grateful to have heard from so many participants about the issues, needs, actions and perspectives that the Montreal Park People Network will need to address going forward.
Thank you for joining and being part of this powerful event on behalf of Park People, Les amis de la montagne and the Montreal Park People Network partners.
The Montreal Park People Forum is an annual gathering, so we look forward to seeing you next year!
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Generously supported by: