Racism is a parks and public space issue: Park People and anti-racism one year on
June 21, 2021
Note: This piece discusses racial and colonial violence, including George Floyd’s murder, Islamophobic attacks, and residential school deaths.
In the days following George Floyd’s murder on a street in Minneapolis, Park People published a statement recognizing that:
“Park People cannot achieve its mission to ‘activate the power of parks to improve quality of life in cities’ without acknowledging that systemic racism, oppression, and injustice are part of the daily lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, and racialized people in parks and public spaces.”
In that statement, we committed to: “begin dismantling systemic racism as an organization.”
Today, more than a year after Floyd’s murder, the barricades at the intersection renamed George Floyd Square have been removed to, as city council members said in a recent article, “help restore and heal the community.”
The same week that flowers and artwork were being collected from George Floyd Square, Canadians laid down countless pairs of shoes in public spaces as a tangible display of deep sadness and horror at the discovery of 215 Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves at a former Kamloops residential school.
Even more recently, an Islamophobic terrorist attack in London, Ontario targeted a family of five out for an evening stroll on a public street. The event highlights how a simple activity that has been so essential for many of us during the pandemic—getting out for a daily walk—entails risk and danger for many racialized communities.
With these devastating events in mind, we at Park People are providing an update on our ongoing journey to embed a culture of anti-racism in our organization and in our work in parks and public spaces. To date, our efforts have been deliberately focused on creating a shared, internal understanding of systemic racism and how we can begin to adopt an anti-racist approach.
We humbly share the steps we’ve taken so far.
Establish Leadership and Accountability
In the summer of 2020, Park People established an Anti-Racism and Equity Committee to support the development of an Anti-Racism and Equity Framework and Strategy for the organization. The Committee’s purpose is to establish internal accountability, ensure anti-racism is an organizational priority and create tangible, measurable actions we commit to in our work.
The Committee created a draft Anti-Racism and Equity Framework, soon to be reviewed by Park People’s Board of Directors. The Anti-Racism and Equity Framework establishes the principles, organizational values, and commitments that Park People will use to guide all of its work.
Embed Anti-Racism into Purpose and Plans
Park People is currently updating its Theory of Change, the critical document underpinning every aspect of our work. We’re using this opportunity to embed an intersectional, anti-racist lens into all of our programs, partnerships, and communications. This updated Theory of Change will embed anti-racism into our organization at a fundamental level.
Examine, Improve and Measure Efforts
Park People is working with an expert in Organizational Development and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) to support our internal equity efforts. So far, we have conducted an internal staff survey and a full audit of Park People’s operations. The survey and audit have given us a preliminary understanding of staff experiences and knowledge and allowed us to benchmark our efforts to date.
Coming out of the survey, we have identified tangible policies and practices to help us become a more inclusive organization. For example, the survey identified that staff lacked a shared understanding of key terms like inclusion, equity, diversity, and reconciliation. One outcome of the survey was to create staff-led definitions of terms that will support more productive dialogue on equity issues.
In addition, we recognize that Park People is a white-founded and white-led organization with disproportionately few Black, Indigenous, and people of colour on its staff and leadership teams.
We have taken steps to ensure our hiring and internal policies are equitable and are committed to having a staff team that is more representative of the diverse communities we serve going forward.
Adopting a Learning Culture
We have dedicated time, space, and resources to train and educate our staff and Board of Directors to better understand and address systemic racism and white supremacy in our organization and work.
By providing both formal and informal learning opportunities across the organization we are working to make equity, diversity and inclusion a live conversation. To do this, we’ve established staff training, shared resources, and created spaces for conversations on equity, diversity and inclusion issues.
As our Anti-Racism Framework lays out, Park People is committed to creating space for shared learning and welcomes challenging conversations about racism and white supremacy in our organization and work.
Being released this month, the 2021 Canadian City Parks Report centres on an equity perspective. In the report, we explore how racial inequities mediate access to the benefits of parks for everything from mental and physical health to climate resilience. In the report, we highlight and celebrate the work of communities of colour who, despite facing greater barriers to park use, continue to act as park advocates and stewards building more inclusive public spaces.
In short, this year’s report demonstrates how race and inequity are inseparable from parks and public spaces and points to anti-racist pathways forward. It’s a critical shift we look forward to sharing when we launch the report. We are committed to using the approach featured in the report to move towards embedding anti-racism into every aspect of our work and culture.
Park People recognizes that our work is still in its early stages and that we have a great deal of progress to make in addressing systemic racism and white supremacy. We are committed to addressing the enormity of the task at hand and accept that we will make mistakes in the process. We will continue to have courageous conversations with each other, hold ourselves accountable as we learn, and keep moving forward.