What Community Park Groups Told Us About Their Year in City Parks

July 12, 2021

Clemence Marcastel

We’ve learned a lot about our National Network of community park groups in the last year. The more than 1000 groups that makeup Park People’s National Network and achieve their missions in whole or in part through parks, stepped up for their communities in new, and vital ways. And, we could not be prouder.

Here’s what we learned about the awesome people who make up Park People’s National Network from our annual survey of community park groups.

 

As diverse as parks themselves

 

Of course, no two parks are exactly alike. The same is true of communities. Not surprisingly then, the groups dedicated to the power of parks take many forms. In fact, across Canada community park groups are a healthy mix of non-profit organizations, neighbourhood associations, community garden groups, resident groups and more. What is consistent among them is that the vast majority, 80% of community park groups are volunteer-led and run.

 

 

More than half of the groups making awesome things happen in parks have been embedded in their communities for ten or more years. In other words, half of our network of community park groups serves as local infrastructure with a long-standing presence in neighbourhoods. Thankfully, the resources and learnings we develop based on the learned experiences of long-standing groups can help support newer community park groups who are in the early stages of working in parks.

Regardless of how long community park groups have been in their communities, they tell us that fundraising continues to be their biggest challenge. This year, 66% of respondents to our survey reported that fundraising for their work is a significant challenge. At the same time, that park groups’ efforts in communities are needed more than ever, municipalities are facing significant financial shortfalls. We know this will be a critical issue to address going forward.

 

Park groups step up during COVID

 

Community park groups have stepped up for their communities during the pandemic. Even though gatherings were prohibited in parks across Canada, more than ⅓ of park groups surveyed said they pivoted to new ways of offering services.

The Glenelm Neighbourhood Association in Winnipeg made it clear that they had a critical role to play in managing isolation in their community: “We were able to pivot and offer programs and initiatives to keep the neighbourhood connected at a time of so much loneliness, fear, uncertainty and boredom.”

This group is by no means unique in its role of fostering community connectedness and resilience during a time of crisis. In fact, 79% of park groups agreed that despite a challenging year, their work in parks and community has helped build a greater sense of belonging. These events include everything from safe community clean-ups and magically giving a second life to Christmas trees in a Montreal park to creating a much-needed volunteer outreach and food security program to ensure that isolated seniors are safe and cared for.

 

Park People and partners’ park groups

 

Park People is super-proud to serve the diverse, creative and place-based National Network of 1000 community park groups making awesome things happen in city parks across Canada.

It is notable that more than 50% of the groups who responded to the survey say their efforts are focused on parks in underserved or marginalized communities. This year, we were not only able to support groups by continuing to provide financial support through programs like TD Park People Grants, InTO The Ravines Grants but also COVID-focused resources and webinars, the 2020 Canadian City Parks Report and programs like Cornerstone Parks and Sparking Change.

 

 

We were delighted to hear that 91% of community park groups reported that Park People’s work was valuable to their organization.

Montreal’s Groupe Ethé Vert Saint-Léonard thanked us by saying: “We would particularly like to thank you for your practical and financial support. Without that, we would not have been able to help our community connect with their special green spaces.”

At a time when financial uncertainty was top of mind, we were heartened to hear that we were able to support community park groups most by helping to raise funds (76%), help them stay motivated about their work in parks (76%) and enhance their knowledge and skills (71%) to enhance their park efforts.

As the days continue to get longer and the load starts to get a little bit lighter, parks and public spaces will continue to be bright spots in our cities and lives. Much of that is due to the community park groups that make up Park People National Network – the people dug deep to make their communities stronger this year. These are the people who collectively help keep our parks bright spots in our lives and communities. We simply cannot thank you enough.

 


 

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