A Park Reading List for Black History Month
February 7, 2022
Parks are not neutral spaces but places where legacies of colonialism and white supremacy too often perpetuate urban inequity. At the same time, Black and racial justice movements have helped reimagine parks as places where the presence, experiences, and needs of Black Canadians can be visible and valued.
To recognize Black History Month, we’ve selected some of the content that has resonated with Park People over the past year and work we’ve contributed to that’s helping to center Black liberation in the planning, design, and management of parks and public spaces. We’re grateful to the Black thought leaders and communities that are contributing to a radical rethinking of our parks and public spaces.
Equitable Access to Urban Parks and Urban Nature:
Race and Nature in the City: Engaging youth of colour in nature-based activities, 2021, Nature Canada
Humber River Black History Walk, Jacqueline L. Scott, 2021, Park People
- A guest post was written by Jacqueline L. Scott. Jacqueline is a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto, OISE, in the Department of Social Justice Education. She is a hike leader with two outdoor clubs. Jacqueline leads Black History Walks in Toronto. She is the author of travel and adventure books, from a Black perspective.
COVID-19, Racism and Public Spaces
Urban Park Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Are Socially Vulnerable Communities Disproportionately Impacted? Edited by Michelle L. Johnson, 2021, Frontiers in Sustainable Cities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic altered human behaviour around the world. To maintain mental and physical health during periods of lockdown and quarantine, people often engaged in outdoor, physically distanced activities such as visits to parks and greenspace. However, research tracking outdoor recreation patterns during the pandemic has yielded inconsistent results, and few studies have explored the impacts of COVID-19 on park use across diverse neighbourhoods. The research team used a mixed-methods approach to examine changes in park use patterns in cities across North Carolina, USA, during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an emphasis on impacts in socially vulnerable communities (based on racial/ethnic composition and socioeconomic status).
Examining privilege and power in US urban parks and open space during the double crises of antiblack racism and COVID-19, Fushcia-Ann Hoover & Theodore C. Lim, 2021, Springer Link
- Creating the positive outcomes socio-ecological researchers and practitioners seek for urban areas requires acknowledging and addressing the interactions of race and systemic racism in parks, open and green spaces. Racial experiences are inseparable from physical landscapes and the processes of designing, managing, or studying them. From COVID-19 to the Black Lives Matter movement and protests, the events of 2020 in the United States underscore how considerations of social justice must extend beyond the conventional distributional focus of environmental justice. It must incorporate an understanding of how the built environment is racialized spatially, but not always readily quantified through the proximity-based measurements frequently used in research and practice.
Safe(ty) in Public Spaces
Public Safety at the City’s Core, Jay Pitter, 2021, Azure Magazine
- Public safety is not merely the absence of physical threat; it is the presence of inclusive places shaped by equitable urban placemaking and policy. It is the visceral yet indescribable sense of belonging that is experienced in spaces which invite rather than tolerate differences.
Want safer cities and public spaces? Invest in BIPOC-led work. Lena Phillips, 2021, Safe in Public Space
- Given the increasingly urban orientation of the world, a re-set on how cities are shaped moving forward is critical. Socioeconomic disparities have long been named by Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC). This has been compounded by the heightened visibility of systemic racism, particularly its impact on Black lives. The field of planning, specifically, is tasked with constructing our built environments and mediating our socioeconomic infrastructure through mechanisms like funding, governance and public space policy. However, through ongoing processes of colonialism and racism, planning works to reinforce oppressive systems. The lack of diversity and critical interrogation within this field – one that fails to recognize its impact on the everyday lives of communities – contributes to the perpetual underfunding of BIPOC-led initiatives and allows systemic injustice to play out in our public spaces.
(Mental & Physical) Heath, Well-Being and Parks:
6 ways to approach urban green spaces in the push for racial justice and health equity, Nahda Hassen, 2021, The Conversation
- How can we take an intersectional, anti-racist approach to planning urban green spaces as a public health measure? Policy-makers, planners and public health professionals can learn from critical race and critical theory scholars in pushing for multidisciplinary action. Here are six ideas for policy-makers, city officials, public health, city builders and planners to consider in research, policy and practice.
Green spaces, mental health and well-being in the time of COVID-19, Nadha Hassen, 2021, York U
- In her doctoral study on “Parks Prescriptions and Perceptions: Experiences of Racialized People with Mood Disorders in Green Spaces,” Vanier scholar Nadha Hassen explores the experiences of racialized people living with mental illness in urban green spaces in Toronto. Using a visual research method called photovoice, Hassen’s research captures the experiences of people who are racialized and living with mood disorders as they interact with Toronto’s urban green spaces.
Leveraging built environment interventions to equitably promote health during and after COVID-19 in Toronto, Canada, Nadha Hassen, 2021, Oxford Academics
- This paper puts forwards three considerations for built environment interventions to promote health equitably: addressing structural determinants of health and embedding anti-racist intersectional principles, revisiting tactical urbanism as a health promotion tool and rethinking community engagement processes through equity-based placemaking. This paper outlines four built environment interventions in Toronto, Canada that seek to address the challenges in navigating urban space safely in the short term, including street design that prioritizes pedestrians, protected cycling infrastructure, access to inclusive green space and safe, affordable housing. Longer-term strategies to create health-promoting urban environments that are equitable are discussed and may be valuable to other cities with similar urban equity concerns.
Social, Environmental and Racial Justice
‘Without social justice, you cannot have environmental justice’: Making Toronto’s urban forests more inclusive spaces, Ambika Tenneti, 2021, University of Toronto, Scarborough
- “Access is not just about proximity,” says Tenneti, an environmental science graduate from India who is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at U of T’s Daniels Forestry. People may live near a ravine, but if there’s no entrance near where they live and they have to walk, bike or take the public transit before getting into it, then it’s not accessible. That also costs time and money, which recent immigrants often lack when they first arrive. Likewise, there are some psychological barriers that prevent people from enjoying the ravines and other natural areas in the city. This is where Tenneti’s research comes into play. As a recent immigrant to Canada, she investigates community engagement in the city’s urban forests, looking specifically at factors that lead to inclusion or exclusion, with a focus on the experience of new immigrants. Her research suggests that immigrant communities are interested and do enjoy urban nature, but they prefer parks over wilderness areas. She says in general, people feel comfortable going to well-maintained, multi-use green areas where children have access to playing fields and other amenities such as seating, equipment, trees and gardens. Access to washrooms and drinking water is also important for planning family outings.’
A question of life and death’: Why climate action must also take racial justice into account, What on Earth, 2021, CBC
- Jesse Firempong is a communications officer with Greenpeace Canada. She spoke to What on Earth host Laura Lynch about how major environmental groups often centre white voices to the exclusion of BIPOC voices and concerns.
Parks Need Leaders of Colour, Canadian City Parks Report, 2021, Park People
- How BIPOC park leaders are centring conversations of justice and power in parks. This past year was marked by an unprecedented wave of racial justice movements that fostered hope and resilience in the middle of a global pandemic (no small task). Across Canada and the world, Black, Indigenous and people of colour demanded justice in all its forms.
Workshops and Webinars to Watch (and Rewatch)
Watch: A Conversation About Racism in the Outdoors, Brentin Mock, 2021, Audubon
- On this episode of I Saw a Bird, Brentin Mock, a staff writer for CityLab, joined hosts David Ringer and Christine Lin to discuss his recent article on the dangers Black people face in the outdoors
How will we ensure equitable access to parks and public spaces? City Talk Canada, 2020, Canadian Urban Institute
- Featuring Dave Harvey, Executive Director, Park People; Carlos Moreno, Scientific Director, Chair ETI (Entrepreneurship – Territory – Innovation), Panthéon – Sorbonne University; Rena Soutar, Reconciliation Planner, City of Vancouver Parks & Recreation; and Cheyenne Sundance, Founder & Farmer, Sundance Harvest Farm.
Advancing Climate Justice in Parks, 2021, Park People
- Urban green spaces help mitigate the impacts of climate change by reducing temperatures and lowering flood risk. However, unequal access to these spaces leaves many lower-income, racialized communities more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Addressing these inequities involves more equitable distribution of green space, but also changes in how we engage and involve communities in the design and planning of city parks.
Change, Hope, and Tension: Perspectives and Practices on Making Green Spaces BIPOC Inclusive, 2021, Park People
- A candid conversation with 3 distinguished panellists exploring the barriers and opportunities for creating parks as natural places for engagement across differences.
In June 2020, Park People also published a list of suggested readings as part of our Racism is a parks and public space issue blog post.