Why do YOU think parks matter?
April 22, 2022
Parks need to serve people. That’s why we value direct input from people who use city parks. Over the last year, we’ve had many opportunities to talk to Canadians and better understand how and why they use parks.
Two important surveys we undertook in 2021 have guided our understanding of what city parks mean to you:
- For the 2021 Canadian City Parks Report we surveyed a diverse cross-section of 3500 Canadians about their use of parks and green spaces,
- Stewardship and restoration volunteers who do hands-on work in Cornerstone Parks were surveyed to help us better understand the relationship between park stewardship, mental and physical health and pro-environmental behaviours.
Together, the insights from these surveys should inform the work of those who plan, program and maintain our city parks. We’re grateful to all those who participated.
Here’s what we learned:
People Using Their City Parks More than Ever
We now know that parks were a lifeline for many throughout the pandemic. Parks were some of the only places where people could connect with nature, enhance their physical and mental health, and come together with loved ones in a safe way.
In our 2021 Canadian City Parks Report (CCPR) survey of nearly 3,500 Canadians, we found that:
- 2/3 of respondents said they spent more time in parks compared to pre-pandemic use,
- 39% reported their park use had doubled during COVID-19,
- 83% said parks have had a positive impact on their connection to nature during the pandemic,
- 82% of those that said they had spent more time in parks during the pandemic said they expected to maintain their levels or park or use parks even more.
The implications of these findings are complex. While parks and green spaces are vital to our social connection and health and well-being, the huge uptick in park use has put additional pressures on the parks and natural systems in our cities. Some municipalities are struggling to maintain parks now that more people are using them and some have had to boost education and signage to encourage park users to use these vital spaces to protect the places we love.
As city parks become increasingly central to people’s lives there will need to be greater investment to ensure everyone can access a quality park in their community, and that the parks we have can be maintained and protected.
People Want Stewardship Opportunities
Resurfacing History Program, Vancouver. Credit: Still Moon Arts
Park People’s 2021 CCPR survey found that 58% of Canadians say they’ve become more interested in park stewardship activities like planting, pulling invasive species and hands-in-the-dirt work in nature.
In Park People’s survey of stewardship participants at three of Canada’s large urban parks (High Park, Mount Royal and Stanley Park), we found evidence that engaging in park stewardship creates positive outcomes for people. In fact:
- 94% of respondents who engage in park stewardship said that participating in these programs enhances their mental well-being,
- 55% of survey respondents said that as a result of their park stewardship work, they’re more likely to talk about environmental issues with others, and
- 27% of survey respondents said they’ve started doing stewardship or conservation work at home, like removing invasive species or planting in their own backyard.
These findings support research indicating that park stewardship leads to pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours.
Equity is Lagging in City Parks
Youth from Toronto’s Regent Park get together informally about once a week to talk about ways to improve the community. Credit: Christopher Katsarov Luna
We know that the benefits of parks are not equally available to Canadians who identify as Black, Indigenous or a person of colour (BIPOC). In our 2021 CCPR survey, we directly heard that BIPOC communities were likely to spend less time in parks than white Canadians during the pandemic. The reasons cited for this difference were related to increased barriers to accessing parks such as fear of ticketing and harassment.
In our survey, we found that BIPOC Canadians were less likely to report that parks had a positive impact on their mental and physical health or their sense of social connection during the pandemic compared to white Canadians. In fact:
- 22% of Canadians that identified as Black, Indigenous or a person of colour reported experiencing barriers to parks due to harassment or discrimination—more than twice the rate of white respondents.
- 77% of Canadians said they believe people experience parks differently based on aspects of their identity (e.g., race, gender, age).
Finally, our public survey showed that while 54% of white Canadians expressed a growing interest in park stewardship, 70% of those who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of colour (BIPOC) expressed an interest in engaging in park stewardship. The interest is there, but the opportunities are lagging.
In addition, in our survey of the Cornerstone Park network:
- BIPOC Canadians were underrepresented among stewardship volunteers in large urban parks – about 18% of our partners’ volunteer base.
- Only 10% of stewardship volunteers in large urban parks identify as having a disability and,
- Only 26% of park stewardship volunteers say they’re newcomers to Canada (arrived less than 5 years ago).
The 2022 Canadian City Parks Report, due out in June 2022 will allow us to track these numbers and trends over time. We expect that the results will confirm that parks will continue to do a lot of “heavy lifting” for cities and that equity remains vital issue municipalities and park leaders need to address.
Also, our 2022 Conference will take on many of the biggest challenges we face in city parks.
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