This article was written by Adriana Stark. Adriana was a summer student at Park People and continues to work as an intern as part of her work at University of Toronto’s Urban Design program.

This summer I had the pleasure of attending several Moonlight Movies, a series of free film screenings hosted by Park People in parks outside of the downtown core. This program, part of our Sparking Change initiative, highlighted one of parks’ unique qualities: they are places where we can build a sense of home.

When we talk about healthy neighbourhoods, we know that it’s crucial for people to know their neighbours; terms like ‘social capital’ and ‘social cohesion’ have become sort of buzzwords. What gets less attention are the connections people form with their neighbourhoods themselves, what’s known as place attachment.

Certainly, social attachments and place attachments are interconnected. Person-to-place bonds are often formed concurrently with neighbour-to-neighbour relationships, as socializing with others helps us to forge the memories and meanings we associate with particular places. When we’ve accumulated experiences and feelings in a particular place, we, in turn feel more ‘at home’ there. At Moonlight Movies, I saw this in action: people building memories with each other and in turn building relationships with their parks.

When we’ve accumulated experiences and feelings in a particular place, we in turn feel more ‘at home’ there. At Moonlight Movies, I saw this in action: people building memories with each other and in turn building relationships with their parks.

Moonlight Movies quickly became a familiar rhythm. Families would start to trickle in, each claiming a patch of grass for their picnic blankets and camping chairs. From there, parents, grandparents and older siblings could enjoy Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation hosted preshow activities like live music, or tai chi lessons, while the littler ones would run off to join in soccer tournaments, trivia contests, or face-painting.

Chatting with the preshow crowd often felt like mingling at a giant family reunion. At Cedarbrook Park, a gentleman offered me a handful of his caramel corn, but I was quickly pulled away by a young girl eager to introduce me to each member of her prized beanie baby collection. At Centennial Park, a grandmother gushed about how excited she was that her daughter and grandkids had traveled in from Brampton to see the Lego Movie.

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Centennial Park 

However, if these were truly to be family reunions, they would be the most diverse families I’ve seen. At each Moonlight Movie, I met people from all over the world, many of them newcomers. In fact, at our Parkway Forest Park event, Park People’s National Network Manager, Natalie, met a family who had only been in the country for 2 weeks! Building a sense of home takes on entirely new meaning the context of recently arrived Torontonians, as parks become footholds where families can begin to put down roots in their new city.

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Parkway Forest Park

When the sun was almost down, all the kids would return to their families, exhausted, and finally the movie would begin.

As families turned their eyes to the big screen, I watched parks become living rooms. It was an intimate sight: heavy-lidded kids curled up next to their brothers and sisters, parents’ clasped hands hanging between their camping chairs, and all of these families huddled together with their picnic blankets practically overlapping. As an on-looker I felt almost bashful, as if I was peering into the windows of a dozen family homes all at once. And at the same time, I felt inspired: I was watching people connect with their neighbourhood in new ways, and it was nothing short of magical.

Special Thanks to our partner: City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation for hosting the Moonlight Movie pre-shows and helping us make the movie nights such a success.

Also, thanks goes out to our Media Sponsor The Little Paper and our Supporter Ontario Trillium Foundation.

 

This initiative is part of Park People’s Sparking Change Program, which works to create green community hubs in underserved neighbourhoods. It is made possible with generous support from TD Bank Group, The John and Marion Taylor Family Fund, City of Toronto, Cultural Hotspot, Toronto StreetArt, Toronto Arts Foundation, Toronto Community Housing and Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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