Whether you’re 5 or 55,  when you move to a new place, one of your first thoughts is about the people you’ll find: “Will I be able to make new friends? Will they get me?”

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Park People’s first Park Summit in a new city happened on Earth Day with Ecology Ottawa. We knew from our experience hosting our national conference in March, that there’s something about “park people” that makes for easy connections. However, we were elated and, frankly, moved to see 125 incredible Ottawans gathered together for their first-ever Park Summit. While we’ve hosted six Toronto Park Summits in the past, this event in a new space gave us fresh perspective on what happens when you put park people in a room together. Here’s some of what we learned.

“If you build it, they will come.”

Our goals out of the gate were ambitious but achievable. Ecology Ottawa and the steering committee organizing the Summit hoped that 80 people would turn up for this inaugural Park Summit. After all, it was first-ever city parks event in Ottawa. Also, it was being held on Earth Day, a day chock-a-block with environmental and community events. We were overwhelmed to find that 125 people showed up. This felt like a strong signal that people across Canada want to talk parks and connect around the issues connected to their public spaces.

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The 125 people at the Ottawa Park Summit represented 50 different community organizations active in parks. Some groups were ‘park friends’ similar to the model in Toronto, but most were not. Ottawa has a very vibrant network of citizens’ associations, community garden groups and ‘adopt a park’ groups that were well represented at the event.  It was cool to learn about these different models and methods that Ottawans use to engage in and steward their parks and public spaces. For example, some citizens’ associations have a parks and greenspace chair on their board. This person is responsible for thinking about all of the parks and greenspace in the whole neighbourhood from a citizen perspective. They organise park adoptions, tree planting and events, as well as advocating the city and developers to protect and enhance parks and green space.

Small is beautiful

The Ottawa Park Summit was full of opportunities for interactive participation and networking, including a ‘world café’ showcasing citizen-led park projects from around Ottawa, like a community garden by and for children, a park revitalization project rooted in inclusion, and biodome! Attendees had the chance to connect and learn in small groups, leading to meaningful connections and conversations, and they got to vote with their feet by visiting the café stations that featured topics they were most interested in. While the Toronto Park Summit brings a grassroots focus to park work in the city, the world café was more intimate and helped create new connections among attendees. This point was noted and will definitely inform our approach to future park events.

Park people need connection:

By the end of the Summit, it was clear that Ottawa’s park enthusiasts were determined to keep the conversation going. The group talked about establishing a local city parks network newsletter similar to Park People’s local newsletter, more face-to-face gatherings, online resources, a councillor relations strategy, and an awards program to recognise great work in local city parks.

The experience of launching a Park Summit in Ottawa not only reminded us that there are Park People in cities across Canada, but that there’s a collective need to recognise and strengthen the work that’s already happening in our city parks.

Read more about Park People’s Ottawa adventures:

 

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