Flyover Park: Empowering the next generation of city builders in Calgary

This contribution from Ximena González is part of Park People’s 10 Years Together in City Parks. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the year.



On an early spring day in Calgary, Flyover Park buzzes with activity and playful laughter. Surrounded by friends, a couple of teens sway off a face-to-face swing, while tweens leap through a bamboo jungle (a three-dimensional climbing course not for the faint of heart).

Sheltered by the shade of a flyover above, a family competes in a fierce ping-pong game while, behind them, a mother helps her youngest go up the hillside playground. An assortment of languages fills the air: English, French, Spanish.

In this context, it can be hard to believe that just three years ago this space was a dingy field of gravel. “It was full of litter, graffiti, needles, people’s clothes—it was just not safe,” says Ali McMillan, planning director at the Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association (BRCA).

Built in 2020 with funds sourced by Calgary’s Parks Foundation, a non-profit whose mandate is to support the creation of new parks for the enjoyment of all Calgarians, Flyover Park materializes the vision of a group of engaged residents who dared to think outside the box and reclaim an underutilized space full of potential.

“We didn’t really have an idea where it was going to go,” McMillan says about the group’s initial vision. “We wanted to do some tactical urbanism to basically get people’s minds thinking differently about the area,” she explains.

Launched by residents as a small intervention, the project would morph into a lasting change for the community—and the first project of its kind in Alberta.


“Bamboo” climbing poles. Photo by Ximena Gonzalez.


Residents reclaim a ‘left-over’ space

Located at the south end of Bridgeland, between the neighbourhood and the Bow River, Flyover Park sits under an overpass known as the 4th Avenue flyover. It’s part of a complicated interchange of roads and bridges that connects Calgary’s northeast across the river to the city’s downtown and East Village.

The site where Flyover Park is today sat empty for nearly two decades. “A lot of us didn’t know that the flyover was even there,” says Miles Bazay, a student who used to go to Langevin School, a K-9 school located just 300 metres north of the site.

Year after year, thousands of Bridgeland-Riverside residents would drive, walk, or cycle by this derelict space.

“This is the first thing a lot of people see when they come from downtown into our community, and the impression was not good because it was just basically a dirt patch,” McMillan says. This unsightly welcome didn’t reflect the unique character of the neighbourhood.

Filled with homes that predate the 1960s, modern multi-family buildings, and an assortment of locally-owned shops and restaurants, Bridgeland-Riverside is one of Calgary’s most vibrant inner-city communities. These characteristics have attracted a young and diverse population to the neighbourhood.

Improving the condition of the empty space under the flyover would connect the neighbourhood’s parks, community gardens, sports fields, and bike lanes to Calgary’s Bow River Pathway system, a 48-km long network of multi-use trails. Nearly a quarter of the community’s residents walk or cycle to work, many of whom use this network.

Despite this connectivity potential, the City of Calgary had no plans to activate the space. But in 2016, inspired by the work of Jason Roberts’s Better Block Foundation, McMillan decided to spearhead her own tactical urbanism intervention.

“[Tactical urbanism] opens your eyes to how you see your community and that your voice matters,” she says.


The power of small interventions


Tactical urbanism is a citizen-led movement that gained force in the 2010s. The movement encourages residents to test ideas that reclaim and transform forgotten public places into vibrant community hubs—one temporary intervention at a time.

Installing pop-up parks in neglected spaces is a common tactic used by residents to test their ideas, and many of these projects lead to permanent upgrades. Flyover Park would become Calgary’s first tactical intervention to become permanent.

Under McMillan’s direction, the BRCA created a task force to put together a plan to enhance the space.

The goal of this plan was “to design an enjoyable public environment” and “to create a gateway into the community of Bridgeland-Riverside.” This thorough document outlined the design considerations and aesthetics that would guide the project through completion.

To improve the public realm, the task force drew ideas from projects in cities around the world such as Superkilen Park in Copenhagen and Drapers Field in London.

But despite the successful precedents, getting the project off the ground was no easy feat.

“It’s a really unique site there—we have not done an urban park in the ‘left-over’ transportation infrastructure anywhere in Alberta,” McMillan says, emphasizing the initial skepticism from a number of stakeholders, including the neighbours themselves. “A lot of people couldn’t see past what the area actually was… It was a lot of fighting perception and trying to show people it could be different.”

In 2017, McMillan and the task force carried out the first tactical intervention in the space.

“The first thing we did was a windmill garden. We put like 20 windmills—just stuck them in the ground in the middle of winter,” McMillan recalls. It helped catch the attention of future partners.

Over the course of a year, these kinds of small interventions led the BRCA to partnerships with the City of Calgary, Bridgeland’s Langevin School Grade 6 students, and the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. The inclusion of the Grade 6 students in the project would prove to be integral to the development of the project—and an educational opportunity not just for the children, but for everyone involved.


Early conceptual image based on student ideas. Courtesy of the City of Calgary.


An all-around learning experience


In 2017, the transportation department at the City of Calgary had just completed the city’s pedestrian strategy, but while the council hadn’t yet allocated any funding to it, the department was keen to support a low-budget grassroots initiative.

When Jen Malzer, a transportation engineer at the City of Calgary, learned about the BRCA’s efforts to transform the space under the 4th Avenue flyover and connect Bridgeland to the river pathway, she and her team seized the opportunity.

“We didn’t have funding to hire consultants, which is normally how we might approach a project,” Malzer says. Having the Langevin School Grade 6 students and the University of Calgary landscape architecture master’s degree students on board, Malzer’s team took a different approach. “We could just enable students to dream about the parts of the project and give expertise where we could,” she says—an unusual role for city staff.

Accustomed to the back-and-forth of stakeholder engagement sessions, for Malzer’s team this project was an opportunity to “give up some of the control.”

Furthermore, as part of the pedestrian strategy, the city was developing a tactical urbanism program; participating in the flyover project helped city staff gain an in-depth understanding of the process.

“This really gave us a good insight into what the city’s role should be when we’re working with communities,” Malzer says. “We learned about the power of elevating different voices.”

And in this case, it was the voices of the Grade 6 students. While children are always welcome to join engagement activities led by the city, Malzer says, they rarely actually do so. The Grade 6 students would become front and centre for the project. “It was a really cool experience. I never thought that we could get to do something like that,” says Bazay, who was part of the class.

Sixty Langevin School Grade 6 students were able to take part in this project thanks to the foresight of their teachers. “[Ali McMillan] was looking for some students to be involved in working with the city and just talking about areas of Bridgeland that are a little bit neglected,” recalls Kate Logan, one of the teachers. She and Elaine Hordo, her partner teacher, jumped at the opportunity. “We were looking for something to get these kids involved in some kind of action project, something to make a difference in the community,” Logan adds.

Excited about the potential of the space and the learning opportunities for the students, Malzer helped coordinate educational sessions with an assortment of city departments, giving students a solid background that would inform their vision for the space. “I was able to bring in a lot of different experts: urban foresters, designers, water engineers, to give students a little bit of context about what are some of the things to think about,” Malzer says.

This experience enabled the children to think about the possibilities for the space.

“We spent a lot of time at the flyover site, just looking around,” Logan says. They also visited other parts of the city and observed the different uses a vacant space could be given to revitalize it and build community.“Our class decided to do something with that space,” Bazay says. “It was a really good space, it just wasn’t being used in the right way.”

When the University of Calgary graduate students led a design charrette in the spring of 2017, the children were more than ready to provide their input. During the initial design session, Ben Hettinga, then one of the University of Calgary students, recalls being impressed by the ideas of the Grade 6 students. “There were normal kid things like playgrounds and fun pieces, but their focus also seemed to be on making the space welcoming and safe for everyone.” This sentiment is echoed by Malzer, “the students were really clear that the project should make play fun for everyone, not just kids.”

Integrating all of the students’ knowledge and ideas, the design produced by the landscape architecture students went on to earn an honourable mention at Calgary’s Mayor Urban Design Awards and win a National Urban Design Award. “We were just having fun with it—ideas that we thought would just brighten up the space,” Bazay says humbly. “We never really thought that it would get built but then we got funding and it was really exciting for our class.”


Through this experience, the Grade 6 students learned valuable lessons on city building, an opportunity few Calgarians get to experience at such a young age. According to Logan, this project taught her students about the importance of civic engagement, “knowing that as a citizen you have a responsibility for yourself and others and that the decisions you make impact others.”

The involvement of the Langevin School was also key to gaining momentum, McMillan says, as the participation of the Grade 6 students led to project seed funding from the Calgary Foundation. “With this funding, we painted the road and bought chairs and picnic tables; we built planters and that sort of thing,” she says.

And this action was key, as it was an opportunity to test their ideas and to prove the community’s interest in such a space. The success of the temporary improvements in the summer of 2017 solidified the partnership with the Parks Foundation and led to further improvements such as the painting of a mural and the installation of a ping-pong table.


Painting the road as a tactical intervention, 2017. Photo courtesy of Ali McMillan.


Materializing the community’s dreams


In the spring of 2019, Calgary’s Parks Foundation announced the construction of a permanent urban park was moving forward thanks to a donation from the Alberta government.

“I never thought that we could have such a big impact in the community,” Bazay says.

Although the design of the space went through several subsequent iterations, and a number of features were scrapped at the construction stage, Flyover Park does capture the essence of the youth who helped propel the project.

“It’s not your typical playground. We tried to design something for everyone in some of those groups that didn’t have a place to be,” McMillan says.

Besides playground equipment for all ages, the design layout includes an esplanade to accommodate food trucks and outdoor events, providing recreation opportunities for adults and kids alike and reflecting the spirit of inclusiveness shown by the Langevin School students.

The tactical nature of the project also helped it move forward swiftly. By contrast, the Bow to Bluff corridor in Sunnyside, a similar project in Calgary’s inner-city also spearheaded by community residents but taking a more conventional approach, has taken nearly a decade to materialize.

These tactical interventions have also helped inform other city-led improvements for the community’s main streets, such as the 1st Avenue NE Streetscape Master Plan, which aims to improve the pedestrian and cycling experience and connect Bridgeland’s amenities, including Flyover Park, with the Bow River Pathway.

But ultimately, the BRCA did more than transform an empty space into a vibrant community hub—the efforts of the community also helped empower a young generation of city-builders.

“I think we definitely learned a lot about what we can actually do to change our communities,” Bazay says. “And if more students could get involved with projects like this, I think that would be really great for the community.”



About Ximena González

Ximena González is a freelance writer and editor based in Calgary. Her work has appeared in The Sprawl, The Tyee and The Globe and Mail.



Thank you to our generous supporters:



This contribution from Ximena González is part of Park People’s 10 Years Together in City Parks. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the year.


Park People launches first-of-its-kind network for Canada’s large urban parks

Les Amis de la Montagne, Stanley Park Ecology Society and High Park Nature Centre, three of Canada’s most successful and longest-standing park-based non-profit organizations, were among the 100 Delegates in attendance when Park People launched its national network at the Heart of the City Conference in Calgary in 2017.


As Park People expanded its national programs and launched the first Canadian City Parks Report, we learned of the immense impact of these groups. For example, while four million people visit Banff National Park every year, over 8 million visit Mont-Royal – 30,000 times more visitors per acre of parkland. In fact, taken together, these three large urban parks see more than 17 million visitors every year.


Over the course of the pandemic, Park People began hosting a series of virtual “cinq a sept” sessions with large urban park organizations to delve deeper into how we could best serve these groups so they could, in turn, maximize solutions to make our cities greener and more resilient in the face of a changing climate. We learned that these large urban parks need recognition and funding to support their immense contribution to climate change and community resilience.


During the pandemic, Canadians flocked to Mount Royal, Stanley Park and High Park in never-before-seen numbers. In Park People’s own survey, we found that almost three-quarters (70%) of Canadians said their appreciation for parks and green spaces has increased during COVID-19. It’s clear that even as vaccines bring the end of the pandemic into view, there will continue to be unprecedented pressures on the unique ecosystems found in these parks.



Credit photo: Les amis de la montagne, Camp de jou, Freddy Arciniegas, 2019


Today, Park People is excited to be launching Cornerstone Parks, the first-of-its-kind national collaboration to revitalize the green infrastructure of the country’s largest urban parks and celebrate their incomparable value to overall wellbeing. We call them ‘Cornerstone Parks’ to express how central they are to our cities.


A Cornerstone Park is defined as a large urban green space that contributes biodiversity, ecosystem services, and multiple parks uses to the community at large. In these parks, City staff, local and park-based NGOs, and community leaders facilitate activities focused on environmental education and stewardship, to engage people from diverse backgrounds in connecting to nature and to each other. These Cornerstone Parks provide invaluable environmental and social benefits to our urban environments that make our communities healthier and more resilient to the effects of climate change.


In the first year, Park People is bringing these three groups together to support their ecosystem revitalization efforts. In Toronto’s High Park, funding will improve wetland health and restore the globally rare Black Oak Savanna habitat by removing invasive species. Efforts in Montreal’s Mont-Royal will likewise mutually benefit the park’s forests and wetlands. Through planting and stewardship work, the restored marsh will be better able to absorb stormwater thus improving groundwater quality and the habitat for species. This will reduce erosion and surface water runoff that damages the forest. In Stanley Park, by planting 500 native trees and shrubs and removing 10,000 square metres of invasive species, efforts will enhance the health of this coastal temperate rainforest that serves as a powerful carbon store and wildlife habitat in downtown Vancouver.


Sara Street, Executive Director of High Park Nature Centre says: “Today, we understand nature’s role in restoring our sense of well-being. We need to go further and take a bigger view on how restoring nature actually makes our cities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”


In addition to supporting critical restoration work, Cornerstone Parks will act as a backbone to connect these large urban park NGOs together to establish a forum for the exchange of knowledge and sharing of best practices. The Cornerstone Parks program will be underpinned by a rigorous impact evaluation to measure and amplify learnings about the value of large urban parks for community well-being and ecosystems.



Credit photo: Stanley Park Ecology Society


Dylan Rawlyk, Executive Director at Stanley Park Ecology Society says:

“By working as a group, we can make a greater difference, scale up our work and tell our collective story in a way that none of us can do alone.”

Hélène Panaioti, executive director of Les amis de la montagne echoes this sentiment:

“Cornerstone Parks recognizes we have so much to share with, and so much to learn from, our fellow non-governmental parks organizations across the country. Park People is bringing much-needed awareness to how important these green spaces are, and providing us with the necessary framework to revitalize the ecosystems.”


The long-term vision of the program is to ensure that there is an ecologically and socially vibrant Cornerstone park within reach of every urban Canadian. Park People’s Program Director Natalie Brown says,

“Large urban parks offer so much value for cities. Park People’s providing a backbone to strengthen their work and galvanize support for more large urban parks. There’s no question that there are large-scale precious landscapes that could serve climate change and community goals. We couldn’t be more excited to help make it happen.”

Through its National Network, Park People will identify other large parks across Canada where investments and a connection to the network will provide maximum ecological and community benefits.




Made possible by the generous support of

 an anonymous donor


Ten years together in city parks

It’s hard to believe, but Park People is celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year. Our very first Toronto Park Summit happened on April 12, 2011.

We are delighted to celebrate Park People’s tenth anniversary with you this year. Back then, Park People had a small and passionate staff who, in the start, quickly created a meeting place for those who cared about parks. It was simple, but that’s how it started. We would never have imagined ten years later how much we would grow.

As we celebrate our tenth anniversary, we celebrate the partnerships, friendships, and connections we’ve made over the years in city parks across Canada.

Your support has been invaluable to us making this milestone.

We know city parks have a remarkable capacity to enhance our cities, connect our communities, improve the quality of life for citizens of all ages. COVID has shone a light on parks’ role in, preventing social isolation and loneliness and providing people with a renewed appreciation for nature’s healing properties.

Today, our National Network comprises 1,055 park groups in 95 Canadian cities representing every Canadian province. We deliver a wide range of innovative and supportive programming in underserved communities fostering a sense of belonging. With strong community partnerships, research, services and outreach, we encourage creative park projects and events and community engagement across Canada, reaching over 50,000 people a year!

But we never could have accomplished any of this without you!

This spring, we aim to raise $10,000 to celebrate ten years of Park People and look to the next decade in city parks. We are reaching out to you and the nearest and dearest members of our network for support. Your donation to Park People will directly impact our work as we continue to grow Nationally and advocate and enhance urban parks across Canada at a local level.

Please donate today and help us celebrate ten years of Park People. To make a donation please visit our website at If you have any questions regarding your support please contact Michelle Cutts, Development Manager at

Reaching our goal of $10,000 will help us look to the future of Canadian city parks.

Dave Harvey,
Executive Director, Park People


Donate today


The cover photo was taken prior to March 2020.

How have you used parks during COVID-19?

What have parks meant to you in the last year? Help shape the future of city parks by telling us how you’ve been using parks and green spaces during COVID-19, and how you think parks can best serve us moving forward.

The survey learnings will be featured in Park People’s 2021 Canadian City Parks Report and shared with municipal parks staff and our network of park professionals and enthusiasts across Canada.

As a thank you, at the end of the survey you’ll have the opportunity to enter a draw for one of three $100 VISA gift cards.

The survey will end on April 26th, 2021.

Answer the survey now!

Park People Ten Years Out: A Reflection and a Look Forward

This contribution from Ken Greenberg is part of Park People’s 10 Years Together in City Parks. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the year.

Parks have a remarkable capacity to enhance the city, connect communities, improve the quality of life for citizens of all ages, overcome social isolation and loneliness and provide access to the healing properties of nature.

When people come together around their parks they increase social capital and develop deep roots in their communities, strengthening networks and overcoming polarization by directing attention and resources to underserved areas and populations.

One critical question has been, how to meet an ever-expanding demand for park space as urban populations grow and intensify. The key demand of city residents across Canada, expressed over and over in community meetings about intensifying development, is the call for more and improved parks and open space as part of an expanded public realm.

This is the dilemma. How can Canadian cities get ahead of the intense development curve to shape a dynamic and growing city around a forward-looking program for expanding their network of parks?

Another critical question revolves around how to ensure that all areas of the city and in particular disadvantaged neighbourhoods that lack meaningful park space are well served and treated equitably. In some cases, while there are open spaces that may appear as green on a map, they lack amenities and are hard to access for much of the population, poorly related to people’s daily lives.

When Covid-19 burst on the scene in 2020, if anything it functioned as a ‘particle accelerator’ highlighting deficiencies and vulnerabilities and in many cases pushing us to do things we were already trying to do more rapidly and nimbly. Among other things, it has put an intense spotlight on our need for parks as a vital release from our forced confinement.

What follows are some thoughts on where the lessons of this moment might take us in the next decade.

In dozens of cities around the world, we are seeing an irrepressible demand for safe and accessible outdoor space and people have been taking to their parks like never before. The park has become Canada’s version of the Italian piazza, our essential shared commons. I see it in my neighbourhood in Toronto, where every available park space has become an intensely used outdoor living room for all ages late into the evening hours and even in winter.

This intensified use of our parks is a reflection of the desire to be outdoors while respecting physical distancing, but it is also revealing an entirely new way of seeing and using the city and being with each other and as we experience this change in our lives, the momentum is unlikely to be reversed post-Covid. The ‘improvised’ shift is dramatically accelerating a movement that was already underway.

On the one hand, an increasing desire for urban living was already leading to a greater need for shared public space. Meeting this need in traditional ways was thwarted by high land costs for acquiring traditional parks.

The need for more space was accompanied by a change in how we use that public space and the kinds of experiences we seek, more fluid and interconnected, leading to new forms like linear “greenways” reflecting the shift from auto-dependent lifestyles to active movement — cycling and walking.



Covid 19 raised the ante. It begs the question of what our next public spaces will be as we continue to evolve into great and densely populated cities.

The current moment offers some clues. It is not only about the quantity of public open space — in conventional planning terms we were focused on the square metres of parkland per inhabitant within a given radius — and while this is important, it is actually more important to focus on the quality and usefulness of that space and how it enhances our lives.

We are now seeing dramatically how public space is not a frill or a non-essential “nice to have.” A generously endowed and welcoming network of public space offers significant benefits to public health, both physically and mentally.

We were already in the midst of a public health crisis, exacerbated by sedentary lifestyles where an overreliance on the automobile and a tendency to spend long hours in front of screens has produced an epidemic of obesity as well as increases in diabetes and heart disease — especially alarming among children.

This health crisis puts a premium on public spaces where people of all ages can get out and participate in active pastimes, from simply walking and cycling to a whole range of year-round sports and athletic activities close to where they live and work, making these health-promoting activities part of their daily life routines.

Betsy Barlow Rogers the founder of the Central Park Conservancy, presciently commented that “as the city becomes more park-like, the park becomes more city-like”. In other words, a fusion as the hard boundaries are breached. The entire city can become greener and more park-like and connected for people on foot and on bicycle.

Fostering residents’ ability to move around relatively freely and experience more of the city this way will help to break down the perceived barriers between neighbourhoods and districts as flows become more continuous. The elements of the public realm that serve as green links between areas will play a vital role in helping to make the city feel like a seamless whole. In this spirit, London has declared itself an entire National Park City.

With time, it can be anticipated that the examples of connection that we are creating ‘on the fly’ today will become the rule. With the shift to a more expansive sense of a park-like public realm, a new liberating “reading” of the city will emerge, no longer orienting itself only or primarily by highways and major arterials but increasingly by connected networks of common space serving as guideways throughout the city.

When we look at the city through fresh eyes, this reopens the question of what constitutes a park. Putting together all the pieces of the public realm — laneways, street redesign, ravines, hydro corridors, rail lines, stormwater management systems, flood-proofing plans, and transportation initiatives, a vastly expanded public realm can emerge, one that addresses many of the city’s current deficiencies. This new realm will be different, both in scale and kind.

Rather than discretely bounded public spaces carved out of a grid of street blocks — parks and squares — this new kind of public space has the potential to become the fully continuous, connective tissue of the urban fabric itself.

This more expansive idea of the entire cityscape as a landscape, where flows become more organic and seamless in some ways gets us back to an indigenous pre-colonial sense of the land we inhabit as a generous shared “commons,” no longer hard-edged and hemmed into defined boundaries.

Capitalizing on this expanded perspective of what a park is and can be will be the emerging agenda for the next decade, and Park People will play a vital role in shaping that agenda.

For the past decade, Park People has been advocating for enabling parks to reach their full potential, by opening up to more community-initiated life and activity, making more use of volunteers, running local cafes, food stands, and community gardens, bringing more sources of funding and sweat equity and engaging underserved communities.




When Park People was founded in 2011, I was privileged to serve on its Board, and later my wife, Eti served on the Board as well. Park People, with its highly talented and passionate staff, quickly became a meeting place for those who cared about parks, linking park groups from across Toronto who were unaware of each other’s existence.

Its role was part lobbying, part networking, part sharing experience, and overall gaining strength in numbers in dealing with city hall. Soon city staff and politicians also began to see Park People as an essential ally and a conduit to local communities.

That was how it started, but who could have imagined how far Park People would come in the following years. The first five years were dedicated to connecting and supporting Toronto’s robust network of community park groups, park professionals, non-profit groups and funders.

But as Park People continued to grow, other cities across Canada were paying attention and expressed their own needs for an organization and network to support their work in parks. So in 2017 Park People launched its National Network at its first National Conference in Calgary.

Now, in 2021, as Park People celebrates its tenth anniversary, the Park People Network is made up of 850 park groups in 46 Canadian cities, in every Canadian province. There are 30 staff across Canada with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

The board is national and includes many dedicated park champions, city builders and leaders. Park People’s Canadian City Parks Report, now in its third year, is Canada’s only report on the trends and challenges facing city parks. A range of innovative programs supports programming in underserved communities, creative park projects and events, and community engagement across Canada.

Several park initiatives manifest what Park People calls “the power of parks” and will be profiled in this series marking the organization’s ten-year anniversary.

As these examples attest, the prospects for innovation in park development and stewardship in Canada are very promising. A strong foundation has been laid in the past ten years by Park People, identifying needs as well as opportunities, mobilizing community resources and stimulating Canadian cities to act. In the process, new horizons have been opened up. It will be inspiring to experience these remarkable new park spaces and see what comes next.



About Ken Greenberg


Ken Greenberg is an urban designer, teacher, writer, former Director of Urban Design and Architecture for the City of Toronto and Principal of Greenberg Consultants. He is a recipient of the Order of Canada and served on Park People’s Board of Directors for eight years and played an integral role in establishing the organization.



Thank you to our generous supporters:



This contribution from Ken Greenberg is part of Park People’s 10 Years Together in City Parks. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the year.


From Railway to Greenway: How Vancouver is transforming a rail line into a destination park

This contribution from Jillian Glover is part of Park People’s 10 Years Together in City Parks. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the year.



As a child growing up on the westside of Vancouver, the railroad track along the Arbutus Corridor ran behind the tall hedges of our backyard. My sister and I would play along the tracks with neighbourhood kids, often leaving pennies behind to discover them flattened by passing trains the next day.



Children have a way of turning any space, even an industrial rail line, into a place for social gathering and play. Almost 40 years later, many cities around the world have adopted out-of-the-box thinking, converting underused industrial land into public spaces. This innovative approach to park design includes the Arbutus Corridor, which the City of Vancouver purchased in 2016 and is working to transform into the Arbutus Greenway, a ribbon of pathways and parks through the heart of Vancouver’s westside.


“The Arbutus Corridor has a history and it runs through parts of the city that in everyone’s minds are already developed,” says Antonio Gómez-Palacio, a partner at DIALOG, the urban planning firm that led the design and engagement process for the project. “Converting it to a greenway was an act of tenacity and creativity, working with the community to see the world in a different way, and to see a park there waiting to be discovered.”


The Greenway’s history spans over 100 years – from its beginnings as a railway for passengers and local industry, to contentious negotiations between the City of Vancouver and CP rail for its purchase. Today, it is an active transportation pathway that runs from the tourist destination of Granville Island to Vancouver’s southern edge, overlooking the Fraser River. In the future, it will become a multimodal corridor linking a series of destination parks and public spaces, and in the meantime, the local community has found creative ways to bring people together along its path.


From railway to greenway



The Arbutus Corridor, originally called the Vancouver & Lulu Island Railway, was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1902 to connect Vancouver to the Richmond community of Steveston, home to a bustling fishing and canning industry.

In 1905, the BC Electric Company leased the line from the CPR, electrified it, and began running a passenger rail service called the Interurban. It departed from the north end of the Granville Bridge, travelled through the westside neighbourhoods of Vancouver, and ended in Richmond. Interurban trains ceased operation in 1952, but short freight trains continued to use the Arbutus Corridor until 2001 (one of its last customers was the Molson Brewery). After that, the tracks remained dormant for 15 years.



Throughout that time, the idea of developing a greenway along the corridor was part of Vancouver’s future plans. Council passed the Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan in 2000, which proposed turning it into a multi-use transportation greenway. In 2014, the City of Vancouver was finally in negotiations with Canadian Pacific (CP) to purchase the land, which runs through some of the most valuable property in North America; however, they couldn’t agree on a price. As a result, Canadian Pacific threatened to run trains along the line and started tearing out adjacent community gardens in preparation.

This action hastened negotiations and an agreement was reached in March 2016, with the City buying the Arbutus Corridor for $55 million. At the time, then-mayor Gregor Robertson said the 42 acres would be used as a greenway with the possibility of light passenger rail in the future.


Activation now



The City didn’t wait for those plans to be finalized before making the corridor available to the public. Within a year, Vancouver built a temporary 9.5 km asphalt path along the rail line that connected six communities on the city’s westside.

The interim design for the Arbutus Greenway has been in place for over four years and is widely used and embraced by the local community. It now attracts thousands of people every day, providing an opportunity to walk, bike, and roll from False Creek to the Fraser River. According to a health study of the Greenway conducted by INTERACT from 2016-2019, the usage grows exponentially every year and, overall, it is seen by the community as a safe natural oasis in the city where you can go for an uninterrupted, smooth stroll and have informal social interactions.


“It has opened up a new avenue of meeting and greeting people and getting to know neighbours,” said one study participant from the Marpole neighbourhood.


“It just feels spacious and open. I feel like I’m suddenly in the midst of nature in the middle of a very busy city, and it’s just peaceful,” said another study participant from Kerrisdale.


In 2018, Vancouver City Council endorsed enhancing the path to give people more places to gather, rest, and enjoy the surrounding landscape. This decision kicked off the planning process to create the Arbutus Greenway. The Greenway’s ambitious plans are not expected to be completed until 2034, but in the meantime, many local organizations have worked to activate the existing space with grassroots projects that demonstrate its potential.



The Arbutus Greenway Neighbour Hub dubbed a local “lending library of things,” was created by Neighbour Lab, a design and urban planning cooperative, in collaboration with the Thingery. A seating area and a bulletin board were set up to enable the community to share information. The showpiece installation was a hand crank that passersby could use to produce kinetic energy to charge cell phones.


“We launched the Neighbour Hub to create a community hub and gathering spot along the Arbutus Greenway,” says Stephanie Koenig, Content Developer for Neighbour Lab. “We designed and built the project together with a neighbourhood stewardship team. We also had a neighbour passing by as we were installing who ended up helping build a free library on the side!”


Finding public space in the built-up city


The next step in the Greenway’s evolution will be to implement the permanent transformation of this space, so that it becomes not just a pathway but a multifaceted destination both for the many neighbourhoods along the route and for people across Vancouver.


In the words of the City of Vancouver, “The Arbutus Greenway is a defining element of Vancouver’s urban landscape. It is envisioned to be a destination inspired by nature and stories of the places it connects.”


Greenways are linear parks for pedestrians and cyclists that connect nature reserves, cultural features, historic sites, neighbourhoods, and retail areas. Vancouver’s most popular greenways have typically been purpose-built and along the waterfront, like the Stanley Park and False Creek seawalls. The Arbutus Greenway is the first greenway connecting the north and south side of Vancouver through an existing built-up area, using repurposed industrial land.

The plan for the Arbutus corridor is part of a growing urbanism trend toward transforming obsolete infrastructure into public space. One of the most famous examples is the High Line in New York City, a 2.33 km-long elevated linear park created on a former New York Central Railroad spur. Since opening in June 2009, the High Line has become a tourist attraction that, by 2019, had eight million visitors per year.

Projects like the High Line and Vancouver’s Arbutus Greenway exemplify the challenge of finding park space in the built-up city. When there isn’t a parking lot to convert into a park, cities get creative to find other underused pockets of land. In Canada, Toronto’s Meadoway is turning a hydro corridor in Scarborough into a 16-kilometre stretch of urban greenspace and meadowlands. The city also launched the Bentway to turn previously unused space under the Gardiner Expressway near the lakefront into a linear park.

In 2020, the need for more urban parks like these reached a fever pitch as cities struggled with citizens in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic demanding more access to nature. It became clear that parks aren’t just “a nice to have,” they are necessary to our wellbeing.


According to a Park People survey in June 2020, 80% of Canadians said parks had become more important to their mental health during the pandemic. As one respondent wrote, “Living alone has meant that walks and outside visits are the only social contact I have had for 4 months. I would have been a mess without access to parks, ravines, trails, and the waterfront.”


A journey, and a destination



The Arbutus Greenway will be a journey, and also a destination. – City of Vancouver


In 2017, the City of Vancouver worked with DIALOG, a Canadian urban planning and design firm, to kick off a large public engagement campaign on the future design for the Arbutus Greenway

Before the City launched the official public engagement process, there was already buzz and excitement at the community level. City staff initially put out markers along the Arbutus Corridor to start the conversation on its future and received a large volume of responses from local residents. Overall, people wanted the Greenway to be a safe, accessible transportation route with opportunities to socialize and connect with nature:


“It should be a car-free corridor with plenty of opportunities for people to slowly travel its length, stop and enjoy nature, have a bite to eat at nearby restaurants. Parks and open spaces to relax.”


“I would like to see re-introduction of local wildlife if it all possible, more birds,
more pollinators. I want to feel like I’m out in nature while in the middle of the city.”


“That is why making the Greenway a people place, instead of just a multimodal corridor, became such a priority,” says Mr. Gómez-Palacio. “There was already so much grassroots involvement and it kept that spirit of park and placemaking front and centre throughout the design process.”


As part of the planning and design process, the Arbutus Greenway project team had 7,000 touchpoints with members of the public at over 50 events, including a multi-day design workshop, numerous stakeholder workshops, open houses, and online surveys.

Community organizations such as the Vancouver Public Space Network were involved in the public engagement process from the start, to ensure that the Greenway would include vibrant public spaces and meet the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.



“We advocated for a design that had a strong pedestrian-primary focus, consistently separated ‘all ages and abilities’ bike routing, clear routing for the future streetcar – and, yes, lots of greenery for the greenway,” says Naomi Wittes Reichstein, Arbutus Greenway project lead for the Vancouver Public Space Network.


Reichstein’s mention of a streetcar references a major factor in the design for The Arbutus Greenway: future plans for a light rail transit (LRT) line. Although plans for an LRT remain part of the overall vision for the Greenway, the project’s focus has always been people.


“We have been involved in many designs like this and the biggest vehicle always wins. The Arbutus Greenway project was flipped, the first priority was making it a people place, not the streetcar. I have not seen this before or since,” says Gómez-Palacio. “We’ve made sure that any community programs are not lost when the streetcar is eventually built.”


The City of Vancouver summarized the consultation process in this way:

“The vision for the Arbutus Greenway was born out of significant public engagement on both what people’s aspirations for the greenway were and what they valued in terms of uses, activities and experiences. A number of overarching themes emerged over the course of the planning process. These include a desire for: safe, comfortable, and accessible design; places for social interaction, play, and relaxation; and opportunities for urban ecology and urban agriculture.”


The vision


The Arbutus Greenway connects several Vancouver neighbourhoods including Kitsilano, Arbutus Ridge, Shaughnessy, Kerrisdale, and Marpole. Reflecting this diversity, the long-term vision for the greenway is divided into eight distinct character zones that offer respite and reflect the look and feel of these surrounding neighbourhoods. This vision includes activated spaces that create a place for movement and a place to linger.



One zone in a retail section of Arbutus Ridge will become an “Electric Alley,” referring to the presence of utility poles and its adjacency to Broadway, a busy retail and movement corridor. This zone will provide an urban backdrop with two plaza areas that eventually connect to SkyTrain’s underground Broadway extension, as well as large overhead frames for public art, lighting, and weather protection.


“We wanted to build on the existing character of these communities,” says Lindsey Fryett-Jerke, urban designer at DIALOG. “At the future Electric Alley, we observed kids selling lemonade and people selling clothing, so a theme of informal commerce emerged and we designed long, wide benches where people could display things.”


“At the Greenway’s southernmost point,” says Fryett-Jerke, “people watch planes landing at the airport, so we created a lookout tower.” That final zone, dubbed “The Lookout,” will boast a multi-storey viewing platform that provides views of the Fraser River Delta, Vancouver International Airport, and the San Juan Islands.



The other 6 zones will feature spaces to socialize and commune with nature. The “Harvest Table,” themed around food, will feature edible landscaping, long community tables for dining al fresco with neighbours, and a flexible space for pop-up activities. “The Ridge” and “Woodland Bend” will create nature sanctuaries, while the “Garden Path” will provide a wetland, boardwalk, and community kiosk. Gathering and activation areas will be created through large plaza spaces at “Kerrydale Pass,” the largest retail and civic hub on the greenway, and at the “Marpole Meander,” with a large community garden, ping pong and game board tables, a giant chessboard, hammocks, a bike skills course, a community “sharing” shed, and overhead frames for lights and public art.

It is anticipated that Greenway construction will occur across four successive capital plans (developing two-character zones with each plan).


“The Arbutus Corridor was always considered the backside of the neighbourhoods it ran through,” says Gómez-Palacio. “With this new design, we are flipping it to the front and converting it 180 degrees to make it safe, welcome, and open for everyone.”


Over thirty years later, this hidden play space from my childhood will be transformed into a destination that spans the entire city for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy.



About Jillian Glover


Jillian is an accredited communications professional specializing in transportation and urban issues. She is a former Vancouver City Planning Commissioner and holds a Master of Urban Studies degree from Simon Fraser University. She was born and raised in Vancouver and writes about urban issues at This City Life —named one of the best city blogs by The Guardian.



Thank you to our generous supporters:



This contribution from Jillian Glover is part of Park People’s 10 Years Together in City Parks. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the year.


Humber River Black History Walk

Guest post written by Jacqueline L. Scott. Jacqueline is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, OISE, in the department of Social Justice Education.She is a hike leader with two outdoors clubs. Jacqueline leads Black History Walks in Toronto.  She is the author of travel and adventure books, from a Black perspective. 


With the arrival of fresh snow, I find myself heading into nature. Today’s walk was along Toronto’s Humber River, through the ravine, and down to Jean Augustine Park – this route combines my love of outdoor adventure with my search for Black history in natural spaces.


Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada, in 1993, in the park named after her.


Leaving Old Mill subway station, I turned left, down the hill, crossed the bridge, and in about three minutes I was in the river valley. I paused under the bridge and checked if any salmon were in the river, swimming upstream to spawn. It was not the mating season, but still, I looked just in case there were any stragglers. They might have got confused by the unpredictable weather caused by the climate crises.

With the sun kissing my lips, I headed south in the valley and followed the river. A few cyclists were in the ravine, sharing the paved path with walkers, runners and strollers. Everyone kept their social distance.

The timeless and endless flow of the river allows the mind to wander and imagine this same place at other times – I can almost see Daddy John Hall canoeing that river in the early 1800s. In the winters he would have snowshoed in the ravine. Hall was Black-Indigenous and lived in the Humber Valley, fishing, hunting and trading with Indigenous people. When the USA invaded Canada in the War of 1812, Hall became a scout in the Canadian militia. He was just one among the many Black Canadians who fought in the war. They enlisted because they wanted to remain free. Hall was captured, and instead of being treated as a prisoner of war, he was taken and enslaved in the USA, in Virginia and Kentucky. He escaped after about 12 years and made the long trek home. Nothing was going to keep this man down! Hall later moved to Owen Sound where he is still a local legend due to his exceptionally long and storied life.


The life of John ‘Daddy’ Hall, a man of Mohawk and African-American descent who survived war, capture and slavery to become a pillar of the community in nineteenth-century Owen Sound, Ontario.


I wandered slowly, with no need to go fast on this sunny winter afternoon. A family played football over on the right. Dogs and their owners meandered along other trails in the park. Snow makes the ravine pretty. Yes, it was cold, but dressed in layers of clothes I was cozy. My hat was big enough to cover my dreadlocks and keep my head warm. Two layers of socks and boots with grips kept my feet toasty. And I had a flask of hot spice tea to sip.

There need to be more stories about Black people in nature. We have always been there, but so often our stories and our histories are erased. Knowing our nature stories, and walking with a friend, can make us feel safe when exploring the ravines. Being in nature is calming, it revives the body and the spirit. A walk in nature is one of the best ways of beating the winter blues and reducing the Covid-19 stress. Of course, we have to do so while following the lockdown guidelines. There are lots of stories about the white stuff and the Great Outdoors in Canada, it’s time to add stories about the black stuff too.

Wandering south, to the mouth of the river I’m awed by the expanse of Lake Ontario as I drift over to Jean Augustine Park. In 1993 Jean Augustine became the first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada. It is thanks to her efforts that February is now officially recognized as Black History Month in Canada. You can Listen to Sheldon Pitt, AKA Solitair Jean Augestine’s nephew on Metro Morning talking about how his aunt Jean Augustine inspires him.  Every year we find more stories about our 400 years of history in this enchanting land of summer heat, and winter ice and snow.

I found a sunny bench overlooking the lake – I was physically tired, but mentally revived. I drained the last of the still-hot sweet spiced tea, with ginger and cinnamon. It hit the right spot. Mallards, swans and Canada geese bobbled in the water; ring-bill gulls circled overhead. Birdwatching and daydreaming, the minutes and the coronavirus stress floated away on the waves.



InTO the Ravines, a program in partnership with the City of Toronto

Six Things We Need More of in Canadian City Parks in 2021

Last year was tough. But it was also illuminating.

We learned how resilient our communities can be and how parks are a big part of that by providing a place for people to stay active, de-stress, and connect with others (safely).

But we also learned we have work to do to ensure equitable access to parks and inclusive policies and programming that help everyone feel welcome and safe.

We’ve assembled this list from research we’ve done through our Canadian City Parks Report and COVID-19 surveys, our COVID-19 webinar series, our 2020 program learnings, and the resources and writings of others.

With that, here are six things we want to see more of in Canadian city parks in 2021.


Leading with equity


Photo credit: Aboriginal Fridays at Cabot Square Montreal by Lori Calman


If 2020 was anything, it was a bright hot light exposing the already present inequities in our cities. We often speak about parks as “for everyone,” but this obscures the racism, inequitable enforcement, historic underinvestment, unequal access to amenities, and social judgement that excludes many in our cities from enjoying, benefiting from and accessing these spaces.

As experts noted in our webinar on Urbanism’s Next Chapter, in 2021 we need less talk about “returning to normal” and more conversations leading to actions that address systemic discrimination, the displacement of people experiencing homelessness, and anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in our park systems, policies, and organizations. Let’s take a look at who is at and who is not in decision-making circles, and make sure that community engagement and consultation exercises are additive, not extractive, by working with communities to address core needs.



Improving local parks


A small pollinator garden in Toronto


Last year we were told to stay home to stay safe from COVID-19 and that message continues into 2021 in many communities. This heightens the importance of our local neighbourhood parks as places of respite. But we know these parks are not distributed equally–and this has real impacts on people’s mental and physical health. Our own research also shows that Canadians who said they didn’t have a park within a five-minute walk were 5x more likely to not have visited a park at all between March and June 2020. In order to derive benefit from parks, you first have to have one nearby.

In 2021, we foresee a renewed focus on the local park. Access to quality, nearby green spaces will be on the agenda and we hope to see more emphasis on basic amenities like washrooms, drinking fountains, shade structures, and plentiful seating. Many parks have seen heavy use during the pandemic, so an increase in maintenance will be key. But we can go further. Integrating urban agriculture and even local economic development opportunities like markets for locally produced goods and food will help these parks become resilient hubs. Planning our neighbourhood parks in these ways ensures they will be solid ground during times of crisis, providing accessible space and services.



Growing access to nearby nature


Photo credit: Hives for Humanity in Vancouver, photo by Park People


As our stress levels rocketed in 2020 and Canadians’ mental health declined, many turned to spending more time outdoors as a way to re-centre themselves–often taking solace in nature. Our own survey in June 2020 found that 80% of Canadians said parks had become more important to their mental health during the pandemic. The connection between human wellbeing and spending time in nature has long been established in science. But access to nature is not an experience everyone enjoys. Racist acts and exclusionary programs and policies can keep people feeling unsafe and unwelcome in natural spaces.

In 2021, we hope to see more focus on neighbourhood greening projects that insert naturalized gardens into the places where we live our everyday lives: our streets, yards, parks, laneways, and schools. Let’s build on the heightened awareness of the connection between mental health and nature through new programs and stewardship opportunities, providing funding specifically to Indigenous land stewardship practices and community-led projects in underserved neighbourhoods. Local greening projects are also key in increasing the climate resiliency of our communities, mitigating climate change impacts by reducing flooding and cooling the air.



Expanding parks beyond their boundaries


Credit photo: PlazaPOPS illustration, 2018


Responding to the need for more space for physical distancing, many cities quickly “found” acres of new open spaces in 2020 in roadways and other public spaces to open up to people. This created more space for cycling, running, rolling, and walking. Our research found that people wanted more of this type of intervention. However, many of these interventions were focused more on downtown neighbourhoods.

In 2021, let’s continue creative rethinking about the space in our cities to be more people-friendly, but expand it so more neighbourhoods can benefit from slower streets, expanded public spaces, and safer walking and cycling connections. We can learn a lot from projects like plazaPOPS, which provided community green space in a suburban strip-mall parking lot, and projects that animate the green spaces around the base of high-rise tower communities. Let’s also look for ways to continue these spaces in a modified format in the winter to encourage people to get outside.



Supporting community-based programming


Photo credit: Women from the Jamestown community plant native flowers in outdoor children learning centre in Toronto


Community park groups have always been the backbone of Park People’s work. Many grassroots park groups struggled in 2020 with the impacts of COVID-19 restricting access to park amenities and the need to keep track of fluctuating public health guidelines on safe gatherings. Despite these hurdles, over 40% of park groups we surveyed in June 2020 said they had provided support to those in need in their communities during the pandemic. Some even pivoted to activities like sewing masks to distribute.

As we start the process of recovery from COVID-19 in 2021, we hope to see greater support for the value park programming provides to communities. We heard that the top two areas park groups will need help with are funding and re-engaging community members in participating in park gatherings. City staff can work with communities and partner organizations to provide funding and institute policies like simplified permits that allow park groups to do more with less paperwork and fees. Working with local leaders and community organizations can help spread information about safe gathering practices and collaborate on programming that gets people back enjoying the park together.



Celebrating winter


Photo credit: A Montreal park in winter by Park People


It’s often said that Canada is a winter nation–and it’s true: for many months of the year, our weather is wet and cold. But people are continuing to turn to parks and trails this winter to get outside, keep active, and lessen the winter blues. Some Canadian cities certainly do winter in parks better than others (we’re looking at you Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal), but in many, park infrastructure and maintenance practices don’t reflect the winter reality, including non-winterized washrooms and trails that aren’t plowed regularly.

Let’s jump into winter in 2021 by making parks and trails accessible to more people by keeping washroom access open and clearing snow and ice for safe use. And to keep people connected and active, we want to see more support for local communities to provide safe and engaging winter programming. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated–it could be as simple as bringing your Christmas tree to the park for others to enjoy.

Further reading

What are some of the things you’re hoping to see more of in parks in 2021? Tell us on Twitter by tagging us: @park_people.



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Credit cover picture: Naturalized Mouth of the Don River by Waterfront Toronto


A Second Life for Christmas Trees at The Ephemeral Forest at Parc Jarry, Montreal

They say all good things must come to an end. But sometimes, if we are lucky, endings can be the start of something even more beautiful. That is exactly what happened at Parc Jarry in the Villeray-St-Michel-Parc-Extension borough of Montreal, where the community park group Coalition des amis du Parc Jarry (CAP Jarry), recipients of a TD Park People Winter Grant, turned the cast-offs of the Christmas season into a beautiful Ephemeral Forest of recycled trees that reflected community members’ hope and dreams. 



Every January, once the holidays come to an end, bare Christmas trees are tossed to the curb. In fact, there are approximately 6 million trees in Canada that await the landfill every year. If not recycled properly and simply thrown out, every tree can create approximately 16kg of carbon dioxide. Not only does this have a significant impact on the environment, but it also misses a great opportunity to give the trees a more impactful second life. 

CAP Jarry, led by Michel Lafleur, set out to tackle this challenge. Instead of the landfill, they invited all Montreal residents to bring their old Christmas trees to Parc Jarry, plant them in pre-made wooden stands, and create a magical Ephemeral Forest where park-goers could wander in a safe and socially-distanced manner. After a two-weeks on display in the park, a company specializing in repurposing wood removed the trees and gave them a new life. 



To make the trees even more magical, community members were invited to write their wishes and hopes for the new year on little pieces of paper tied to their tree. This gave every tree a personal touch and it gave people a chance to express their vision for the future. At a time when social interactions are rare and we long to interact with others, reading the personal wishes on every tree felt like an intimate exchange with the Christmas tree’s new owner – their ideas, their hopes, and dreams for the future. 



The forest created a sense of human connection at a time when people need it most. Walking through the hundreds of trees in the middle of the vast Parc Jarry created an inspiring, joyful and frankly magical experience.


“Everyone was smiling”, remembers Villeray’s mayor Mme. Fumagalli, who helped facilitate the project from a political and administrative point of view. “There was a lot of curiosity, a kind of mutual help, above all, such synergy… The project had an enormous positive impact”. 



Mme. Fumagalli found it especially extraordinary how citizens got involved and took ownership of their parks this winter. From the Ephemeral Forest to the hordes of Montrealers who built snowmen across city parks after a snowstorm, she says we clearly see “the necessity during winter to have some kind of animation, especially with the current COVID context”. 



Another key to this event’s success was in its simplicity: the idea is easily transferable to other parks, boroughs and cities to create their own magical Ephemeral Forest. “I am certain that it is an idea that will have a snowball effect”, assures Mme. Fumagalli. “There is so much potential, from vacant lots to small parks, the reproducible aspect on a small scale, and the fact that it requires few resources”.



Made possible by a great collaboration:

Park People Statement Against Encampment Clearances


Re: Statement Against Encampment Clearances

Park People is a national charity that helps people activate the power of parks in cities and communities across Canada.

During the pandemic, Toronto and other Canadian cities have seen a rise in visible homelessness through encampments in parks. While living in a tent in a park is not a long-term solution to the lack of affordable housing in many Canadian cities, it is meeting a critical need for safe housing at this time and we urge the City of Toronto—and other Canadian cities—to put a moratorium on forced encampment evictions, removals, and clearances.

As the Encampment Support Network and others in the housing sector have already pointed out, there are valid reasons for why people would choose not to stay in a shelter at this time. These may include overcrowding, health concerns due to COVID-19, inability to access the supports/services they need, being required to move away from their neighbourhood and friends, and a lack of personal privacy and safety. Additionally, parks are on Indigenous land, and the forced removal of Indigenous people experiencing homelessness from parks repeats colonial violence.


Illustration Credit: Jake Tobin Garrett,


From our own survey of 51 cities in The Canadian City Parks Report in July 2020, we found that only 16% of cities said they had paused encampment clearances during the pandemic, despite recommendations from the CDC that encampments should not be cleared for public health reasons. On top of expert recommendations, we also found that 40% of the 1,600 Canadians we surveyed during the same month said that they would like to see increased supports for those experiencing homelessness using parks, such as washrooms and access to water.

In our 2020 Canadian City Parks Report, we interviewed several experts including elected officials, city staff, non-profit staff, and encampment residents themselves to understand the challenges with displacement and propose more inclusive ways to move forward. We believe these lessons are even more important during the pandemic. Some takeaways for cities are:

You can read more here.

As the commonly-held spaces in a city, parks are the places where we can learn to share space—and this is not always a comfortable experience, especially in the context of deep systemic inequities. We recognize that grappling with the reality of unsheltered homelessness in parks is a complex challenge that can feel beyond the comfort and expertise of some city parks staff. We also know this is an emotional subject for many, but we hope we can move forward with compassion and empathy, and in a way that upholds unhoused park users’ safety and rights, during this extraordinary public health emergency and beyond.

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